The Fox News-generated hysteria among Republicans over the government’s handling of the Benghazi attacks relies heavily on the assumption that Fox viewers have incredibly short memories. Watching Fox present this issue, you might quickly assume that the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya was unique — that nothing like it had ever happened before. You might also assume that, if there had been other similar attacks in the past, American patriots and their representatives in Washington would be entirely justified in politicizing the attacks and using the failures that led to them, whether real or imagined, for partisan gain.
In reality, of course, there have been many attacks on U.S. embassies and consulates — more than 40 in the past half century, according to The International News, a newspaper based in Pakistan.
The chart above from Mother Jones, for example, shows the frequency of attacks on U.S. diplomatic sites over the past 40 years. What Fox would like to erase from its viewers’ memories is that, as the chart shows, there were many attacks on U.S. missions overseas during the administration of the most recent Republican president, George W. Bush. It is crucial to Fox’s politicizing of Benghazi to make those attacks disappear down the memory hole, because there is an inconvenient fact associated with them: In the wake of the seven or more attacks on American overseas interests on Bush’s watch, Democrats did not politicize them the way Republicans are politicizing Benghazi today.
In particular, no Democrat ever suggested forming a Watergate-style select committee to investigate the attacks during the Bush era, like the one Republicans are demanding now.
There was one full-scale investigation — the one that looked into the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, which were the most egregious national security failure in U.S. history — but that investigation was outsourced to a bipartisan commission controlled by Republicans.
Speaking of 9/11, Republicans need to be reminded that after the attacks that September day, Democrats rallied around George W. Bush, a president they rightly viewed as an illegitimate Supreme Court appointee, because, in the wake of the attacks on their country, liberals reflexively saw themselves as Americans first and partisans last.
Republicans should also be reminded that no one who served on the Bush national security team at the time of 9/11 was ever held accountable — quite the opposite, in fact. Republican voters rewarded Bush and Cheney by reelecting them in 2004. After Secretary of State Colin Powell resigned at the end of Bush’s first term, as secretaries of state usually do, Bush rewarded National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice by promoting her to secretary of state. Bush also rewarded CIA Director George Tenet by giving him a Presidential Medal of Freedom!
Have Republicans really forgotten all that? Seriously? It was just 11 years ago.
There are other parallels, of course. When Bush nominated Condoleeza Rice as secretary of state, Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham both defended her even though it was clear that as Bush’s national security advisor, Rice had misstated the facts during Bush’s fall 2002 “marketing” of the invasion of Iraq. Rice and others went before the media and repeatedly claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
Here is what Condoleeza Rice said in 2002, a year or so after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks:
“We know that he [Saddam Hussein] has the infrastructure, nuclear scientists to make a nuclear weapon. The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”
Rice and her bosses were looking at intelligence developed during a decade of post-Gulf War U.N. weapon inspections in Iraq and U.S. intelligence-gathering — and yet, whether intentionally or not, they got it wrong. But when Condoleeza Rice made that statement and others like it, was she lying or just repeating lies or faulty intel (take your pick) fed to her by the CIA and others?
Now — probably motivated entirely by spite over harsh rhetoric leveled at Condoleeza Rice in 2005 — McCain and Graham are hurling insults at U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice (no relation) over statements she made in a television interview just five days after the Benghazi attack.
Here is what Ambassador Susan Rice said about Benghazi based on a few dozen hours of investigation:
BOB SCHIEFFER: And joining us now, Susan Rice, the U.N. ambassador — our U.N. ambassador. Madam Ambassador, he [the Libyan president of the National Assembly] says that this is something that has been in the planning stages for months. I understand you had been saying that you think it was spontaneous? Are we not on the same page here?
SUSAN RICE: Well, Bob, let me tell you what we understand to be the assessment at present. First of all, very importantly, as you discussed with the president, there is an investigation that the United States government will launch, led by the FBI that has begun.
SCHIEFFER: But they are not there yet.
RICE: They are not on the ground yet but they have already begun looking at all sorts of evidence of various sorts already available to them and to us. And they will get on the ground and continue the investigation.
So we’ll want to see the results of that investigation to draw any definitive conclusions. But based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what — it began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo, where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy sparked by this hateful video.
But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent.
SCHIEFFER: But you do not agree with him that this was something that had been plotted out several months ago?
RICE: We do not — we do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.
SCHIEFFER: Do you agree or disagree with him that al-Qaeda had some part in this?
RICE: Well, we’ll have to find out that out. I mean, I think it’s clear that there were extremist elements that joined in and escalated the violence. Whether they were al-Qaeda affiliates, whether they were Libyan-based extremists or al-Qaeda itself I think is one of the things we’ll have to determine.
As always happens in investigations like this one, the government’s original assessment was faulty. As new information was uncovered and confirmed, the assessment was corrected. By using the tragedy for its own partisan political gain, Fox is exaggerating both the failures that led to the attack as well as its impact on national security. As tragic as it was, the attack in Benghazi pales in comparison with the Bush administration’s record on Iraq — its looking at years’ worth of intel, coming up with a faulty claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and using that threat to take the nation to war, a war that cost the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers and innocent civilians, not to mention trillions of dollars.
Now McCain and Graham are threatening to block Rice’s prospective appointment to secretary of state and are even hurling adolescent, dog-whistle racist insults at her, including accusing her of being “not very bright,” a smear that is eerily similar to an insult leveled against Pres. Obama last month by the Romney campaign’s designated racist surrogate, disgraced former White House Chief of Staff John Sununu.
