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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Terrorist attack in Benghazi kills American ambassador to Libya, two U.S. Marines

U.S. Ambas­sador to Libya Christo­pher J. Stevens, For­eign Ser­vice Infor­ma­tion Man­age­ment Offi­cer Sean Smith and two U.S. Marines were killed yes­ter­day when ter­ror­ists attacked the Amer­i­can con­sulate in Beng­hazi with rock­et-pro­pelled grenades and firearms dur­ing a protest by angry Libyans upset with a trail­er for an anony­mous­ly-pro­duced film that den­i­grates Islam, the White House has confirmed.

The attack on the con­sulate is believed to have been car­ried out fol­low­ing some method­i­cal plan­ning on the part of the ter­ror­ists. A group affil­i­at­ed with al Qae­da is report­ed­ly con­sid­ered to be the top suspect.

“I strong­ly con­demn the out­ra­geous attack on our diplo­mat­ic facil­i­ty in Beng­hazi, which took the lives of four Amer­i­cans, includ­ing Ambas­sador Chris Stevens,” Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma said in a statement.

“Right now, the Amer­i­can peo­ple have the fam­i­lies of those we lost in our thoughts and prayers. They exem­pli­fied Amer­i­ca’s com­mit­ment to free­dom, jus­tice, and part­ner­ship with nations and peo­ple around the globe, and stand in stark con­trast to those who cal­lous­ly took their lives.”

“Chris was a coura­geous and exem­plary rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Unit­ed States. Through­out the Libyan rev­o­lu­tion, he self­less­ly served our coun­try and the Libyan peo­ple at our mis­sion in Beng­hazi. As Ambas­sador in Tripoli, he has sup­port­ed Libya’s tran­si­tion to democ­ra­cy. His lega­cy will endure wher­ev­er human beings reach for lib­er­ty and jus­tice. I am pro­found­ly grate­ful for his ser­vice to my Admin­is­tra­tion, and deeply sad­dened by this loss.”

In remarks in the Rose Gar­den this morn­ing, the Pres­i­dent not­ed that Libyan author­i­ties attempt­ed to pro­tect Stevens and his team in the face of the attack.

“Libyan secu­ri­ty per­son­nel fought back against the attack­ers along­side Amer­i­cans.  Libyans helped some of our diplo­mats find safe­ty, and they car­ried Ambas­sador Stevens’s body to the hos­pi­tal, where we trag­i­cal­ly learned that he had died.”

A squadron of fifty U.S. Marines who have received spe­cial train­ing on pro­tect­ing U.S. diplo­mats have been sent to Libya, Pres­i­dent Oba­ma said.

The Amer­i­can embassy in Cairo, Egypt was also stormed by an ultra­con­ser­v­a­tive mob upset by the film trail­er. Some indi­vid­u­als from the mob scaled the embassy’s walls, tore down the Amer­i­can flag, and replaced it with a black Islamist flag. Thou­sands of Egypt­ian police offi­cers in riot gear respond­ed to the mob. They per­suad­ed those inside the com­pound to leave, and then remained on guard to keep watch on the crowd out­side of the embassy.

No one inside the Cairo embassy was hurt.

Libyan lead­ers quick­ly expressed their con­do­lences and vowed to find and pun­ish those respon­si­ble for the attack on the consulate.

“We apol­o­gize to the Unit­ed States, the peo­ple and to the whole world for what hap­pened. We con­firm that no one will escape from pun­ish­ment and ques­tion­ing,” said Mohamed Yousef el-Mag­a­ri­af, the Pres­i­dent of the Gen­er­al Nation­al Con­gress of Libya, echo­ing com­ments by Libya’s prime min­is­ter.

In an attempt to quell anger direct­ed towards the Unit­ed States, the Amer­i­can embassy in Cairo released a state­ment con­cern­ing the film that it did not clear with the Depart­ment of State. “[W]e firm­ly reject the actions by those who abuse the uni­ver­sal right of free speech to hurt the reli­gious beliefs of oth­ers,” the state­ment read, adding that the embassy “con­demns the con­tin­u­ing efforts by mis­guid­ed indi­vid­u­als to hurt the reli­gious feel­ings of Mus­lims”. The state­ment was appar­ent­ly put out before the vio­lent attack on the Amer­i­can con­sulate in Beng­hazi, and before pro­test­ers scaled the walls of the embassy in Cairo.

The state­ment has since been dis­avowed by the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion, even though it did not appear in any way to con­tra­dict offi­cial U.S. policy.

