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Libya attack: Congressmen casting blame voted to cut diplomatic security budget

Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Darrell Issa claim the Benghazi consulate sought more security before the deadly attack. They also both voted to cut the State Department's embassy security budget.

By Staff writer / October 5, 2012

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R) of Utah (left) and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R) of California, both claim the Benghazi consulate sought more security before the deadly Sept. 11 Libya attack, voted to cut the State Department's embassy security budget.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File


Who's to blame for the Sept. 11 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi?

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If you believe Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz, the answer is the State Department. He complained in an interview with The Daily Beast yesterday that US guards were replaced with Libyan nationals in the months before the attack.

"The fully trained Americans who can deal with a volatile situation were reduced in the six months leading up to the attacks," he told the website. "When you combine that with the lack of commitment to fortifying the physical facilities, you see a pattern.”

Mr. Chaffetz has been among those leading the Republican effort to pin the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi on the Obama administration. Earlier claims from Chaffetz and fellow Republican Congressman Darrell Issa that the administration ignored pleas for more security from Libya embassy officials should be treated with caution until there's some proof.

But it's certainly true that US embassy security is under strain around the world. Foreign nationals increasingly replace US citizens in everything from visa offices to security details. The new consulate in Benghazi, just over a year old, would have been particularly top-heavy with US nationals to start. Some reduction in US staffing was inevitable.

After I wrote a piece earlier this week about the political gain being sought from the deaths of Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, a number of diplomatic acquaintances of mine emailed to say I should have looked at the State Department's security budget. Two of them had unprintable things to say about Congress.

Who can be blamed for that? Well, Chaffetz and Issa among others.

Since retaking control in 2010, House Republicans have aggressively cut spending at the State Department in general and embassy security in particular. Chaffetz and Issa and their colleagues voted to pay for far less security than the State Department requested in 2011 and again this year.

A bit rich

Is that responsible for the tragedy in Benghazi? Probably not, at least not entirely. Usually when security goes wrong, it's down to a cascade of small failures piling up. But it's a bit rich to complain about a lack of US security personnel at diplomatic missions on the one hand, while actively working to cut the budget to pay for US security personnel at diplomatic missions on the other. 

It would have been Ambassador Stevens' call as to whether he made that visit from Tripoli, with advice from his regional security adviser. If they thought there was a high likelihood of an attack, they wouldn't have gone. They sadly got it wrong. A glaring intelligence failure? A cavalier attitude towards security? Or simply bad luck, in a dangerous country that the US is eager to see stabilized? 

To be sure, the embassy security budget has been under the knife for years. “During both the latter years of the Bush presidency and throughout the Obama presidency, the administration has recommended boosting spending on foreign aid and [State Department] foreign operations, including security, and Congress has always cut it back,” Philip Crowley, a former State Department spokesman under President Obama, told the Washington Times in late September.


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