The Corner

The Ever-Stranger Case of a Murdered U.S. Ambassador

In the past — in Sudan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, etc. — the murder of an American ambassador sparked immediate debates over security lapses, but in the Libyan case the media seems to be doing its best not to investigate the circumstances around the murders. And there seems to have been not so much a breach of security, as no security at all. In the past, hostage-taking, sniper shootings, or plane crashes accounted for the deaths of our ambassadors. The notion of an American ambassador trapped nearly alone for hours before succumbing to smoke inhalation, while helpless under sustained armed assault, cries out for explanation.

Likewise in the past, often the perpetrators deliberately tried to obfuscate culpability, but in this instance, also a first, I believe, the U.S. government tried to deflect attention away from an Islamist plot to a sort of spontaneous general chaos that got out of hand, in which no one quite planned or even deliberately sought to kill Ambassador Stevens — a scenario that only the killers might appreciate in that it might delay or even prevent retribution coming their way. 

Usually, the culpable host nation is anxious over, and sometimes frightened by, angry U.S. demands for accountability on loose security; but, again in this unique case, the Libyan government, such as it is, was way out front of Washington in almost immediately pointing the finger at radical Islamic terrorists. When a revolutionary and chaotic clique can provide more accurate information than the U.S. government — or worse, seems far more upset about the geopolitical implications of the murder — we are in deep trouble.

Until either the media assumes an investigatory responsibility or the administration offers a candid assessment of what happened, we are still left puzzled over the quite amazing statements offered by Jay Carney, James Clapper, and Susan Rice, and those also of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, which all can only invite speculation: An election-mode administration apparently was deeply invested in the post-convention narrative of Middle East calm — brought about by the end of bin Laden, the new reset diplomacy of a popular and cool-headed Barack Obama, the dismantling of al-Qaeda by Predator-drone assassinations, and a U.S.-shepherded Arab Spring. To the extent that official scenario was endangered by the Libyan murders, the causes were a hate-speech video disseminated by a right-wing, unhinged Florida preacher and a hate-mongering immigrant criminal that evoked “natural” anger from aggrieved Muslims. 

It also seems likely that prior to the killings, the U.S. approach to Libya was one of osmosis with the revolutionary government, in which a new sort of grassroots ambassador was felt to be influential to the degree he did not come across as a symbol of U.S. power and influence, despite the obvious dangers — and clear warning of the dangers — that such a non-traditional ambassadorial profile entailed.

A final generic observation: When comparing the furor over Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib with the current lack of interest, it almost seems that the media, over the last two administrations, goes ballistic when the U.S. purportedly causes injury to suspected radical Islamists, but becomes comatose when the latter cause injury to us.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump.

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