On the eleventh anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the death of US ambassador Chris Stevens and three other diplomats left the American people and press reeling. The diplomats were killed amid demonstrations in Benghazi, Libya, the symbolic center of the 2011 resistance to dictator Moammar Gaddafi.
The initial reaction from the media focused on the release of a controversial film entitled, Innocence of Muslims, with excerpts available on YouTube that negatively portray the Prophet Mohammed as an adulterer and pedophile.
While there have been protests of the movie in at least 20 countries, Libyan National Assembly president Mohammed el-Megarif denied that protests of the movie led to Stevens’ death when he said, “The way these perpetrators acted and moved . . . this leaves us with no doubt that this was pre-planned, determined.” After a rush to convict the movie, media outlets eventually began connecting the significance of the date to the attack.
The US embassy in Cairo immediately released a statement denouncing, “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.” This move caused Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to say, “the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” The White House disavowed the “apology,” and Wednesday morning President Obama delivered a statement saying, “We must unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants.”
While there has been no statement from any al Qaeda organization claiming responsibility for the attack, the use of rocket propelled grenades is a hallmark of one of its attacks, and al Qaeda in Yemen praised it as a “great event.” On “Face the Nation” Sunday morning, President Megarif said that “about 50” have been arrested, although the interior minister disputed that number. Megarif also said some of the suspects were not Libyan and were affiliated with al Qaeda.
On September 11, 2012 Washington’s intervention in Libya came home for the first time. What had once been called a “bloodless” intervention because no Americans were killed in its execution, now has its first casualties with the deaths of US Ambassador Stevens and others.
Now Libya is becoming another instance of “blowback,” the term coined by the CIA for the unintended consequences of an operation. Originally justified to protect the civilian population from Gaddafi’s tanks, the NATO operation ultimately helped the rebels to topple Gaddafi which allowed extremist elements to prevail in Libyan politics and society.
Libya is also another example of the Washington practice of switching sides. For many years Moammar Gaddafi was an enemy of the United States and the person President Reagan called the “Mad Dog of the Middle East.” In 2003, Gaddafi agreed to relinquish his arsenal of biological and chemical weapons and began assisting the US in the War on Terror. However, once Gaddafi faced a serious regime crisis in 2011, President Obama’s decision to “lead from behind” led to Gaddafi’s ouster and lynching.
As early as two weeks into the operation of providing NATO air cover to “prevent a genocide,” NATO commander James Stavridis admitted that al Qaeda may be part of the opposition. As part of its modus operandi, al Qaeda prefers to move into lawless regions in order to create havoc as witnessed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and now Syria and Libya. The fact that many of those arrested for this crime were not Libyan adds fuel to the speculation that this was an al Qaeda attack.
For the first time in at least a generation, Democrats can feel they have a foreign policy edge over the GOP. In response to the rhetorical question of whether Americans are better off today compared to four years ago, Massachusetts senator and 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry boasted at the Democratic National Convention, “Why don’t you ask Osama bin Laden if he’s better off now than he was four years ago!” and “Today, without an American casualty – Muammar Qaddafi is gone and Libya is free.”
“Free” may end up a relative term after the death of US Ambassador Chris Stevens. A number of variables remain at work in Libya, but the seeds of this unfortunate incident were planted beforehand.