By Rep. Karen Bass
When State Department officials testify Thursday on the Sept. 11 attack against the U.S. Consulate in Libya, the nation will have a chance for a Benghazi reset. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Thomas Nides are expected to present the findings from an accountability review board investigation into the Benghazi attack, providing answers as to whetherthe United States was adequately providing the resources needed to protect our diplomats serving abroad.
After the tragic death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, our focus from the very beginning should have been on finding answers to why this tragedy occurred and bringing those responsible to justice.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both agreed and announced the formation of the accountability review board — led by veteran diplomat Thomas Pickering — to provide the American people with answers and a pathway forward for protecting our diplomats.
Sadly, in these times of overly hyper partisanship, our nation got distracted from the noble cause of finding answers to the Benghazi tragedy. Instead, we drove down the partisan tract of character attacks against U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, a well-credentialed diplomat.
I fully respect Rice’s decision to remove her name from consideration for secretary of state. Her more than two decades of experience promoting peace and security in regions plagued by instability and crisis made her extraordinarily qualified to serve as America’s top diplomat.
As U.N. ambassador, Rice was steadfast in advancing America’s national security interests, among many accomplishments helping to secure international support for sanctions against our adversaries and support for human rights around the world.
It is unfortunate Rice had to make this decision in the face of such unfounded and unfair character attacks. As I said last week, were she judged fairly based solely on her qualifications for the job, she would’ve made an extraordinary secretary of state.
But those facts are beside the point. The larger story here is that rather than turn our collective attention on finding the Benghazi perpetrators and figuring out the best way to secure our embassies going forward, Washington chose to focus on a partisan witch hunt against a person who hadn’t even been nominated for the job.
This sent a horrible signal to the American people about their government’s ability to put partisanship aside and come together in a crisis. It has long been the standard that politics stops at the water’s edge when it comes to our national security.
Somewhere along the way, we seem to have forgotten that. Americans expect their political leadership to come together when our nation is attacked. Our nation is stronger at home and abroad when we come together to transcend politics and put the interest of the people first. This is what makes America the strongest and most free nation in the world.
Politics stopped a real discussion from happening about America’s ability to strengthen security at our diplomatic posts and improve our intelligence-gathering capabilities in volatile regions of the world. That’s the right discussion to have for the best interest of the country — and it shows the very best of the American people.
Benghazi can be a teachable moment for our country. It never serves our interests to let politics seep through our national security discussions. Furthermore, we should never use politics to malign the character of dedicated public servants like Rice, who have chosen to offer their gifts and intellect in service to our great country. At a time fraught with turmoil in international affairs, we need the very best and brightest to offer themselves in service to their country. The political attacks against Rice discourage those with the talents to serve at such a critical moment, for fear that they too might have their character maligned based on unfounded attacks.
Testimony from Burns and Nides and Rice’s withdrawal from consideration for secretary of state give us the opportunity to finally get this right. We can all come together, listen to the facts and work constructively to enhance our nation’s security and bring the perpetrators of this horrible crime to justice. But it takes all of us working together and putting politics aside for the betterment of our country.
Rep. Karen Bass represents the 33rd District of California. She is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and currently serves as ranking member of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights.