Benghazi, Mali, and the Need for a Defensive American Strategy

The greatest threat to America is not what foreigners do to us; rather it is what we do to ourselves. The greatest recent example is 9/11, Bin Laden’s attack. Our response was to virtually bankrupt ourselves, lose the goodwill of much of the world, and make ourselves hated in most Muslim nations. Our trillion dollar “victory” in Iraq is followed by American businessmen and tourists fearing for their lives if they ever set foot there for the next 20 years, while business opportunities are taken up by foreign companies and other nations.

Now comes Benghazi. The end result of the American response will be to further isolate our diplomats and intelligence officers in even more nations, confining them to their castle-like compounds. American diplomats and CIA staffs are already isolated in fortress embassies far away from downtown in traffic-dense 3rd world cities. It can take half a day to have a lunch appointment. I have seen some of these new embassies. They are designed to withstand military attacks and even further isolate our diplomats from local citizens. Our wars have already put American diplomats at risk in many nations, isolating us just as was Bin Laden’s objective. The recent dismissal of top security administrators will make their replacements even more fearful of allowing diplomats to circulate freely among native populations. In Iraq U.S. diplomats now have MRAPs at their disposal.

Our widespread predator drone killings of “terrorists” and their families in assorted nations have also changed the rules of war. Benghazi shows that American diplomats are now considered fair targets in any Muslim nation and possibly others. Diplomats may not be combatants, but they are targets of our enemies. In addition, CIA officials who were safe in communist times now represent an armed force managing attack drones. Thus they become targets too. Washington uses the CIA because it is not bound by military law, but a consequence of that is all its agents can now be considered combatants.

The murdered American ambassador, Chris Stephens, represented our finest. He spoke Arabic, cared to learn about foreign cultures, went out among the people, took risks to do his job of promoting American interests. Men like him will now be ordered by Washington to stay at their desks and not take any chances. The increased isolation of our diplomats and embassy staffs is well described by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius in a column entitled “Reducing Risk Helps Terrorists.”

In Washington many of the same Congressmen who clamor to start new wars in Iran and Syria are the most vehement in attacking the State Department for not protecting its personnel. Often they are also those who know the least about the outside world. Causing many of America’s problems, it is the American congress and its neoconservative leadership who think Washington can order the whole world to follow America’s prescriptions. Bribes, bombs and intimidation is their idea of how to run the world. As British historian Anatol Lieven, then with the New America Foundation put it, America, which most benefited from the international rule of law, was bent on “kicking to pieces the hill of which it is king,” the “rule-based liberal capitalist order” which it helped establish after World War II.

It is they who deny, in the words of their much admired Bush official John Bolton, any role for the rule of international law on the grounds that “it only constricts Washington’s freedom of action.”

Now the unexpected conflict in Mali shows again how unable Washington is to anticipate and effectively build up another army in another Muslim land. A detailed New York Times report describes who’s who in the Mali war and how militants Washington trained and supplied then joined the Islamist attackers. Another report describes Washington’s inability in trying to build up Third World armies to fight for American objectives. Our name is mud in most of the Muslim world and we simply do not have the resources, patience, or ability to win wars against all sorts of different tribes and factions using mostly illiterate recruits who don’t have a dog in America’s fight.

Fox News contributor James Pinkerton wrote a very insightful analysis some years ago, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Imperialists.”  He points out that we must be prepared to send officials for lifetimes studying and knowing local cultures and languages; we must be totally ruthless like the Romans once were. He describes many traits which we Americans are simply unable to follow.

Instead the answer for us is to follow the advice of the brilliant strategist and military historian William Lind, a former long time associate of conservative founder-leader Paul Weyrich. America should practice a defensive strategy against militant Islam just as we used to defeat communism.  Following a rule of law, fostering alliances, working with allies, and protecting our financial strength is the way to successfully defend America.

Author: Jon Basil Utley

Jon Basil Utley is associate publisher of The American Conservative. He was a foreign correspondent in South America for the Journal of Commerce and Knight Ridder newspapers and former associate editor of The Times of the Americas. He is a writer and adviser for and edits a blog, The Military Industrial Congressional Complex.