Tuesday, June 28, 2016


The Republicans have won on Benghazi. To much America, the incident in which four people died was the worst foreign policy failure imaginable. The investigations may be over now that we have today's two Republican reports -- one report, ostensibly objective, that's offered as the voice of the committee as a whole, plus one extra-tendentious report from two hard-right committee members -- but the stench will linger.

The notion that the U.S. response to the Benghazi attacks pushed the limits of unspeakable evil and malignant neglect has been promoted so relentlessly that even if Americans are told that other administrations have suffered deaths of diplomatic personnel -- far more deaths, in many cases, I don't think the public can even process that notion. How could anything be worse than Benghazi? Look how much righteous outrage it's engendered!

And yet in May 2014, Congressman John Garamendi of California said this:
"During the George W. Bush period, there were 13 attacks on various embassies and consulates around the world. Sixty people died."
PolitiFact ruled that it was "mostly true" -- not completely true in part because Garamendi underestimated both the number of attacks and the number of deaths:
While Garamendi spoke of "embassies and consulates," we found several U.S. diplomatic targets killed in the line of duty outside official compounds -- such as in convoys or their homes -- and we included them in our count. Once we cross-referenced the attacks in the article and those in the database, we narrowed down the total to 39 attacks or attempted attacks on U.S. embassies and embassy personnel.

Of these 39 attacks, 20 resulted in at least one fatality. (Our complete list is here.) This is higher than Garamendi's claim, though if you only count attacks on embassy and consular property, there were 13.

Garamendi also understated the number of deaths. In the 20 incidents with at least one fatality, the total death toll was 87 -- quite a few more than the 60 Garamendi cited. If you only count those at embassies and consulates proper, the number of deaths drops to 66.

We should note that the vast majority of these deaths were not Americans. We counted 63 deaths that were either of non-Americans or of people whose nationality is unknown. Another three were U.S. civilians. Another 21 were workers at the U.S embassy or consulate, either of American or foreign nationality.

So, using what we think is the most reasonable definition, Garamendi's numbers are a bit low.
And before that, as Jane Mayer noted in 2014, there was Lebanon in the Reagan years:
Around dawn on October 23, 1983, I was in Beirut, Lebanon, when a suicide bomber drove a truck laden with the equivalent of twenty-one thousand pounds of TNT into the heart of a U.S. Marine compound, killing two hundred and forty-one servicemen. The U.S. military command, which regarded the Marines’ presence as a non-combative, “peace-keeping mission,” had left a vehicle gate wide open, and ordered the sentries to keep their weapons unloaded. The only real resistance the suicide bomber had encountered was a scrim of concertina wire. When I arrived on the scene a short while later to report on it for the Wall Street Journal, the Marine barracks were flattened. From beneath the dusty, smoking slabs of collapsed concrete, piteous American voices could be heard, begging for help. Thirteen more American servicemen later died from injuries, making it the single deadliest attack on American Marines since the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Six months earlier, militants had bombed the U.S. embassy in Beirut, too, killing sixty-three more people, including seventeen Americans. Among the dead were seven C.I.A. officers, including the agency’s top analyst in the Middle East, an immensely valuable intelligence asset, and the Beirut station chief.

There were more than enough opportunities to lay blame for the horrific losses at high U.S. officials’ feet. But unlike today’s Congress, congressmen did not talk of impeaching Ronald Reagan, who was then President, nor were any subpoenas sent to cabinet members.
There was a genuinely bipartisan congressional investigation, which made serious recommendations.

And yet:
In March of 1984, three months after Congress issued its report, militants struck American officials in Beirut again, this time kidnapping the C.I.A.’s station chief, Bill Buckley. Buckley was tortured and, eventually, murdered.... Congress held no public hearings, and pointed fingers at the perpetrators, not at political rivals....

The story in Beirut wasn’t over. In September of 1984, for the third time in eighteen months, jihadists bombed a U.S. government outpost in Beirut yet again. President Reagan acknowledged that the new security precautions that had been advocated by Congress hadn’t yet been implemented at the U.S. embassy annex that had been hit. The problem, the President admitted, was that the repairs hadn’t quite been completed on time. As he put it, “Anyone who’s ever had their kitchen done over knows that it never gets done as soon as you wish it would.”
That last attack happened less than two months before a presidential election. Democrats didn't scour the record looking for evidence that the president took the incident lightly. In fact, as I noted in 2012, they didn't have to. Reagan blithely continued to campaign:
On September 20, 1984, there was a truck-bomb explosion at the U.S. embassy annex in Aukar, Lebanon, just outside Beirut. Twenty-four people were killed....

What did Ronald Reagan do on September 21, 1984? He made three campaign appearances in Iowa -- at an airport rally, a farm, and a church picnic -- despite the fact that a Des Moines Register poll showed him leading Walter Mondale in the state by 23 points. He then returned to Washington and made a well-publicized visit to the home of seven-year-old Rudolph Lee-Hines, who lived in the predominantly black Congress Heights section of Washington. Reagan had dinner at the home of Lee-Hines, who was described in news reports as Reagan's "pen pal"; they'd exchanged several letters after a Reagan visit to the boy's school the previous March.

As a housewarming gift, Reagan brought a jar of jelly beans.
Hillary Clinton has been demonized for Benghazi by a party that regards Ronald Reagan as a god among men. In both cases, history has been written by the propaganda victors.


AllieG said...

If by "much of America" you mean Republican base voters, you're right. If you mean "more than that minority of Americans" you are assuming facts not in evidence. As a political weapon in a presidential campaign, Benghazi already had a test firing that ended poorly for its designers.

KenRight said...

Hasn't Ronald Reagan said sending the Marines to Beirut was the biggest mistake he made in his political career?
What has Clinton said was her biggest mistake? Not convincing Obama to carry out the the threat to take out Assad?

Leo Artunian said...

Ken -

So if Hilary had said her biggest mistake was -- what? Not persuading Congress to not cut funding for embassy security? -- you'd agree that the multiple congressional committee investigations should never have taken place?

Victor said...

I'm sick to death of Benghazi!

Congress cut security funding, which as Leo said, had some effect on the security at the facility.

Is Benghazi worse than what happened under Reagan?
No way!
It's just that the Dem's didn't decide to politicize it.

The GOP made Benghazi their key issue, hoping to take down Hillary.

Ernest Lamonica said...

I t seems to me that GOP "Doth protest too much" and attacks like Benghazi are missing the mark with the American voters. Just that I dont believe all of a sudden Americans, after 25 years of attacks on Hillary, are gong to say "Well she is Evil". They either have decided already she is or she isn't. Most will say she isn't. Especially when they see WHO she is running against.

KenRight said...

I wasn't thrilled about the committee's failure to tackle the gunrunning out of Benghazi, Leo.
So I am not opposed to some of the sentiment here, considering both Beirut and Benghazi were directed in some to large part to run interference against Israel's enemies and not in America's interests, neither one.

John Taylor said...

Where are the inquiries into the lies that led to the disaster in Iraq?