CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The concerns over embassy security in the aftermath of the Benghazi, Libya, attack beg the question: Why does the U.S. have such a large and visible diplomatic footprint overseas?
After the independent investigation found woeful gaps in intelligence and security, the Pentagon agreed to send an additional 225 Marine guards to "medium- and high-threat diplomatic posts." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is asking Congress for $750 million to hire about 150 more security officers.
On one level, this makes sense. The U.S. has more staff in embassies and consulates than any other country, so needs to spend more on security.
But no one in Congress, as far as I know, is asking another question: Why are there so many staff to protect? Couldn't some of them be doing their jobs in Washington? Or maybe even from home?
In a world where business, education and other government agencies have improved efficiency and lowered costs by going online, the U.S. Foreign Service clings to an archaic Cold War-era strategy that calls for lots of diplomatic boots on the ground.
Each country has an embassy with an ambassador, a deputy chief of mission, a political officer, an economic officer, a science officer, a defense attaché, a consular officer, a public affairs officer and so on. Each heads a section with American and local staff. There's a cafeteria, a library, a fleet of SUVs with drivers, maintenance staff -- and Marines and local security staff to guard everyone.
Most of these folk are supposed to be out doing diplomacy, hobnobbing with government ministers, maintaining links with opposition groups, and taking the public pulse.