Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Some Thoughts Regarding The Repulsive Slaying of American Consular Officials in Benghazi

So this is  where "democratic" revolution in Libya has gotten us. Some nobody in the US makes a film months ago saying nasty things about Islam. Newly liberated Libyans decide that the anniversary of September 11th is a grand old time to respond by sending a mob to butcher US consular officials. Local authorities are either complicit in this, or powerless to stop it.

So we now have in Libya a society where the important decisions are being made by the terrorists - thuggish, humourless religious fanatics who are on hair-trigger alert for anyone, anywhere saying things that might hurt their delicate and precious feelings (or their supporters). Either the government supports this, or the government is unable to stop this. I loathe the old butcher as much as anybody, but I am at a loss to hear the explanation as to how this state of affairs is a clear improvement over Gaddaffi.

We've also got the same trend going on in Egypt, causing the US consulate to make cringeworthy statements attacking US free speech trying to defuse the mob on its doorstep. Another triumph for democracy! Things were so boring and predictable under Mubarak.

Look, I understand why US embassy officials might say cowardly things to try to save their skin when an angry mob is on their doorstep. The bigger question is, why did the Cairo embassy staff feel that they were on their own, and the only way out was appeasement?

It's somewhat a trick question. Embassies are always at the mercy of the locals, at least in the short term. What protects them is the threat of the sovereign might of the country. Sometimes this registers with the mob directly. More likely, it registers with the local country officials, who rein in their citizens instead of letting them murder foreign diplomats.

So the real question becomes this - why did the mob (and the local governments) feel that they could violate US sovereign territory and murder US citizens with impunity?

This is why. This is why.

Gary Brecher had some strong thoughts on what a real response to the Iranian hostage crisis might have looked like. I wouldn't want to take it as far as he suggests. But there's a whole range of possible options that would have sent a clear message of deterrence for future embassy looters. You can bet, however, that the appropriate response sure as s*** didn't involve sending in 8 helicopters in some hare-brained rescue scheme doomed to failure.
Beckwith had no choice but to scrub the mission right there in the desert. All because Carter only authorized eight lousy choppers.
When Nixon heard about it, he had a great comment: "Eight? Why not a thousand? It's not like we don't have them!"
Clinton, meanwhile, sent a firm and fearsome lesson by bombing a camp in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan. Yeah, they got that message loud and clear.

This time around, everyone, from the consular officials, to the mob, to the local government, predicted that the US certainly wouldn't do anything beforehand, and likely wouldn't do anything afterwards either.

So far, they've been right.

In the Iranian hostage crisis, at least, the US was under the moral blackmail that any strike on Tehran would likely cause the deaths of the US consular officials.

Well, that ship has already sailed this time. The question is what the US is going to do.

We've got a thousand choppers now, too. Are you holding your breath for a military response? In election season? I'm sure not.

If the US isn't willing to strongly punish countries that violate its embassies, it has no business putting consular officials in hellhole countries in the first place.

In the likely event that no serious military response is forthcoming, let me advance the following prediction:

Expect more fatal attacks on US embassies, and sooner, rather than later.


  1. I'm perplexed how the Stevens could have been left so exposed. This should never have happened (security wise) and smells like a complete clusterfuck by whoever was meant to ensure security. As for Cairo, I'd have shot those who breached the walls of the embassy.

    The US better bring a world of hurt, and then some, to those responsible for this.

    But don't be so quick to condemn the Libyan people. I don't agree that this reflects the attitude of 'all' of the Libyan people. This is an interesting take on it:

    1. You're quite right that this almost certainly doesn't reflect the attitude of all the Libyan people. Same thing in Egypt - I'd be thrilled if this guy, for instance, were to succeed out of Egypt's current mess. I feel immense sympathy for moderates in these countries fighting for liberty.

      The problem is that the people who don't support these acts don't seem to be numerous enough or powerful enough to stop those who do. So when you get rid of the strongman keeping this kind of thing in check, it's the most ruthless groups that tend to increase in power. We keep expecting the liberal moderates to win elections and consolidate power, and keep being surprised when they don't.

      Interesting article. It does reinforce in my mind that, for better or worse, the West just doesn't do collective punishment any more. That's surely an improvement in some senses, but makes it rather hard to create much of a deterrence effect.