Perspective on the Recent US Embassy Attacks
By Intelligence Operative Jay Holmes*
American news followers of the USA type have spent the last week watching, reading, and hearing reports of protests and attacks against US diplomatic compounds in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan and Tunisia.
At the US consulate in Benghazi, well-armed attackers murdered US Ambassador Christopher Stevens. We extend our sincere condolences to the family of Ambassador Stevens and to the families of other Americans and Libyans who were also murdered in the attack.
Libyans objecting to embassy attack, image from cnn.com
These attacks naturally have stirred up anger in many Americans and Westerners. What is less visible in the news is that many Libyans are also outraged by the attack. Responses in the USA vary with political persuasion and with individual interpretations.
Violent protests and attacks on embassies have become a common marketing tactic of groups selling various anti-American agendas around the world. To put this current wave of attacks into perspective, let’s review two glaring examples of diplomatic conduct involving US embassies.
On December 8, 1941, the Japanese sneak attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was celebrated in Japan as a great feat of arms and a fantastic victory for the Japanese war machine. In the US, the attack stirred anger and a grim resolve to do all that was necessary to defeat Japan. In fact, when journalists asked US Admiral William Halsey what would happen in response to the Japanese, Halsey said “When we’re through with them, Japanese will be a language spoken only in hell.”
At that time, the Japanese had been at war in Asia for decades and had inflicted a level of brutality on the peoples of China and Korea that the Japanese history book writers are still too ashamed to admit to today. So then, in those violent and brutal times, what happened to the US diplomatic staff and their families at the US embassy and consulates in Japan? What happened to the Japanese embassy staff and their families in the USA?
Nothing. The Japanese temporarily confined all US embassy staff to the embassy grounds, and then shipped them to a neutral port in a Portuguese African colony for repatriation. We did the same thing with their embassy staff. There were no riots or threatening mobs. Even in the midst of a war, both nations respected their diplomatic agreements concerning embassies.
At the opposite extreme is the infamous Iranian attack on the US embassy in Tehran in 1979. By attacking the US embassy and taking the residents hostage, the ignorant mullahs running the Iranian government wanted to humiliate the USA. To a degree they did that, but they also unwittingly exposed themselves as being more barbaric than the Japanese war criminal Tojo had shown himself to be in handling the US embassy in 1941. Iran has yet to recover its credibility in the community of civilized nations since that ill-advised attack.
Students attack US Embassy in Tehran, Iran, 1979
When trying to understand the current wave of protests, it helps to consider them in a broad context across time and space. Personally, in the case of Libya, I will wait for US investigators, including an FBI forensic team, to conclude its investigation before making any general assumptions.
We should note that many Libyans are bluntly condemning the murder of the US ambassador. While thugs posing as “religious leaders” may be at play in Libya, the majority of the Libyan people are too sophisticated to accept a diet of Death to America Soup in lieu of the human rights and freedom that most of them were seeking when they ran down Qaddafi and executed him.
On the other hand, the Egyptian security forces have suffered no great upheaval in recent times. They are a well-funded, large system with plenty of experience handling protesters, and the protesters are well-riddled with police informants. The Egyptian government has chosen to allow the attack on the US embassy in Cairo to occur.
The Egyptian government could have intervened more effectively and much sooner. It didn’t. This begs a question. Why are taxpayers in the USA financing the Egyptian military and security forces?
Now that the US embassy in Cairo has been tidied up, and Egyptian President Morsi has returned to Egypt from his begging tour of Western nations, it might be a great time to ask him that particular question. If he actually is presiding over a government that is incapable of protecting a foreign embassy, then we need to ask ourselves what precisely we are investing in in Egypt.
Just as interesting as the foreign governments’ responses to the attacks on US diplomatic locations on their soil are the responses by the Western media and politicians. The basic party lines are so far playing out in predictable fashion. The Democratic party line is that this was all caused by a nasty little amateur film maker with bad taste and is in no way connected to President Obama’s foreign policies or lack thereof and likely had nothing to do with any terrorist groups. The Republican party line is equally predictable. “Yet another foreign policy debacle by that apologetic fool Obama.”