What happened in Benghazi was a tragedy, and certainly there was a failure in the system along the chain of command. The buck stops with the president, as he has said, but Obama is far less culpable for the deaths of the US Ambassador and the three CIA agents in the Benghazi compound than Bush, Cheney, Rice and Tenet were for the thousands of deaths on 9/11 or the tens of thousands who died in Iraq.
Here are details compiled by Media Matters on seven of the attacks on U.S. diplomatic targets during the Bush administration:
2002: U.S. Consulate In Karachi, Pakistan, Attacked; 10 Killed, 51 Injured. From a June 15, 2002, Chicago Tribune article:
Police cordoned off a large area around the U.S. Consulate late Friday and began combing through the carnage and debris for clues after a car explosion killed at least 10 people, injured 51 others and left Pakistan’s largest city bleeding from yet another terrorist atrocity.
No Americans were among the dead, and only six of the injured were inside the consulate compound at the time of the blast Friday morning. One Pakistani police officer on guard outside the building was among the dead, but many of those killed were pedestrians or motorists in the area at the time of the explosion.
The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad reported that five Pakistani consular employees and a Marine guard were slightly wounded by flying debris.
Suspicion for the attack immediately fell on Islamic militants known to be active in Karachi. [Chicago Tribune, 6/15/02, via Nexis]
2004: U.S. Embassy Bombed In Uzbekistan. From a July 31, 2004, Los Angeles Times article:
Suicide bombers on Friday struck the U.S. and Israeli embassies in Uzbekistan, killing two local guards and injuring at least nine others in the second wave of attacks this year against a key U.S. ally during the war in Afghanistan.
The prosecutor general’s office also was hit in the coordinated afternoon attacks in the capital city of Tashkent. It sustained more damage than either of the embassies, where guards prevented bombers from entering.
The attacks came as 15 Muslim militants linked to the Al Qaeda terrorist network went on trial in a series of bombings and other assaults in March that killed 47 people.
The explosions Friday caused relatively little physical damage but rattled a country in which the U.S. has maintained an air base crucial to the battle against Islamic militants in neighboring Afghanistan. [Los Angeles Times, 7/31/04, via Nexis]
2004: Gunmen Stormed U.S. Consulate In Saudi Arabia. From a December 6, 2004, New York Times article:
A group of attackers stormed the American Consulate in the Saudi Arabian city of Jidda today, using explosives at the gates to breach the outer wall and enter the compound, the Saudi Interior Ministry said in a statement. At least eight people were killed in the incident, in which guards and Saudi security forces confronted the group, according to the ministry and news agencies.
Three of the attackers were killed. Five non-American employees were killed, an American embassy spokesman, Carol Kalin, told Reuters. She declined to provide the nationality of those killed, but said they were members of the consulate staff.
Reuters reported that Saudi security officials said four of their men also died in the incident, which would bring the death toll to 12. [The New York Times, 12/6/04]
2006: Armed Men Attacked U.S. Embassy In Syria. From a September 13, 2006, Washington Post article:
Four armed men attacked the U.S. Embassy on Tuesday, killing one Syrian security guard and wounding several people in what authorities said was an attempt by Islamic guerrillas to storm the diplomatic compound.
Just after 10 a.m., gunmen yelling “ Allahu akbar ” — “God is great” — opened fire on the Syrian security officers who guard the outside of the embassy in Damascus’s Rawda district, witnesses said. The attackers threw grenades at the compound, according to witnesses, and shot at the guards with assault rifles during the 15- to 20-minute clash, which left three of the gunmen dead and the fourth reportedly wounded. [The Washington Post, 9/13/06]
2007: Grenade Launched Into U.S. Embassy In Athens. From The New York Times:
An antitank grenade was fired into the heavily fortified American Embassy here just before dawn today. The building was empty, but the attack underscored deep anti-American sentiment here and revived fears of a new round of homegrown terror.
Greek officials said they doubted the attack was the work of foreign or Islamic terrorists, but rather that of regrouped extreme leftists aiming at a specific, symbolic target: a huge American seal, of a double-headed eagle against a blue background, affixed to the front of the boxy, modern embassy near downtown. [The New York Times, 1/12/07]
2008: Rioters Set Fire To U.S. Embassy In Serbia. From The New York Times:
Demonstrators attacked the U.S. Embassy here and set part of it ablaze Thursday as tens of thousands of angry Serbs took to the streets of Belgrade to protest Kosovo’s declaration of independence.
Witnesses said that at least 300 rioters broke into the embassy and torched some of its rooms. One protester was able to rip the American flag from the facade of the building. An estimated 1,000 demonstrators cheered as the vandals, some wearing masks to conceal their faces, jumped onto the building’s balcony waving a Serbian flag and chanting “Serbia, Serbia!” the witnesses said. A convoy of police officers firing tear gas was able to disperse the crowd. [The New York Times, 2/21/08]
2008: Ten People Killed In Bombings At U.S. Embassy In Yemen. From The New York Times:
Militants disguised as soldiers detonated two car bombs outside the United States Embassy compound in Sana, Yemen, on Wednesday morning, killing 16 people, including 6 of the attackers, Yemeni officials said.
No American officials or embassy employees were killed or wounded, embassy officials said. Six of the dead were Yemeni guards at the compound entrance, and the other four killed were civilians waiting to be allowed in.
It was the deadliest and most ambitious attack in years in Yemen, a poor south Arabian country of 23 million people where militants aligned with Al Qaeda have carried out a number of recent bombings. [The New York Times, 9/17/08]