By Anne Gearan and William Branigin,
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, testifying before Congress on the September attacks in Libya that killed four Americans, warned Wednesday that the United States must not retreat from hazardous diplomatic posts overseas.
“We have come a long way in the past four years, and we cannot afford to retreat now,” Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “When America is absent, especially from unstable environments, there are consequences. Extremism takes root, our interests suffer, and our security at home is threatened.”
The Pentagon has cleared the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan of wrongdoing after an investigation.
Many diplomats worry ability to work overseas will be restricted because of Benghazi tragedy.
In a testy exchange with Republican Sen. Ronald H. Johnson, Clinton defends Susan Rice against the charge of “purposely misleading the American public” about the Benghazi attacks.
Their directives include personnel reductions and a 30 percent cut for Army base operations this year.
Washington saw Algiers as a keystone for combating militants in the Mali and the Maghreb.
Clinton’s voice broke moments later when she told the committee her commitment to the safety of diplomats is more than professional.
“It’s personal,” she said, describing the sight of the four returning coffins and the grieving families there to receive them.
It was an uncharacteristic display of emotion for Clinton, who is usually collected and reserved in public.
In one of her last duties as America’s top diplomat, Clinton went to Capitol Hill on Wedneday to testify before committees of both houses of Congress and answer questions about the attacks on U.S. compounds in Benghazi, Libya. The attacks killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans and exposed lapses in judgment and security at the State Department.
Clinton’s congressional testimony is a politically charged denouement to a well-regarded tenure. Congressional Republicans wanted to question Clinton about the Obama administration’s shifting explanation for the attacks on Sept. 11 and 12, and whether those varied scenarios amounted to a cover-up.
In pointed questioning at a hearing that lasted about 2 1/2 hours, Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the State Department was “woefully unprepared” for developments in North Africa, and he charged that the tragedy in Benghazi “symbolizes the woeful unpreparedness” that the United States experienced.
Clinton replied that the Arab Spring revolts that swept the Middle East and North Africa were not predicted. “This is a great opportunity, as well as a serious threat to our country,” she said of the upheaval that persists across the region. “I hope we seize the opportunity.” She said it would not be easy because the countries have no experience of democracy.
“We now face a spreading jihadist threat,” Clinton said. Many al-Qaeda operatives have been driven out of Afghanistan and Pakistan, she said. But she added: “We have to recognize this is a global movement.” U.S. forces can kill its leaders, but until democracy grows in the region, “we’re going to be faced with this level of instability,” she said.
Asked about reports about a link between the Benghazi attacks and an assault last week on a natural gas complex in Algeria near the border with Libya, Clinton said, “We don’t have any way to confirm it as yet.”
She said later that “there’s no doubt that the Algerian terrorists had weapons from Libya” that were looted from armories after the fall of Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi in 2011.