The Cable

State Department requests budget increase for 2013

Foggy Bottom took a big budget cut in 2012, so the State Department is asking for more money next year while requesting more than $8 billion for diplomatic activities in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.

The president's fiscal 2013 budget request, released today, asks Congress for $51.6 billion for the State Department and USAID, which the administration describes as a 1.6 percent, or 0.8 billion increase over fiscal 2012 levels as enacted by Congress in the latest appropriations bill. That $51.6 billion total includes $8.2 billion in the Overseas Contingency Operations account, which is meant to pay for the temporary costs of the wars in Southwest Asia and their aftermaths.

The administration's request for the entire international affairs account, known as the 150 function of federal budgeting, is $56.3 billion, a $1.4 billion or 2.6 percent increase of fiscal 2012 enacted levels. The $8.2 billion being requested for the OCO account is about $3 billion or 26 percent less than the level enacted for fiscal year 2012.

"Even in tough times, this request represents a smart and strategic investment. The State Department and USAID are among the most effective -- and cost effective -- tools we have to create economic opportunity and keep Americans safe," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in her letter accompanying the State and USAID budget request.

"We know that this is a time of fiscal constraint and economic hardship for the American people. So we are seeking out every opportunity to work smarter and more efficiently.  We have proposed painful but responsible cuts without compromising our national security mission."

The budget request would cut funding for global health programs by $300 million and cut the request for humanitarian assistance by another $300 million, Clinton wrote. Overall assistance to Europe, Eurasia, and Central Asia was cut by 18 percent in the request.

The budget request also includes $770 million for a Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund -- call it the "Arab Spring" budget. It is not yet clear to what extent the $770 million represents new funding vs. the repacking of old programs.

The White House's budget document can be found here. The State Department's fact sheet is here. State's budget summary document is here and their budget justification document is here.

We'll have more after a series of briefings...

The Cable

As violence grows, Ford emphasizes peaceful transition in Syria

U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford took to the U.S. Embassy Damascus Facebook page Thursday to explain the reasons for the closing of the embassy Feb. 6 and to offer new evidence that the Syrian regime is attacking civilians.

"First, like people around the world, my colleagues and friends are watching the video coming out of Homs and some of the other Syrian cities in the last days with horror and revulsion," Ford wrote. "I hear the devastating stories about newborns in Homs dying in hospitals where electricity has been cut and when we see disturbing photos offering proof that the regime is using mortars and artillery against residential neighborhoods, all of us become even more concerned about the tragic outcome for Syrian civilians." [emphasis in the original]

"It is odd to me that anyone would try to equate the actions of the Syrian army and armed opposition groups since the Syrian government consistently initiates the attacks on civilian areas, and it is using its heaviest weapons," he continued, in a not-so-veiled reference to Russian and Chinese diplomats, who made that very argument before vetoing the Arab League backed resolution at the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 4.

Ford also went into the reason behind the embassy closing, which he said was the most taxing day in his multi-decade diplomatic career. 

"I left Damascus with immense sadness and regret-I wish our departure had not been necessary, but our Embassy, along with several other diplomatic missions in the area, was not sufficiently protected, given the new security concerns in the capital," he wrote. "We and those other embassies requested extra protection measures from the Syrian government, given the danger to both our citizens and the Syrian citizens that worked with and near us. Our concerns were not addressed."

Ford said he remains the ambassador and will work in Washington "to support a peaceful transition for the Syrian people." [italics original]

"We and our international partners hope to see a transition that reaches out and includes all of Syria's communities and that gives all Syrians hope for a better future," Ford wrote. "My year in Syria tells me such a transition is possible, but not when one side constantly initiates attacks against people taking shelter in their homes."

UPDATE: The State Department released a set of declassified satellite photos Friday as evidence the Syrian military is attacking civilians. Those photos can be found here.

U.S. Department of State