The recent appearance of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before Congress resurrected the issues surrounding the tragedy at Benghazi, Libya, and the deaths of four stalwart Americans. This isn’t more commentary on the facts concerning that debacle — they have been vetted already. And the final details are yet to come. Additionally, Secretary Clinton needs no help in defending herself. This is more about how dysfunctional our government is, how disingenuous our politicians are, and how hypocritical those in our Congress are.
Benghazi is a metaphor for each of these qualities. I hope we’ve learned some lessons from that tragedy.
First a bit of background. The dangers our diplomatic corps faces daily are well known, and have a well documented history. Congress should know them well. We have thousands of men and women who staff the more than 260 embassies, consulates and missions we maintain in 180 countries. Since the 1980 burning of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, a total of 88 U.S. diplomatic personnel have died in the diplomatic service of the their country. Military personnel accounted for 23 and central intelligence personnel accounted for 14 more. But most of these fatalities were in the U.S. Foreign Service, U.S. Agency for International Development, or staff from other departments and agencies assigned to U.S. embassies overseas.
So, when it comes to funding the security of our diplomats, there should be no surprises. Nevertheless, Congress, in its lack of wisdom, decided differently – and disingenuously as well. In 2009, House Republicans voted for an amendment to cut $1.2 billion from State operations, including funds for 300 more diplomatic security positions. Democrats enacted a budget of $1.803 billion for embassy security, construction and maintenance for fiscal 2010, when they still controlled the Senate and House. However, in fiscal year 2011, after Republicans took control of the House and picked up six Senate seats, Congress reduced the enacted budget, and shaved $128 million off of the administration’s request for embassy security funding.
More draining of funds
House Republicans drained off even more funds in fiscal year 2012 – cutting back on the department’s request by $331 million with a budget of $1.537 billion – well below what the administration had requested including added security proposals. If $1.5 billion seems like a generous sum for funding our most critical Cabinet department (with a clear and proven need for high security), recall that our venture in Afghanistan runs about $150 billion per year. To invest 1 percent of that amount on building and maintaining stronger relations with nations around the world seems to me to have a better return on investment.
Again, last February, the Obama administration actually requested modest increases in funding for the State Department and USAID for fiscal 2013 when it released its budget. While the Congress doesn’t divide up the accounts the same way as the administration, in an apples-to-apples comparison, the House Appropriations Committee’s allocation for State and foreign operations for fiscal 2013 was a 12 percent cut from the administration’s request, including a 14 percent cut to the administration’s request for non-war related diplomatic and development activities such as embassy security.
So, what is Benghazi really about? As Secretary Clinton noted in her hearing, what happened in Benghazi is less important than what we will do in the future to secure and defend our diplomatic corps. Money alone likely would not have saved the four Americans at Benghazi, but clearly more security is demanded in the future. That will take money. That will require more robust funding. That will take some honest introspection on the part of those who approve security appropriations, and much less excoriating of those who are attempting to provide that security.
Tired of politicization, confrontation
Moreover, most Americans are tired of the politicization of tragic events such as Benghazi. They are tired of members of Congress who would rather seek confrontations than develop mutually beneficial solutions. They are fed up with nonproductive political posturing. They are tired of seeing the hypocrisy that is rampant in Congress people (of both parties) in recent years. And finally, they are tired of a Congress that is dysfunctional rather than working in a collegial manner to push forward an agenda to make our country better.
Those should be the true and more useful lessons from the Benghazi tragedy.
Myles Spicer of Minnetonka has spent his business career as a professional writer and owned several successful ad agencies over the past 45 years.