Finger Pointing

10.12.12

Are Budget Cuts to Blame for Benghazi Attack, as Biden Suggested?

Fact checkers take note: Biden’s suggestion that funding cuts may have undermined security at the consulate has been disproven—by his own administration. Eli Lake debunks.

The post-debate fact checkers are taking Vice President Joe Biden to task for saying the administration never received requests for more diplomatic security in Libya. when in fact the State Department has already admitted it rejected those very requests. But more nuanced was Biden’s suggestion, albeit oblique, that funding cuts were somehow related to the relative lack of security in Benghazi leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks there.

“The congressman here cut embassy security in his budget by $300 million below what we asked for,” said Biden in Thursday night’s debate, referencing Paul Ryan’s budget plan. “So much for the embassy security piece.”

But would more money have prevented the attacks?

Apparently not, at least according to one senior State Department official who would certainly seem to know.

In testimony Wednesday before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Charlene Lamb, a deputy assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, was asked, “Was there any budget consideration and lack of budget which led you not to increase the number of people in the security force there?”

Lamb responded, “No, sir.”

Recall that Lamb is the person who denied requests from the top diplomatic security officer in Libya to retain a 16-man team of military personnel who had been protecting diplomats.

That would seem to be the end of the story.

So where did Biden come up with this line? Unclear. But what is known is that one of the first mentions of budget cuts in relation to Benghazi appears to have came from Rep. Elijah Cummings, the Democratic ranking member on the House Oversight Committee. In a press release before Wednesday’s hearing, Cummings wrote, “The fact is that, since 2011, the House has cut embassy security by hundreds of millions of dollars below the amounts requested by the President. Restoring our commitment to embassy security would make a real difference to thousands of Americans who serve our country overseas, often in extremely dangerous circumstances.”

Whether doing so will prevent another Benghazi is another story.

But would more money have prevented the attacks? Apparently not, at least according to one senior official who would know.

Same goes for a point Ryan made a few seconds earlier, in which he asked why the U.S. ambassador in France was protected by Marine guards, yet Ambassador Chris Stevens, arguably positioned in a far more dangerous country, was not. “Our ambassador in Paris has a marine detachment guarding him. Should we have a marine detachment in Benghazi?” Ryan asked.

Biden didn’t answer the question directly, responding instead with his people-who-live-in-glass-houses line about embassy security budget cuts. But Ryan’s assertion is also flawed. Marines are charged with protecting a diplomatic mission’s classified documents, not its personnel. The obligation to protect the mission itself falls to the host country, a job Libya may have failed to do.