By Barry Rubin
There is something terribly and tragically and importantly symbolic about the Benghazi attack that may be lost in the tidal wave of details about what happened on September 11, 2012, in an incident where four American officials were murdered in a terrorist attack. This point stands at the heart of everything that has happened in American society and intellectual life during the last decade.
And that point is this:
America was attacked once again on that September 11, attacked by al-Qaida in an attempt to destroy the United States—as ridiculous as that goal might seem. Yet the U.S. government blamed the attack on America itself.
Other reasons can be adduced for the official position that what happened that day was due to a video insulting Islam rather than to a terrorist attack, but this is the factor of overwhelming importance. It transformed the situation in the following ways:
- Muslims were the victims of American misbehavior, a point emerging from the administration’s wider worldview of U.S. aggression and Third World suffering, as in the lectures of all those left-wing anti-American academics and the sermons of Jeremiah Wright.
- “Hate speech” and racism (as “Islamophobia” is often reconfigured) was the cause of troubles.
- While freedom of speech and such liberties should be defended they must be limited in some ways to prevent further trouble.
- America’s proper posture should be one of apology, as in the advertisements that Secretary of State Hilary Clinton made for the Pakistani and other media.
- The misblaming, to coin a word, on the video showed terrorist groups that not only can they attack Americans but they can do so without fear of punishment or even of blame! As the House of Representatives' hearings show, the misattribution of responsibility also delayed the FBI's investigation, perhaps conclusively so.
- The exercise of American power has been the cause of America’s problems and not an excess of appeasement. The chickens—in Wright’s phrase—are merely coming home to roost. Yet once the video—which nobody in the Middle East was aware of—there were in fact further anti-American riots in different countries, now over the video which Clinton and others made known, and in which dozens of people died. This showed that appeasement and apology caused worse problems.
- The solution to these Middle East conflicts required a change in U.S. policies in order to avoid further offense. This meant distancing from Israel and even historic Arab allies, showing respect and encouragement even for “moderate” Islamist movements, and other measures.
In short, this is the stance of blaming America and exonerating its enemies that has seized hold of the national consciousness.
Of course, parallel responses met the Boston bombing as the mass media and academics scrambled to give alternative explanations to the terrorists’ motives.
The truth is, however, extremely simple: The United States faces a revolutionary Islamist movement that will neither go away nor moderate itself. To understand this movement and its ideology, how it is and is not rooted in Islam, its weaknesses and divisions, the forces willing to help combat it, and ways to devise strategies to battle it is the prime international need for the moment.
It is as necessary to do these things for revolutionary Islamism today as it was to do the same things regarding Nazism in the 1930s and 1940s; and for Communism in the 1940s and 1950s.
Yet the U.S. armed forces and other institutions are forbidden from holding this inquiry.
There are, of course, additional issues raised, though many of them also have far deeper significance:
- The failure of the Obama Administration to defend and rescue Americans in Benghazi is equivalent to its failures to defend American interests around the world.
- The fear of using American power in Libya that day parallels the overall retreat from the traditional bipartisan policies of credibility, deterrence, and all the other things in a great power’s lexicon.
- The standpoint that it is better to let Americans die than to risk offending certain groups. That might seem harsh but when it was decided not to send a rescue mission that was precisely what was happening.
- A lack of competence by a president who didn't know his duty and by high-ranking subordinates who would not remind him of that duty.
- The perfect symbolism of the president of the United States going to sleep in the face of a crisis, the living embodiment of a 2008 election ad by his opponent about whether he would deal with a crisis that erupted at 3 AM
- The perfect symbolism of the secretary of state being the one who did that ad and who said, "What difference does it make" regarding the attackers' motives.
- The fact that the cover-up seems to be involved with the administration's need to declare victory over al-Qaida. Not only is that claim untrue but the idea that if al-Qaida is defeated there is no more threat from revolutionary Islamism is the central bad theme of Administration Middle East policy.
- The issue of why the ambassador was in Benghazi that day. Remember that President Obama stood before the United Nations General Assembly and said that he was there to plan a new school and hospital wing. Was he telling an outright lie?
An attempt to retrieve advanced weapons previously provided to Libyan Islamist groups in the war against the Qadhafi dictatorship because they could be turned against America? Well, such weapons were turned against America that day. If so, the situation showed the bankruptcy of the pro-Islamist policy.
An effort to funnel weapons to the Syrian rebels, in a policy likely to repeat the problems in Libya? If so, the situation showed the bankruptcy of the pro-Islamist policy.
A policy of negotiating some kind of deals with extreme and anti-American Islamist terrorists? If so, the situation showed the bankruptcy of the pro-Islamist policy.
And finally what could be more symbolic than the hiring of Islamist terrorists to guard the consulate, men who deserted or even turned their guns against the Americans there? It is truly symbolic because the Obama Administration has turned to Islamists—in Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, Syria, and elsewhere--in the belief that they are best suited to guard U.S. interests in the Middle East.
In discussing the Benghazi affair none of these broader issues should be forgotten. It was not merely an order for the American rescue forces to “stand down” but for the United States to bow down.
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-------------------- Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His next book, Nazis, Islamists and the Making of the Modern Middle East, written with Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, will be published by Yale University Press in January 2014. His latest book is Israel: An Introduction, also published by Yale. Thirteen of his books can be read and downloaded for free at the website of the GLORIA Center including The Arab States and the Palestine Conflict, The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East and The Truth About Syria. His blog is Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.