Today the House Oversight for Government Reform Committee is holding a hearing on the September 11th attack on the temporary US consular compound in Benghazi. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa is expected to be severely critical of the State Department’s decision not to increase the number of security personnel, as requested by some of the security staff.
That sounds like a reasonable criticism, given what happened as a result of the attack. Four deaths, including the Ambassador to Libya. The total destruction of the compound and its furnishings and equipment. The ransacking of intelligence documents that couldn’t be destroyed in time. It was, by all accounts, a disaster. Chairman Issa calls it the result of “inadequate security.”
In the hearing today, we probably won’t hear Issa address some of the more inconvenient facts. He probably won’t mention the fact that those security personnel would have been stationed in Tripoli, not in Benghazi — so their presence wouldn’t have had any effect on the situation. Nor are we likely to hear that one of the reasons the request for additional security personnel was denied was budgetary. That’s significant because since President Obama assumed his office, Congressional Republicans (including Darrell Issa) have consistently voted to reduce the budgets of the State Department in general and embassy security in particular.
In fiscal year 2011, House Republicans reduced the president’s budget request for the two agencies that provide security for the State Department by US$127.5 million. For the current fiscal year, they cut the budget for embassy security by $330 million. That’s almost half a billion dollars over the last two years.
It takes a lot of balls to complain about the lack of embassy and consulate security when you’ve spent the last few years reducing the funding for embassy and consulate security.
It’s also important to keep this event in context. An estimated 120 attackers armed with small arms, RPGs and mortars launched a coordinated surprise assault on a temporary consulate building that was only partially equipped with bulletproof windows and reinforced doors — a structure protected by only a handful of security personnel. Four American personnel were killed. Three days later 15 well-armed attackers launched a coordinated surprise assault on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, the largest and most secure military base in that country, housing nearly 30,000 coalition troops and contractors. During the four hour firefight, two US Marines were killed and aircraft valued at $200 million were destroyed.
Surprise is an effective combat tactic. If Congressional Republicans are going to blame “inadequate security” for the deaths and damage resulting from a surprise attack by 120 insurgents on a lightly-protected soft target like a temporary compound, then don’t they have to also claim inadequate security for the death and damage done during a surprise attack by 15 insurgents on the most secure military base in all of Afghanistan? Are they going to claim the attack on Camp Bastion could have been prevented if they’d had an extra dozen security personnel?
What happened in Beghazi was tragic. Nobody would claim otherwise. Congress has the right — even the duty — to investigate how that tragedy unfolded. It would be nice, though, if Chairman Issa was sincere enough to ask if budgetary cuts he supported played a part in the tragedy. I doubt he will.
I’m also willing to bet that Issa will continue to vote to reduce the budget of the State Department by hundreds of millions. And that he’ll vote to give military contractors another $200 million to replace those destroyed aircraft.
Congressman Issa is correct when he blames the event in Benghazi on inadequacy. But it wasn’t just the security that was inadequate; it was the competency of Members of Congress like Darrell Issa.