Benghazi Attack 2013: Fortress Embassies Don't Work, and It's Time to Stop Building Them


President Obama answered press questions in the Rose Garden after his talks with the Turkish Prime Minister on Thursday. He addressed the Benghazi attack investigation during the question-and-answer period with the press and called on Congress to spend $1.4 billion for increased security on U.S. embassies in volatile regions to prevent future attacks.

Since 2001, there have been eight attacks on U.S. embassies and consulates — mostly in the Middle East — so the Benghazi attack shouldn’t just stir up emotions about potential government ineptitude. Instead, this should shed light on a connection between constructing new embassies in volatile areas that may not want U.S. interference. There have been 88 new facilities built since 2001 and 41 facilities have ongoing construction.  There are 294 U.S. embassies and consulates around the world and the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations is responsible for maintaining 274 locations with over 86,000 employees. The high proportion of attacks on embassies post-9/11 is significant due to the construction of many new embassies and the accusation of their “fortress-like” design.

Embassy security is in the same budget with construction and maintenance, so it’s misleading to call for additional spending on U.S. embassy security without determining the specific budget allocations. In fact, there has been significant increase in U.S. embassy funding since 2001. Even the conservative Heritage Foundation found there has been more than adequate funding for U.S. embassies: “It is tempting to look for a scapegoat for the tragic events in Libya. However, if one exists, the overall budget for embassy security is not it. Funding for that purpose has risen sharply over the past decade.”   

Embassies are considered diplomatic rather than defense-related, and were subject to a $79 million spending reduction under sequestration. U.S. embassy funding is mostly allocated through the Overseas Contingency Operations budget within the U.S. Department of State.  According to the State Department’s “Embassy Security, Construction and Maintenance” report, spending on U.S. embassies will consist of “$730 million in FY 2013 for New Embassy Compound (NEC) projects in N’Djamena, Chad; Paramaribo, Suriname; and The Hague, Netherlands, as well as site acquisitions at locations where NEC projects are planned in the future.” The State Department has indicated that “The FY 2013 budget request outlines important steps to ensure the long-term success of OBO’s capital construction and maintenance programs. Addressing existing facility maintenance requirements will provide long-term value to the U.S. Government.” Ensuring long-term U.S. presence should not be the goal if we want a balanced budget and peaceful foreign relationships. 

Now that the Benghazi investigation has stirred interest in U.S. embassy security, it is likely that Congress will fund these construction projects with bipartisan support free from that pesky sequestration. Instead of building new embassies, we should save some money by considering why terrorists are attacking them.