The New York Times isn’t exactly known for a grand tradition of neutrality on political issues.  But an editorial published this past weekend hit a new low when the Times jumped on the growing bandwagon of liberal critics accusing House Republicans of widespread hypocrisy on the subject of the terrorist attack in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stephens and three other Americans.

The piece’s opening is more than enough to convey the attitude the authors are trying to drive home:

“There are many unanswered questions about the vicious assault in Benghazi last month that killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. And Congress has a responsibility to raise them. But Republican lawmakers leading the charge on Capitol Hill seem more interested in attacking President Obama than in formulating an effective response.

It doesn’t take a partisan to draw that conclusion. The ugly truth is that the same people who are accusing the administration of not providing sufficient security for the American consulate in Benghazi have voted to cut the State Department budget, which includes financing for diplomatic security. The most self-righteous critics don’t seem to get the hypocrisy, or maybe they do and figure that if they hurl enough doubts and complaints at the administration, they will deflect attention from their own poor judgments on the State Department’s needs.”

Thus goes the majority of the piece.  Republicans are accused of contributing just as greatly to the problems in Benghazi by undercutting funds from State Department and White House requests, or by making votes that would have cut from those requests, thereby guaranteeing that our embassies were unable to effectively guard their people and property.

The Times isn’t the only outlet to repeat this story.  After Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) admitted in a CNN interview with Soledad O’Brien that he had voted to cut back on State Department funding, O’Brien chose to double down on the funding cuts as a source of responsibility before she took time to hear any of Chaffetz’s responses.  Dana Milbank recently wrote in the Washington Post that these kinds of cuts are demonstrative of what would makes Mitt Romney’s proposed budget cuts such a “dangerous” plan: because he hasn’t released all the details of what programs he will cut, he will inevitably make cuts that threaten key government programs and put Americans in jeopardy.

This story has been building for a while now.  The Hill published a story in September covering spending reductions proposed by the Republican-controlled House, pointing out that Democrats were criticizing Republicans for what Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) called a “meat-ax” approach to budget cuts.  Later in the article, the author Alexander Bolton summarizes the shape of the whole debate over proposed budget cuts:

“Republicans argue last week’s attacks are the result of a weak foreign policy under President Obama, and a top adviser to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign last week said they would not have happened under the GOP nominee’s watch.

“There’s a pretty compelling story that if you had a President Romney, you’d be in a different situation,” Romney adviser Richard Williamson told The Washington Post. “For the first time since Jimmy Carter, we’ve had an American ambassador assassinated.”

But Democrats argue the security cuts pushed by Republicans mean diplomats would be more vulnerable if the GOP controlled both the White House and legislative branch.

“When House Republicans protect budget-busting tax breaks for millionaires first, and slash embassy security, they reveal that their tough talk on national security is really just hollow words,” said Jesse Ferguson, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.”

(Emphasis Mine)

This is the crux of the liberal argument: House Republicans, by undercutting the budget requests of the State Department, demonstrated that they are irresponsible on matters of diplomatic security because their budget cuts could have made things worse.  Therefore, they deserve heated criticism too and have no room to scrutinize or criticize President Obama’s foreign policy decisions.  The New York Times editorial jumps right on this bandwagon.

There are, however, two major problems with this critique.  The first is that it is hypocritical for liberals to criticize Republicans for undercutting the requests of other governmental departments.  One example is directly relevant to the issue at hand: Senate Democrats, according to the same Hill article mentioned above, ALSO proposed less for the State Department budget (though not as much less as the House).

However, other parallel examples exists:  President Obama himself famously undercut General Stanley McChrystal’s request for 40,000 troops in the initial Afghanistan surge, giving him only 30,000.  In an ironic twist, it could also be argued that this better enables the left to criticize those who may want to undercut the requests of governmental authorities: the troop surge was recently graded as an “F” by the military’s own internal analysis, and the lower troop figures likely played a role in the sharply increased levels of military casualties under Obama’s watch.

The left could make this argument from a position of humility: “Look what happened to us when we made a bad judgement and undercut troop requests!  Don’t make the same mistake by undercutting State Department security requests!”  The left is not doing this, however.  By completely ignoring their own party’s proposed cuts in the Senate, Democrats are simply making an argument that Republicans are worse than they are. This is a weak argument at best.

This brings us to a second issue with the left’s critique.  It is a common logical fallacy to assume that something that could contribute to phenomenon must contribute to that phenomenon.  The Times editorial captured this mistaken sentiment nicely:

“The most self-righteous critics don’t seem to get the hypocrisy, or maybe they do and figure that if they hurl enough doubts and complaints at the administration, they will deflect attention from their own poor judgments on the State Department’s needs.”

The crux of the argument against Republicans currently depends on the notion that if the State Department had been given the appropriate funds, they would have been able to better defend themselves and maybe avoid the tragic losses incurred on Sept. 11, 2012.  Evidence suggests that this is an utterly false assumption.  Testifying before Congress, the State Department’s former security chief for Libya stated that more security personnel would not have stopped the attack.  Charlene Lamb, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for diplomatic security, also testified before Congress and went further, saying that funding considerations were not at all a factor in the State Department’s decision to not send more security personnel to Libya.

It would appear that lack of funds was in no way connected to the assault that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and the three other Americans stationed at the Benghazi consulate.  Even more stunning is the fact that, even in a hypothetical scenario where the State Department had more resources to leverage toward Libyan diplomatic security, increased security at the consulate could not have stopped the attack anyway.

It’s telling that this argument, despite its largely false nature, is still popular: when fewer and fewer rational explanations -apart from the Obama administration’s own mishandling of its foreign policy- exist, people will begin turning toward irrational or false reasoning that doesn’t threaten their biases.
But despite these facts, the critique against Republicans for irresponsible budget cuts that threaten American diplomatic personnel continues.

The New York Times, with all its resources and fact-checking capabilities, should be ashamed of its purely political and factually misleading editorial.  They are far smarter than the material they recently printed.

David Giffin | Emory University | @D_Giffin