Writ­ing for The Atlantic, Max Fish­er mused that the inci­dent demon­strates the com­plex­i­ty of diplo­ma­cy in the Mid­dle East.

From an Amer­i­can per­spec­tive, it was imme­di­ate­ly clear that the offend­ing film, Inno­cence of Mus­lims, rep­re­sent­ed only the deranged views of its still-mys­te­ri­ous hob­by­ist pro­duc­ers. It is also imme­di­ate­ly clear that one cost of free speech is that you will some­times be offend­ed. But, in the Egypt­ian con­text, this might not have been quite so obvi­ous. “Peo­ple [in the Arab world] com­mon­ly believe that what­ev­er hap­pens in the Amer­i­can media … inevitably the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment is involved,” Amer­i­can Uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor and for­mer Pak­istani ambas­sador Akbar Ahmed said on NPR this morn­ing, explain­ing that, in coun­tries such as Egypt, often a movie can’t get made with­out the gov­ern­men­t’s approval. This may explain some Egyp­tians’ appar­ent belief that the U.S. gov­ern­ment approved of the film, which may in turn explain the embassy’s desire to clar­i­fy that they cer­tain­ly do not.

Mean­while, Egypt­ian pro-democ­ra­cy activist Wael Ghoneim tried to explain to the Arab world how the attacks would be viewed in the Unit­ed States:

[A]ttacking the US embassy on Sep­tem­ber 11 and rais­ing flags linked to al Qae­da will not be under­stood by the Amer­i­can pub­lic as a protest over the film about the prophet… Instead, it will be received as a cel­e­bra­tion of the crime that took place on Sep­tem­ber 11th.

Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Mitt Rom­ney made the deplorable deci­sion to attempt to use the tragedy to score polit­i­cal points. Instead of sim­ply express­ing sor­row for the death of Ambas­sador Stevens, his assis­tant, and pro­tec­tive detail, Rom­ney blast­ed the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion for the way it han­dled the incident.

Rom­ney offen­sive­ly claimed that the admin­is­tra­tion’s response appeared to “sym­pa­thize with those who waged the attacks”.

Rom­ney also erro­neous­ly described the Amer­i­can con­sulate in Beng­hazi as an embassy (there is a big dif­fer­ence between the two types of facil­i­ties) and referred to the city as the cap­i­tal of Libya (the cap­i­tal is actu­al­ly Tripoli).

The Oba­ma cam­paign rebuked Rom­ney for his remarks.

“We are shocked that, at a time when the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca is con­fronting the trag­ic death of one of our diplo­mat­ic offi­cers in Libya, Gov­er­nor Rom­ney would choose to launch a polit­i­cal attack,” said Oba­ma spokesman Ben LaBolt.

“Gov. Rom­ney’s com­ments are about as inap­pro­pri­ate as any­thing I have ever seen at this kind of a moment,” added Sen­a­tor John Ker­ry, who chairs the Sen­ate’s For­eign Rela­tions Com­mit­tee and is con­sid­ered to be a pos­si­ble suc­ces­sor to Hillary Rod­ham Clin­ton as Sec­re­tary of State.

“They are flat wrong, but they demon­strate an insen­si­tiv­i­ty and a lack of judg­ment about what is hap­pen­ing right now.’

“To make those kinds of state­ments before you even know the facts, before fam­i­lies have even been noti­fied before things have played out is real­ly not just inex­pe­ri­enced, it’s irre­spon­si­ble, it’s cal­lous, it’s reckless.”

Rom­ney did not back down from his state­ment after reporters ques­tioned the state­ment he had released late yes­ter­day evening.

But oth­er Repub­li­cans were far more thought­ful and tact­ful, choos­ing to behave like states­men instead of polit­i­cal opportunists.

Repub­li­cans versed in for­eign pol­i­cy were aghast over the Rom­ney state­ment, accord­ing to Buz­zFeed.

“They were just try­ing to score a cheap news cycle hit based on the embassy state­ment and now it’s just com­plete­ly blown up,” said a very senior Repub­li­can for­eign pol­i­cy hand, who called the state­ment an “utter dis­as­ter” and a “Lehman moment” — a par­al­lel to the moment when John McCain, amid the 2008 finan­cial cri­sis, failed to come across as a steady leader.

Telling­ly, even Rom­ney’s own run­ning mate — U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Paul Ryan — has refrained from the kind of unre­strained and unfair crit­i­cism lev­eled by Rom­ney in his reac­tion to the tragedy. Rom­ney, as men­tioned, has cho­sen to dou­ble down on his orig­i­nal state­ment, which won’t go over well.

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