Diplomacy is a critical arm of our national security, yet there are more people in our military marching bands than in the State Department’s Foreign Service. In light of Tuesday’s tragic events in Benghazi, isn’t it about time we address the vast discrepancies between the annual budgets for the Defense Department ($614B) and the State Department ($51.6B)?
Our national security policies affect every aspect of our society—culturally, politically, and economically. Americans will always rally to defend this great nation, but a true patriot never fears a serious debate about the methods we use to accomplish this vital mission.
How Congress left our embassies exposed
One reason our embassies are unable to protect themselves? Congress has been slashing their funding for years
BY JORDAN MICHAEL SMITH
Responding to mob attacks on a U.S. embassy and consulate in Egypt and Libya, Sens. John McCain, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham said the following: “[W]e now look to the Libyan government to ensure that the perpetrators are swiftly brought to justice, and that U.S. diplomats are protected.” Well, if the senators want to better protect American diplomats, they will have to convince their colleagues. The Benghazi consulate where Ambassador Christopher Stevens was murdered had no Marines surrounding it, no bulletproof glass and no reinforced doors. Libyan security officials were partly in charge of securing the building.
Among the worst trends in U.S. foreign-policy making in recent decades is the decline of the State Department and the corresponding rise of the Defense Department. State is responsible for American diplomacy — the hard work of negotiating and maintaining relations with other countries; Defense (formerly the Department of War, a more honest designation) looks after war-making and protecting national security. Few things reflect America’s skewed foreign-policy priorities more than the funding discrepancies between the two departments. Consider the numbers:
- In 1950, State had 7,710 diplomats abroad. In 2001, it actually had fewer — just 7,158. During that time the U.S. population approximately doubled.
- As of 2010, the Pentagon admitted to having 190,000 troops and 909 military facilities in 46 countries and territories.
- As of the fall of 2011, the U.S. had 1,300 civilian workers versus 100,000 military personnel in Afghanistan.
- The State Department’s funding request for 2013 was $51.6 billion, $300 million less than 2012, because, it said, “this is a time of fiscal retraint.”
- The Pentagon’s 2012 budget? $614 billion. Mitt Romney promises to increase defense spending dramatically.
As Stephen Glain puts it in his wonderful and disturbing 2010 book “State vs. Defense,” “the Pentagon has all but eclipsed the State Department at the center of U.S. foreign policy.” It wasn’t always like this. With a few notable exceptions, during the first years of the Cold War, presidents relied far more on their State Department heads for advice than their Defense Department counterparts. Giants like George Marshall, Dean Acheson and John Foster Dulles had more control in the Truman and Eisenhower administrations over foreign-policy making than anyone else in the country, with the president excepted. It was assumed that their focus on grand strategy and knowledge of international affairs gave them more expertise in national security than the Defense Department secretaries, who were military men and might see the world more narrowly.
That balance began to change in the Kennedy administration. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara had far more influence over Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson than did Secretary of State Dean Rusk. The switch reflected corresponding changes in U.S. foreign-policy emphasis from diplomacy to militarism. Since then, with a few important exceptions, Defense secretaries have strongly overpowered their State Department equivalents. At the very least, they have had a much greater role in American endeavors overseas, simply because they have far greater resources and power. Washington Post reporter Dana Priest explained it in her book “The Mission”: “The military simply filled a vacuum left by an indecisive White House, an atrophied State Department, and a distracted Congress … long before September 11, the U.S. government had grown dependent on its military to carry out its foreign affairs.”
Secretaries of State have had to beg for crumbs from Congress, which sees diplomacy as an easy thing to cut back — who lobbies for more money for diplomats? Military contractors have all the money. In addition, no president is criticized for gutting State, while taking even a nail file to Defense’s obese budget elicits slurs from the opposing party. Condi Rice demonstrated this problem. In 2000, as Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush’s foreign policy advisor, she said that it wasn’t the job of Defense to perform civilian duties. “We don’t need to have the 82nd Airborne escorting kids to kindergarten,” she quipped. By 2008, she was saying, “I still think that’s true, but somebody’s got to do it. And what we are learning is that the weakness of civilian institutions to do the business of state-building is one of the true lacuna, one of the true holes in our national capacity.” Indeed it is. But the big loser has been American diplomacy. Defense has so much money that it has essentially taken over both functions, as well as many others.
What does all this have to do with the diplomats killed in the Middle East on Tuesday? Well, embassies and consulates can’t be expected to have strong security apparatuses without any funding. They don’t have nearly enough staff members, let alone enough financial support for guards and protection. Who is going to control a mob of hundreds storming a U.S. embassy: an intern? Embassies are left exposed and often powerless in foreign countries, forced to defer to military officials on bases where they do not even belong.
The United States had virtually an entire city inside Iraq in the 2000s — 10 square kilometers that even the Chinese military couldn’t penetrate if it tried. The thing was as protected as any site in the history of the world, with concrete blast walls, T-Walls and barbed-wire fences. It couldn’t be entered except at checkpoints, all of which were controlled by Coalition troops.
American diplomats and civilian workers do not come close to competing with that. They are underfunded, underappreciated and mostly unknown to the American public. The tragedies on Tuesday in Cairo and Benghazi are symbolic of the State Department’s weakness in U.S. foreign policy. Too bad there is little hope of reversing the balance any time soon.
