The New York Times editorializes today that it’s those penny-pinching Republicans who hold responsibility for the security failure in Libya:
The ugly truth is that the same people who are accusing the administration of not providing sufficient security for the American consulate in Benghazi have voted to cut the State Department budget, which includes financing for diplomatic security. The most self-righteous critics don’t seem to get the hypocrisy, or maybe they do and figure that if they hurl enough doubts and complaints at the administration, they will deflect attention from their own poor judgments on the State Department’s needs.
At a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform last Wednesday, Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California and the committee’s chairman, talked of “examining security failures that led to the Benghazi tragedy.” He said lawmakers had an obligation to protect federal workers overseas. On Sunday, he said more should be spent on diplomatic security.
But as part of the Republican majority that has controlled the House the last two years, Mr. Issa joined in cutting nearly a half-billion dollars from the State Department’s two main security accounts.
On Face the Nation yesterday, Issa did say that if more money was truly needed for embassy security, “Congress would respond.” But he also stressed that he didn’t see money as the reason behind the security failures in Libya: “In the case of our committee, we’re — we’re recognizing that there was 2.2 billion dollars in a discretionary fund that could have been used for security, still could be used for security enhancements throughout the region. Plus, the DOD, the military, if we need these things to keep our diplomats safe in these countries, we need to start spending that money and not claim that we don’t have enough money.”
Issa went on to note that Charlene Lamb, the State Department official who fielded security requests from the Libya U.S. diplomatic officials had said that money wasn’t the reason for the slim security in Libya. Consider this exchange from the congressional hearing on Libya last week:
“It has been suggested that budget cuts are responsible for a lack of security in Benghazi, and I’d like to ask Miss Lamb,” said Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R., Calif.). “You made this decision personally. Was there any budget consideration and lack of budget which lead you not to increase the number of people in the security force there?”
“No, sir,” said Lamb.
During the hearings, Elijah Cummings, a Democratic congressman from Maryland and ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, tried to make the GOP funding cuts a major issue — only to be foiled by Lamb’s response in her exchange with Rohrabacher.
In his speech at the convention, President Obama poked fun at Republicans for often seeing tax cuts as a policy solution: “And that’s because all they had to offer is the same prescription they’ve had for the last 30 years: ‘Have a surplus? Try a tax cut.’ ‘Deficit too high? Try another.’ ‘Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning.’” But as this NYT editorial shows, for liberals, too often the only possible problem is low spending.
But it wasn’t insufficient funds that emerged as the key problem in the hearings; instead, it was the State Department’s refusal to acknowledge that the level of danger in Libya warranted additional security — possibly because of the pressure to not make the decision to get involved in Libya look like a debacle. “In those conversations, I recall I was specifically told you cannot request a SST [Site Security Team] extension,” Eric Nordstrom, who was a regional security officer at the State Department who had been stationed in Libya for several months and had made security requests, testified last week about his conversations with Lamb. “How I interpreted that was that there was going to be too much political costs, or for some reason, there was hesitancy on that.”
Maybe the NYT would find pursuing that angle (why was a “political cost” even a factor in how much security our diplomatic officers abroad needed?) a little more fruitful — unless they’re just trying to slam Republicans, not figure out what really went wrong in Libya.