As for the filmmaker, I have not bothered to view the video. The net is filled with amateur video makers flinging unsophisticated insults across any and every political and religious chasm in the world today. I don’t bother watching them.
The suggestion by some that we should surrender yet more of our fundamental rights and place controls on our free speech to avoid angering the ever-so-sensitive minority of violent protesters in Islamic nations strikes me as a childish response. If anyone sincerely feels that such controls are healthy and proper for a society, then I suggest that they waste no further time suffering in the Land of the Free and quickly make their escape to North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, or some other suitable controlled-speech environment where they won’t have to fret about anyone publicizing anything annoying to those governments.
For those of us who enjoy free speech and are honest enough to afford it to others, we will have to settle for less radical responses to the current protests.
The best foreign policy comes from contemplating as many verifiable facts as can be ascertained and then calmly formulating a clear, rational, and effective response in support of our foreign policy goals. Let’s hope that everyone in Washington can take a break from the campaigning long enough to remember their duty to the American people and do just that.
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*‘Jay Holmes’, is an intelligence veteran of the Cold War and remains an anonymous member of the intelligence community. His writing partner, Piper Bayard, is the public face of their partnership.
You may contact them in blog comments, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard, or by email at BH@BayardandHolmes.com.
© 2012 Jay Holmes. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact us at the above links to request permission.
What a good piece on the subject. Though it will take a long time, the answer is in gradually educating those in countries where free speech is a novelty that America does not support every scrap of video that is made here. It would be helpful if those countries that are supposed to be our allies, like Egypt, helped a hell of a lot more in this process.
Hi Perry. I agree with you. It’s amazing that this Egyptian government has done as poorly as they have since taking power. The billions of dollars that we have been sending to Egypt every year for the last couple of decades does not seem to have inspired much progress.
Clear-headed and rational, as always. Thanks for the perspective. As for the chance that either party will stop campaigning long enough to remember who pays them and that they have a job to do? Unfortunately, not likely.
Hi Dave, I am an incurable optimist so I won’t stop demanding that our elected officials behave like responsible adults. Like Mid-Easterners my wishes might not all come true between now and Christmas morning but I remain convinced that mankind is moving slowly toward progress and enlightenment.
I’ve missed your education and clear-headed reporting during my self-imposed blog hiatus, Holmes.
Two things hit me when I read your article. Why didn’t we know about the masses in Libya who are protesting what happened at the embassy? Surely reporters on-the-ground with the gruesome news and speculations witnessed that as well as the aftermath of those horrific attacks.
If we want the world to know opinions floating on the Internet don’t represent the opinions of most Americans, why wouldn’t we extend that same courtesy? Yes. I know the answer. Those reports may not fuel the media and political agendas as well as pictures of violence and mayhem.
Egypt? I knew we were funding their military, but didn’t realize the difference between the two attacks. I know it’s a tiny percentage of our overall budget, but…
WTF??? Why aren’t we cutting that funding instead of our own defense budget?
Hi Gloria. Thank you. I think that we do indeed need to be more demanding with the Egyptian government. We treated Mubarak and his band of thugs like spoiled rich kids. The results are aggravating but hardly surprising.
A good article, Holmes. I really hope both parties will stop using this as election fodder and face up to this as a long term international policy issue for the country.
Thank you Nigel.
It’s important to know a bit about history to understand some of the troubling aspects of the current turmoil and incidents.
The 3rd to last paragraph states everything very clearly and rationally.
Between the high school girlish political campaigns and the easily swayed by emotion/uneducated general population, sorting out the foreign threats may be difficult.
Hi Philosopher. I think that you are right that it will be difficult to sort out foreign policy but it is achievable. While many Mideast countries need to improve their education system we are no shining example here either. Voters that can’t read at an adult level or find Libya on a world map are too easily deceived.
Mainly concerned with the education level here – an educated population has always been critical for this country to function.
Stupid is not good anywhere – only leads to trouble
Having been inspired to discover a little about Niccolo Machiavelli by an NPR piece about Michael Ennis’ novel, The Malice of Fortune, I’ve been struck anew by how narrowly and selectively people will interpret some famous bit of writing to excuse the stupid things they do. We see this happening right before our eyes in the Middle East, with clerics self-righteously proclaiming Jihad against America because we don’t adhere to their particular brand of dogma. And they justify the death they foment by cherry picking verses from a document that’s no more unified and monolithic than the New Testament – or Newsweek for that matter.
