Democrats seized on a cut in embassy security funding to deflect criticism of the administration's poor handling of the terrorist attack at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on 9/11. The charge was brought up in a contentious congressional hearing on security failures in Benghazi and repeated last night by Vice President Joe Biden, who after saying they weren't aware of requests for more security in Benghazi, pointed out "the congressman here cut embassy security in his budget by $300 million below what we asked for, number one. So much for the embassy security piece."
Republican Jason Chaffetz, on the committee that held hearings on Benghazi this week, acknowledged voting to cut embassy security funding:
"Absolutely," Chaffetz said. "Look we have to make priorities and choices in this country. We have…15,000 contractors in Iraq. We have more than 6,000 contractors, a private army there, for President Obama, in Baghdad. And we're talking about can we get two dozen or so people into Libya to help protect our forces. When you're in tough economic times, you have to make difficult choices. You have to prioritize things."
The Heritage Foundation pulls the numbers for "worldwide security protection," the budget for which went from $1.18 billion in 2008 (out of about $35 billion for the State Department and "other international programs") to $1.59 billion in 2010 (out of about $52) before dropping to just under $1.5 billion in 2011. The Heritage Foundation explains:
Comparing FY 2011 actual funding versus the FY 2012 estimate, there appears to be a reduction in Worldwide Security Protection and Embassy Security, Construction and Maintenance. But that reduction does not account for additional funding in FY 2012 from Overseas Contingency Operations funds amounting to $236 million for Worldwide Security Protection (p. 63) and $33 million for Embassy Security, Construction and Maintenance (p. 467)… Together, there is a net increase.
In terms of people, the budget justification reported that Worldwide Security Protection had slightly fewer positions budgeted (1,777 in FY 2011 versus 1,707 in FY 2012) and Embassy Security, Construction and Maintenance had the same number of positions budgeted (1,014 for both years).
In its budget request for FY 2013, the Administration requested significantly more funding for embassy security—mostly through the Overseas Contingency Operations budget—but retained the same number of positions, apparently on the assumption that security staffing was adequate. Regardless, that budget, even if approved in its entirety, would have entered into effect after the events in Libya.
Before Biden's comment on budget cuts, Paul Ryan asked: "Our ambassador in Paris has a Marine detachment guarding him. Shouldn't we have a Marine detachment guarding our ambassador in Benghazi, a place where we knew that there was an Al-Qaeda cell with arms?"
Dennis Kucinich's line of questioning at the congressional hearing on Benghazi brought up that virtually no Al-Qaeda presence existed in Libya prior to U.S.-backed intervention, asking Ambassador Patrick Kennedy about Al-Qaeda levels since then. He refused to answer, but Lt. Colonel Andrew Wood offered that Al-Qaeda's presence was certainly more established in Libya than America's. Kucinich was also able to find out that ten to twenty thousand surface-to-air missiles are still missing since the Libyan civil war. While land wars were kinda sorta taken off the table at the vice presidential debate, the kind of "soft" intervention that creates situations like Benghazi was left unquestioned.
Kucinich lay the blame for security failures on decades of U.S. intervention, telling his colleagues that Congress has failed to stop illegal wars and that such an illegal intervention destabilized Libya and created the threat and failure on which the hearing was held. "We want to stop the attacks on embassies?" Kucinich asked. "Let's stop trying to overthrow governments."