Politics around Benghazi tragedy distract us from bigger issues in Middle East
Deflecting some of the heat the Romney campaign has aimed at President Obama and Joe Biden for the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed responsibility for the security of US diplomats. America’s blind focus on avenging terrorism diverts us from asking hard questions about its historical roots – and our dubious alliances today.
I lived in Tehran, Iran as an elementary-school child, from 1969 to 1971. I remember it as a friendly and cosmopolitan city, full of expatriates enjoying the fruits of the oil boom. My friends included Koreans, South Africans, and Yugoslavs, as well as Iranians and Americans.Skip to next paragraph
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Eight years later, as a first-year college student, I watched on a flickering dormitory television as mobs overran the American Embassy – where I had once played tennis – and took more than 60 people hostage. And we’re still watching it, like an old horror film in a continuous loop. You can see that footage in Ben Affleck’s new movie, “Argo,” which includes a stunning re-enactment of the embassy takeover. And you can also see it in our 24/7 news culture, where any given day features images of angry Muslims protesting or threatening the United States.
Some of the most upsetting recent images come from Libya, where attackers killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans last month at the US consulate in Benghazi. Vice President Joe Biden has taken flack for his assertion in last week's debate that the White House didn't know of requests for more security for the US mission there. Perhaps in an effort to deflect some of that heat, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton stated Monday that she takes responsibility for the security of American diplomats abroad.
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign is reportedly crafting a “Jimmy Carter strategy” and “October surprise” around the Benghazi tragedy. Both terms recall President Carter’s failed 1979 attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran, which remains our central symbol of American weakness on the world stage. But America’s sometimes-blind focus on avenging terrorism – then and now – diverts us from asking hard questions about its historical roots. And by looking back at Washington’s role in Mideast affairs, we might also question some of its dubious alliances today.