The Washington Post

The hosts’ responsibilities

In my younger days and in another professional incarnation, I was responsible for security of the American Embassy in Bonn, all American consulates in the then-Federal Republic of Germany, and the U.S. mission in West Berlin. U.S. Marine security guards stationed at those facilities were under my authority.

What was true back then is true today: No country, including the United States, can guarantee the security of its diplomatic missions overseas. The host country, by treaty and in reality, must bear that responsibility.

Embassies, of course, can be physically hardened. They can be staffed with well-trained, armed defenders and equipped with the best intelligence, security and surveillance facilities. But U.S.-provided protection, by law, stops at the building’s perimeter.

It is the government of Egypt that bears responsibility for yesterday’s breach of walls of the American Embassy in Cairo. Every time I have visited that Embassy in the past (pre-Arab Spring) the facilities were heavily guarded by Egyptian police and soldiers. Where were they yesterday? 

So, too, authorities in Libya should be held accountable for the storming of the American consulate in Benghazi and the murder last night of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. officials.

There is much to know and even more to be done to deter a recurrence.

What’s not needed at a time like this is cheap, frat-boy-level politics aimed at scoring partisan points at home.

Colbert I. “Colby” King writes a column -- sometimes about D.C., sometimes about politics -- on that runs on Saturdays. In 2003, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. King joined the Post’s editorial board in 1990 and served as deputy editorial page editor from 2000 to 2007.


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