Attack at Benghazi: Terrorism, the Video, or What?

By | November 29, 2012 | 0 Comments


Ambassador Chris Stevens, 1960-2012

With the short attention-span of our media, the Sept. 11 attack on our consulate in Benghazi, Libya is already fading from memory. That is, except for the memories of the families and friends of the four Americans who were killed there.

A mob invaded our embassy in Cairo, Egypt, climbing over the wall, burning our flag – and replacing it with the black flag of Al Qaeda. And another, coordinated mob invaded our consulate at Benghazi, Libya, and killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, then dragged his body through the streets. Also killed were three Americans on his staff: Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty. The last two were former Navy SEALs. An unconfirmed report claims that Stevens was tortured.
A heated controversy arose – and is still bubbling – over the cause of the attack. In his address to the U.N., President Obama repeatedly blamed a brief, amateurish video that appeared on YouTube and was felt to insult Muhammad and Islam. I use the word “felt,” rather than believed, or alleged, or claimed, to indicate that whether or not something is insulting is decided not by any objective criteria, but merely by the feelings of those who react.
I am responsible for the accuracy of what I say or write, but I am not responsible for how anyone feels about it. That is their problem. If they attempt to make it my problem, we have a problem – in all senses of that word.
If I say that two and two are five, I am factually incorrect, but no one will feel insulted. But if I say that extremist Islam is a source of much violence today, I am factually correct, but some people may feel insulted. So what? If we censored anything that might cause some people to feel insulted, we would have silenced Galileo, Copernicus, and Darwin – as well as anyone who spoke out against slavery, Nazism, or communism.
Dr. Susan Rice, our ambassador to the U.N., appeared on Sunday talk shows and asserted, as did the president, that the attack was incited by the video. The video had no connection to the U.S. Government, and was produced by an Egyptian Christian who was living in California – and who was on parole for bank fraud. Soon he was jailed for parole violation – or was it for insulting Islam? Who knows?
The attack was a culmination of prior attacks at Benghazi, and it utilized mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. Spontaneous demonstrations do not include people who just happen to be walking around with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. Clearly, the attack was not spontaneous. And the date, Sept. 11, suggests planning, while the simultaneous attack on our Cairo embassy suggests coordination.
Nevertheless, the video may have provided an excuse for the attack, and some members of the mob may have been motivated by anger at the video. So what? Why are we wasting time and energy arguing about whether the attack was terrorism or was in reaction to the video? What’s the difference?
When Timothy McVeigh blew up the Oklahoma City federal building on the anniversary of the attack on the Branch Davidians at Waco, he was motivated by revenge for that attack. But everyone called McVeigh a domestic terrorist – which he was. True, he was angry about Waco, as were many people including me. But he expressed his anger by murdering 168 people – none of whom, so far as I know, had anything to do with Waco. His motive was revenge, which he admitted after his capture.
McVeigh was motivated by an event that angered even reasonable people. But we all agreed that his violent reaction constituted terrorism. So what are we arguing about now? Who cares what the mob in Benghazi claimed to be reacting to? Killing innocent people, especially in a spectacular way, is terrorism. The purpose is to terrorize. Terrorized people will go out of their way not to antagonize the terrorists even more.
This may take a specific form – for example, jailing the video maker and intimidating others from making similar videos that are felt to insult Islam. Or it may take a nonspecific form – for example, being careful not to say or write anything that might be construed as anti-Islamic in newspapers, in blogs, in radio and TV shows, or in classrooms. But in either case, the purpose is to terrorize, and it is already succeeding.
But beyond this, the Cairo attack was on our embassy, and the Benghazi attack was on our consulate – both legally American territory. In the Benghazi attack, our ambassador, his aide, and two security personnel were killed. Note that I do not say “murdered.” Those who set off bombs in nightclubs, pizzerias, subways, and buses are terrorists who murder civilians. But those who attack U.S. diplomatic installations and kill U.S. personnel are committing acts of war. If a nation is involved in planning or supplying these attackers – as Iran is suspected of doing here – these are clearly acts of war.
The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 were planned and supported by Al Qaeda and the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan. Quite properly, President Bush asked for, and Congress authorized, the use of military force to remove them. The Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war, but it does not specify any words to be used. Authorizing military force against a nation is in fact a declaration of war.
For this reason, I say that the four Americans in Benghazi were KIA, killed in action. And so were the 14 killed by Major Hassan at Fort Hood, and the 29 hurt were WIA, wounded in action. They deserve Purple Heart Medals. To call the Fort Hood attack “workplace violence” is a gross understatement similar to saying that Jeffrey Dahmer had an eating disorder.
Who can be sure what the motives of the Benghazi attackers might have been? Only God can see into our hearts. All we can do is observe what people do. Sherlock Holmes criticized Dr. Watson by saying, “You see, but you don’t observe.”
That describes us precisely. We see mobs equipped with heavy weapons attacking our diplomatic missions and killing our diplomats. But we don’t observe. We don’t grasp the significance of people invading our territory and killing our diplomats – people supported by foreign governments. So we squabble about the attackers’ motives, which are both irrelevant and ultimately unknowable.
I just saw the excellent film “Argo.” It deals with a brave and resourceful CIA agent who got six American diplomats out of Iran when our embassy was seized in 1979. The rescue was heroic. But the remaining 52 Americans were held prisoner and mistreated for 444 days, and released (not coincidentally) the day Ronald Reagan replaced Jimmy Carter as president.
Carter ordered an understaffed and underequipped rescue attempt, which was unsuccessful and resulted in the deaths of eight American service members. This further humiliated America in the eyes of our enemies and our friends. As I watched “Argo,” I was rooting for the CIA man to get the six Americans out of Tehran. But my joy at their success was tempered by my sadness at the prolonged ordeal of the remaining 52 hostages.
The film was released near the time of the Benghazi attack. I could not help thinking that if we had reacted strongly to the 1979 attack, further attacks on our diplomats would have been less likely. The safety of the hostages must be our first priority. But it must not be our only priority. The safety of potential future hostages must also figure in our calculations. It’s called deterrence.
But weak as he was, at least Jimmy Carter condemned the hostage-takers as terrorists whose brutal actions shocked the civilized world. And as ineffectual as America was in those days, at least we had the honesty to say what was happening. Now we further humiliate ourselves before the world with nit-picking arguments about whether it was the video or it was terrorism.
Even if the attack had anything to do with the video, it was still terrorism. But it was also an act of war. The other side knows it is at war. We don’t. And what do you call a war that only one side realizes it is fighting? You call it surrender. Slow-motion surrender, partial surrender, piecemeal surrender, gradual surrender – but surrender nevertheless.
The real questions are: (1) Who rejected repeated requests to upgrade security at Benghazi in the months before the attack? (2) Who rejected repeated requests for help during the seven hours of the attack? Any other question is merely a diversion.
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