But then we’re clearly not immune to that brand of foolishness. Machiavelli’s name has been associated with ruthless political pragmatism for centuries, but if you actually read his larger body of work, you begin to realize that his views were far more subtle than that. Would he have advocated supporting despots, just because they’re OUR despots? Maybe not quite the way we’ve led ourselves to believe.
As a culture, the United States is far from perfect, but as Holmes implies, we do have a deep seated sense of fair play. That’s why sending multi-billion dollar bribes to nations that clearly despise us, under the guise of ‘aid’, rankles us so. It smacks of that self-justifying interpretation of poor old Niccolo’s work.
People may want the end to justify the means because it’s convenient, and in the short term perhaps it does. But sooner or later that world view will come back to bite them. We’re reaping political crops planted 70+ years ago. The mullahs will have their turn in the barrel soon enough.
In the meantime, I suspect that we can find better uses for our borrowed money than arming the very people who want us dead.
Keep up the great work you guys. Your posts are always a bright spot in my day.
Thank you for your kind assessment and your thoughtful response Scot.
Great article, Holmes. I always respect your take on these events. I remember the 1979 Iranian attack on our embassy and hostage taking. There’s a note in my son’s baby book about this under “current events”!
I’m glad you brought up the point about the U.S. sending money to Egypt. It’s mind boggling to me and my husband how we keep sending aid to countries who dislike our country. Makes us look foolish, in my opinion.
Thanks for your input. Take care.
Thank you Lynn. Isn’t it a bit insane that we pay for our foreign aid by borrowing money from the militant communist Chinese government?
Can you please get a job on a television station? Your in-depth analysis and historical perspective is so refreshing. Why can’t we find journalism like this in newspapers? Outstanding piece.
Hard to imagine that 1979 was so long ago. Feels like yesterday, but it was the first time I started paying attention — real attention — to foreign affairs.
Hi Renee. Thank you for the compliment. Television news programs represent the views of the owners and advertisers. I’m sure I would be fired within a few minutes if a managed to sneak into their system.
As a teacher you are on the front lines of the “citizenship war”. Anything that you are able to do to reduce gullibility and increase expectations in your students directly supports a stronger democracy so I sincerely thank you and every good teacher in this country for your critical work. Al Qaeda can never defeat us but our own ignorance can.
The term “single parent family” can now be interpreted to mean “one teacher and 25 to 35 children”. Some children receive almost no parenting or teaching at home. With poverty on the rise the role of teachers is becoming even more critical. Your contract with your school district probably doesn’t mention your parenting responsibilities but some of your students might not have any other responsible adult in their lives.
And while I’m on my education soap box let me suggest that every educated adult consider volunteering in their neighborhood school. One of the most rewarding experiences of my life (so far) has been watching struggling young students learn to read. It’s been over a decade since I have helped youngsters read and I still have kids thanking me. Teachers can not give children the one on one attention that children all need. I promise anyone reading this that they will be shocked at how quickly they will see positive results in a young student just from reading with them and encouraging them to read. Even a half hour session helping a child learn to read or do basic math changes your world for the better.
Very well said! I have often wondered at the onesidedness of the attitude to not hurt the feelings of radicals who do not have the decency to respect the thoughts and religions of everyone else.
I also agree with you about education–people need to be involved with their neighborhood schools and support them.
Hi Diana. I think you are quite right about the “onesidedness”. At times it seems as though some of our huge media outlets are no more fair minded than Stalin’s press machine was in the 30s.
Highly intelligent post. The knee-jerk reaction of those who view Islam as evil will be drowned out by the voice of reason. Write it off as one the things that we must endure because of our freedom. The loss of human life is vile, but the kindling of a conflict that no one may survive is worse.
Hi Tomwisk. As always thanks for your well considered words.
Good work here. Thanks for writing and posting. I’m glad to share it with others looking for perspective instead of so-called “answers.”
Thank you kindly for sharing our posts with others.