America / Dpt. of State / Foreign Policy / Gov. Officials / National Security / Politics / Presidency

Death of a Diplomat: The Fiscal Cliff and Diplomatic Security

In the wake of Ambassador Christopher Stevens’ death, the resultant media deluge on Libyan consulate attacks spouted a cornucopia of opinions, including discussion on the anti-Muhammad film that sparked the initial protests, the effectiveness of President Obama’s foreign policy efforts towards the Middle East;, the thought process, or lack thereof, of Mitt Romney’s ill-time statement on the attack, and the lack of security protecting the consulate. In spite of the constant verbiage spewed by an assortment of political commentators covering the ever-polarizing political spectrum, little of the superfluous discussion and debate centered on the most important aspect to emerge from the chaotic aftermath: the impact of the fiscal cliff on diplomatic security.

Prior to the attack on the consulate, as well as the violence at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, the presidential campaigns had been almost entirely devoid of substantive foreign policy discussion. In fact, there has been little constructive discussion on foreign policy in any of the build-up to the 2012 elections, at the presidential and congressional level. The Republican presidential primary, for instance, offered only meager morsels, usually on Iran or China. After all, it’s the economy stupid! With a meager economic recovery, the majority of the presidential campaign political discourse has focused on which candidate is best suited to rebuild a damaged economy into an innovatively robust one.

Intently linked to the potential direction of the economy is the fiscal cliff, the $600 billion in tax increase and spending cuts set to take effect on January 1, 2013. The fiscal cliff would bring tremendous relief to the current U.S. deficit, cutting it roughly in half; however, it would also lead to a higher unemployment rate (from the current 8.1% or so to 9.1%) and another recession (as the economy would shrink by 2.9% in the first half of 2013 and 0.5 for the entire year), per the Congressional Budget Office report on the issue. Specifically, the fiscal cliff will reduce the budgets for defense programs by 9.4%, including a $129 million cut to the budget for diplomatic security. Those cuts would only further endanger the lives of ambassadors and embassy staff around the world, particularly those working in the parts were being an American alone puts their lives at risk. As Colum Lynch of the Washington Post said, “The volatile demonstrations at U.S. diplomatic missions…have shattered any illusions about the inviolability of America’s envoys and highlighted the perils of diplomatic life in a region undergoing sweeping political upheaval.”

Despite the tremendous severity of the situation, Congress continues to dither, divided by bitter partisanship and ignorant of how to compromise. Neither party will take responsibility for the impending cliff, despite both parties being at fault, choosing instead to blame the other side for the current situation. For example, Speaker of the House John Boehner said, “With only a few months to go before they’re scheduled to take effect, President Obama and the Democrats have taken no action whatsoever to avert these cuts.” No responsibility taken from Mr. Boehner. The White House, in turn, responded to the situation by saying Republicans in Congress have offered only “unrealistic solutions” that were not “realistic, fair, or reasonable ways” to avoid the spending cuts. No responsibility taken there either. The situation, as per usual, has devolved into nothing more than a pissing match, with both sides guffawing at the idea of working together. It is within this toxic atmosphere that the economic future of the Untied States hangs. It is also in this atmosphere that the future security of our diplomats hangs.

The assassination of Ambassador Stevens should awoken Congress to the severity of the fiscal cliff situation. Instead, Congress continues their blithering ways. If Ambassador Stevens could be killed with the current funding for diplomatic security, then the chances of another assassination increase with a significant cut to the diplomatic security budget. Only Al-Qaeda benefits from the spending cuts. Congress continues not only to play with the economic well being of Americans, but also their lives.