Jordan Michael Smith writes about U.S. foreign policy for Salon. He has written for the New York Times, Boston Globe and Washington Post. MORE JORDAN MICHAEL SMITH.
Did the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi Not Have Enough Security?
TIME speaks to the Libyan politician who had breakfast with U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens on the day of the American’s death
By VIVIENNE WALT
A tomato-and-onion omelette, washed down with hot coffee: that was the last breakfast of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens’ life. And although the scene in the U.S. consulate’s canteen in Benghazi on Tuesday morning looked serene, under the surface there were signs of potential trouble, according to the Libyan politician who had breakfast with Stevens the morning before the ambassador and three other Americans died in a violent assault by armed Islamic militants. “I told him the security was not enough,” Fathi Baja, a political-science professor and one of the leaders of Libya’s rebel government during last year’s revolution, told TIME on Thursday. “I said, ‘Chris, this is a U.S. consulate. You have to add to the number of people, bring Americans here to guard it because the Libyans are not trained.”
Stevens, says Baja, listened attentively — but it was too late. On Tuesday night, armed Islamic militants laid siege to the consulate, firing rockets and grenades into the main building and the annex, pinning the staff and its security detail inside the blazing complex; U.S. officials told reporters on Wednesday they believed it took Libyan security guards about four hours to regain control of the main building. In the chaos, Stevens was separated in the dark from his colleagues, and hours later was transported by Libyans to a Benghazi hospital, where he died, alone, apparently of asphyxiation from the smoke.
U.S. officials told reporters on Wednesday that the Benghazi consulate had “a robust American security presence, including a strong component of regional security officers.” And indeed, one of the four Americans killed was former Navy SEAL Glen Doherty, who was “on security detail” and “protecting the ambassador,” his sister Katie Quigly told the Boston Globe. Also killed was an information-management officer, Sean Smith. The fourth American who died has not yet been identified. Yet Baja describes a very different picture from his visit on Tuesday morning, even remarking at how relaxed the scene was when he returned to the consulate building a short while after leaving Stevens, in order to collect the mobile phone he had accidentally left behind. “The consulate was very calm, with video [surveillance] cameras outside,” Baja says. “But inside there were only four security guards, all Libyans — four! — and with only Kalashnikovs on their backs. I said, ‘Chris, this is the most powerful country in the world. Other countries all have more guards than the U.S.,’” he says, naming as two examples Jordan and Morocco.
With the compound now an evacuated, smoldering ruin, Baja, who befriended Stevens in Benghazi during last year’s seven-month civil war, and in recent weeks had shared long Ramadan dinners with him, says he felt stricken not only by the loss but also by the sense that perhaps the tragedy could have been averted, had there been tighter security on the ground, and — more especially — had Libya’s nascent government cracked down against armed militia groups. Bristling with weaponry, much of it from Muammar Gaddafi’s huge abandoned arsenals, groups of former fighters have been permitted to act as local security forces in towns across Libya during the postwar upheaval in order to fill the security vacuum, despite the scant loyalty among many of them to the new democracy. “Up to now, there has been cover from the government for these extremist people,” Baja says, adding that he and Stevens had discussed for months the urgent threats from armed militia. “[Government officials] still pay them salaries, and I think this is disgusting.”
President Obama vowed on Wednesday to help track down the attackers. U.S. officials suspect the attack was a planned operation, rather than the result of a demonstration that got out of control. In an opinion piece on CNN.com on Thursday, Noman Benotman, a former leader of the militant Libyan Islamic Fighting Group who now runs the Quilliam Foundation, an anti-extremist organization in London, said he believed the attack had been the work of 20 militants. He told CNN that he believed a militant group called the Omar Abdul Rahman Brigades could have coordinated the attack, perhaps to avenge the killing of Abu Yahya al-Libi, a Libyan al-Qaeda leader, who died in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan last June; the group also claimed responsibility for the attack last May against the International Red Cross in Benghazi.
In the scramble to figure out what went so calamitously wrong, U.S. officials deployed 50 Marines to Tripoli from a base in Spain, as members of an elite antiterrorism force called FAST, according to the Associated Press, citing unnamed U.S. officials. In addition, two American warships have been stationed off the Libyan coast.
Ironically, Benghazi had ostensibly held a special bond, as well as a debt of gratitude, to the U.S. and other Western countries — something highlighted in the bitter comments by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday, when she expressed dismay that the attack occurred in a city the U.S. helped to save. French and American military jets pounded Gaddafi’s forces outside the city in March last year, saving Benghazi from the threat of mass slaughter.
The deep fondness for the U.S. is indeed felt in Benghazi, according to Baja, who was head of the political-affairs committee for Libya’s National Transitional Council until the elected government was installed last month. Stevens and Baja had met on Tuesday morning primarily to plan the American Cultural Center’s official opening, which was scheduled for Wednesday evening. “There was going to be a big ceremony,” Baja says. “There was going to be English classes. It was a very nice place.”
Recalling what he told Stevens over their omelettes, Baja says, “I told him, people admire the U.S. style of life, but that there were extremists, and we have to work in a cooperative way to put an end to these people,” adding that he had advocated pushing Libyan officials to crack down on armed militia. “He agreed with that. He knew this, he knew the names of the militia I told him, and their background.” Now that knowledge — some of it gone with Stevens’ disastrous death — could become key details in the grim investigation.