US personnel stationed at government facilities in Benghazi, Libya had felt a sense of unease as early as April 2012. By September of that year, four Americans, including Ambassador John Christopher “Chris” Stevens, were killed in an attack on their diplomatic post – essentially an embassy for all intents and purposes.
Journal entries from the ambassador were later recovered from the rubbled remnants of the building, revealing a man who was deeply concerned about the desperate need for security at the building.
Additional security for the Benghazi facilities was formally requested from the State Department on at least two known occasions by U.S. security officer Eric Nordstrom. Those requests were denied.
Benghazi Warning Signs Ignored
Al-Qaeda even directly threatened an attack on Americans in Libya a full 18 hours before the devastating assault began, which was purposefully planned to be executed on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks. The attack couldn’t have been more on the nose.
Despite the dire situation, neither President Obama nor his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed aware of let alone concerned about the obvious potential for imminent disaster at the location, even leading up to the fatal attack on US personnel there.
The response in the aftermath of the attack was even more puzzling. Instead of striking down those directly involved in the attack or vowing swift vengeance on the terrorist militants responsible for the attack, Obama and his administration curiously chose to turn their focus and outrage on an American YouTube content creator instead; specifically blaming an offensive video he posted as being responsible for allegedly sparking the outrage that resulted in the Benghazi attack.
That’s right. A sitting American president actually blamed a citizen for a terrorist attack that happened thousands of miles away in another country, due to the citizen exercising his freedom of speech to make a YouTube video in the US.
Hillary Clinton would later downplay the entire ordeal in a testimony where she responded to questioning about the motives behind the attack, saying “Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided that they’d they go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?”
Trouble At The Baghdad Embassy
Fast forward to New Year’s Eve of 2020 when an Iranian-backed militia attacked a US embassy in Iraq. Although no Americans were killed in the attack, it did come on the heels of the death of a civilian American contractor a few days earlier at the hands of Iranian-back forces.
Obviously, attacking diplomatic facilities is an act of war in and of itself as it is a clear violation of Article 22 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
So, how did President Donald Trump and his administration respond to this startling act of violence? Did Trump and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blame American YouTubers for the destruction? Or attempt to sweep the incident under the rug by saying “What difference does it makes who’s responsible for the attack?”
Nope. Completely the opposite, actually. The administration quickly called for reinforcements and immediately discovered the true culprit behind the attacks. In mere days, the puppet master pulling the orchestrated strings, Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, was killed by a surgically precise drone strike ordered by Trump himself.
Amidst the bold and decisive action, Trump held his ground and maintained that his response had been tough but fair, and that he did not wish to engage in war with Iran. Indeed, Trump had shown great restraint with Iran in the years leading up to the attack on the embassy.
Iran had refused previously agreed upon nuclear inspects. It had seized British oil tankers in the Gulf over the summer. Attacked oil processing facilities of US allies. And even shot down a US drone in international airspace. These are just a few highlights, that’s not even the complete list of antagonistic actions perpetrated by Iran’s leadership, most of which were under the guidance of Soleimani’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Trump consistently voiced support for America’s allies and strongly pushed back on Iran’s aggression, but he never countered with an outright attack. He demonstrated a remarkable level of patience with the regime. That is, up until they crossed a line with the embassy attack that rang echoes of the Benghazi disaster years previously under the Obama administration.
Obama’s weakness, not only with his handling of Benghazi, but also the bungling of a nuclear deal with Iran, had emboldened America’s enemies. Many remember that Obama not only released billions of dollars to Iran as part of the nuclear deal, but he also delivered that money to them directly. In cash. Not even incrementally, but largely all at once.
And with a sunset clause that would allow Iran to use their nuclear research any way they saw fit within 15 years. No wonder Iran felt they could act so defiantly on the world stage, Obama not only gave them the green light but also the funds to do so.
Trump made sure to bring all of that up in a later statement.
Democrats in Washington lambasted Trump for his strong response against Iran. At times, they came across as borderline defensive of Iran, with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi calling Trump’s actions against the regime “disproportionate”.
Others accused Trump of trying to start a war despite his claims that he was ending a war. They argued that Iran would surely rain hell down upon the US (even without its top military strategist around to coordinate such a comprehensive response).
They were right about one thing. Iran did respond.
But it wasn’t at all in the way they had claimed. Instead of attacking US bases that were ripe for the picking, such as nearby bases housing hundreds of American soldiers, Iran carefully chose targets that didn’t hold many Americans at all. Moreover, when they attacked they seemed to purposely miss the targets altogether, mostly dropping missiles into empty fields of dirt.
We know that Iran’s military is not as sophisticated as America’s, but it’s almost impossible to conceive that they didn’t intentionally not cause any major damage. Not only were no Americans or American allies killed in Iran’s response, but nobody was even injured.
Most Iranian people don’t know that. Their under a theocratic dictatorship so they have no direct access to the outside world on their state-controlled intranet and television. As far as they know, their government successfully avenged the general.
De-Escalating Tensions In The Aftermath
Iran’s foreign minister subsequently announced that the failed missile attacks “concluded” the vengeance for Soleimani. Adding that, like Trump, they also do not seek war.
That’s a much different tone than the usual cries of “Death to America” we’ve all become accustomed to hearing over the years. While Trump’s handling of Iran seems to potentially be opening some doors that could be positive for both sides, we all should stay cautiously, perhaps foolishly, optimistic and alert. Emphasis on alert.
Nonetheless, it’s hard not to notice the stark contrast between Trump and Obama when it comes to addressing violence against the US abroad.