Sen. John Kerry is considered the leading candidate to become the next secretary of state, and that gave added weight to his remarks Thursday as he oversaw testimony on the most volatile foreign policy issue in recent months: the deadly Sept. 11 attacks in Benghazi.
The two top deputies of the current secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, acknowledged that the State Department failed to provide adequate security in Benghazi, which has remained extremely volatile following last year's ouster of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
"We learned some very hard and painful lessons in Benghazi," William Burns, the deputy secretary of state, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "We are already acting on them. We have to do better."
Kerry, meanwhile, said America's diplomatic corps should receive additional resources. But he stressed that embassies should not be turned into fortresses that isolate diplomats from the countries where they're working.
"There will always be a tension between the diplomatic imperative to get 'outside the wire' and the security standards that require our diplomats to work behind high walls, concertina wire and full-body searches," said Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat. "We do not want to concertina-wire America off from the world."
The U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have led to big increases in military spending over the past decade, and Kerry called for redirecting more money toward diplomacy.
"For some time now, overseas resources have been withheld or cut, and important foreign policy objectives have, in some cases, been starved," Kerry said. "Consider that last year, we spent approximately $650 billion on our military. By contrast, the international affairs budget is less than one-tenth of the Pentagon's."
Kerry went on to say:
"So we need to make certain we are not penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to supporting America's vital overseas interests. Adequately funding America's foreign policy objectives is not spending — it's investing in our long-term security, and more often than not it saves far more expensive expenditures in dollars and lives for the conflicts that we failed to see or avoid."
An independent board released a report Tuesday that was sharply critical of the State Department for the lack of security at the Benghazi Consulate, where four Americans were killed.
The State Department said Wednesday that one official has resigned and three have been relieved of their current positions and put on administrative leave.