I have seen a surprising amount of ill informed editorializing about the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. citizens in Benghazi, Libya on September 12th, 2012. I thought adding some context to the situation might be helpful.
Benghazi was not unique. There have been eights attacks on six different U.S. consulates in and around the Mideast since the 9/11 attack. They include:
- Karachi, Pakistan, 2002, 2003, and 2006
- Tashkent, Uzbekistan, 2002
- Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 2004
- Damascus, Syria, 2006
- Sana’a, Yemen, 2008
- Benghazi, Libya, 2012
The events in Benghazi are complex; we don’t have full knowledge of everything U.S. forces may have been doing in Libya due to the chaos resulting from the overthrow of Gaddafi. The 2012 Benghazi Attack Wikipedia entry cites many sources with varying views on the pre-conditions, the actual attack, and the response.
One thing is certain, convicted bank fraud artist Nakoula Basseley Nakoula bears some of the blame for the outburst of violence on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attack. A Coptic Christian of Egyptian descent, Nakoula is thought to be the source of Innocence Of Muslims, a crudely made trailer for a non-existent movie. Egypt’s population is about 10% Coptic Christians and they face persecution at the hands of the Muslim majority. Nakoula’s intent appeared to be calling attention to the injustice, but instead four Americans in Benghazi and about seventy others in the region died during violence touched off during protests of this insult.
Congress also shares a portion of the blame for the fate of Ambassador Stevens and the three others killed:
The State Department is still reeling from deep cuts made by Senate and House appropriations panels to the Obama administration’s budget requests for next year, with some officials warning of national security risks. (2011-10-01)
The quote seems particular damning, but read the whole article. There was an 22% across the board cut, but a separate request for spending on Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan was approved. Including the separate request the State Department budget was still down $3.5 billion from the prior year, a very short sighted move given that Arab Spring was only ten months old at the time the decision was made.
Three autocratic governments blown away, two countries sliding into sectarian conflict, two others facing massive protests, and four that were compeled to introduce reforms by their restive population. And the response from Congress to this seismic shift? Budget cuts.
I have written before about the massive imbalance between our preventative State Department ($52 billion) and reactive Defense Department ($711 billion) budgets in Foreign Policy Futures. We typically cut spending between 25% and 35% when we finish a war. Every time we take a dollar from the Pentagon we should be slipping a dime to Foggy Bottom to ensure we don’t get sucked into some avoidable future conflict.