Beyond a Movie Trailer: Benghazi and America’s Middle East Problem

The first American ambassador killed in the line of duty since 1979, United States embassies in Yemen, Egypt, and Tunisia ransacked, and massive protests against the United States springing up across the Middle East. And, the Obama administration would like us to believe that this is all “senseless violence” due to a crooked individual’s movie trailer on YouTube.

I know what you’re thinking: this week, my column is going to make the argument that Romney’s initial statement on the violence was correct, and should be defended. It’s true. I was pleased with the campaign’s response to the Obama administration’s tepid response to the violence. My column, however, is not going to be about a debate that has been rehashed in the media for the past week. I want to talk about a different issue. I want to discuss America’s Middle East Problem, and why I am concerned that individuals at the highest levels of our government do not understand the situation.

In a statement following the embassy attacks, President Obama said: “There is absolutely no justification for this type of senseless violence, none” (emphasis added). Using the term “senseless violence” may have given us a window into the way our government is looking at the embassy attacks.

“Senseless” implies irrationality. While we would like to think of violence as “senseless,” in reality violence is a powerful coercive mechanism. Osama bin Laden and the Islamic terrorists at the helm of al Qaeda planned the 9/11 terrorist attacks with a political goal in mind. Al Qaeda wanted its voice to be heard, and created what they hoped would be a catalyst for other Muslims to join in a crusade against the West.

The perpetrators of the likely premeditated attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi had a clear goal. Seeking to fill a power vacuum in Libya as a new government is being assembled, the supposed al Qaeda affiliated perpetrators displayed a level of force the United States government was not expecting.

Debate continues over whether the attack was premeditated. Obama’s administration continues to insist that the cause of the attack and protests across the Middle East was the trailer for an anti-Islam film made by an American. The administration has said these protests escalated in Benghazi, leading to the onslaught of violence that killed Ambassador Stevens. If we accept that protests over the movie trailer were the root cause of the attack, then we are missing the larger problem America faces in the post-Arab Spring Middle East.

The U.S. embassy in Egypt’s original response apologizing for the film and criticizing the filmmaker was apparently “not vetted” by Obama’s administration in Washington. The embassy is part of the Obama administration, so it’s interesting that such an important statement was released without approval from Washington. Reports that the statement was released while protesters were attacking the Cairo embassy have now been deemed false. After the attack on the embassy in Egypt occurred, the embassy released a second statement reinforcing its criticisms of a filmmaker exercising his first amendment rights.

The administration’s tepid response to the violence is not surprising. Mentioning the movie at all was unnecessary, as the United States faces greater challenges in the Middle East that one movie trailer did not create. A demonstration over a movie trailer could not have erupted into an organized attack that killed an American ambassador who should have had a security detail. Writing for National Review, Mark Steyn reinforces this point: “the 400-strong assault force in Benghazi showed up with RPGs and mortars: That’s not a spontaneous movie protest; that’s an act of war, and better planned and executed than the dying superpower’s response to it.”

Knowing these facts, the President’s statement that the events in the Middle East amounted to “senseless violence” seems nonsensical. As President, Mr. Obama has a team of foreign policy advisers who huddled in a small office in the West Wing to craft Obama’s statement. Somebody had to put the term “senseless violence” in the remarks; otherwise, Obama would not have said it.

I am concerned that our government does not understand what is going on in the Middle East, and how America should react. Whichever group planned the violent attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya was looking to make a statement, and succeeded.

The Middle East is fractured into many different groups with disparate interests. Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood are two examples. Beyond the fracture of the Middle East at the macro level, leaders of these groups in various Middle Eastern countries do not always conform to the leadership at the top of the groups. Independent groups with “ties” to the larger organizations are semi- or fully autonomous. The groups compete with weak governments for attention and power.

These groups have a political goal, and violence is a means to achieve an end. The brutal murder of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans stunned the world, and exposed the harsh reality that the immediate future of the United States in the Middle East is bleak. Groups with values diametrically opposed to American (and Western) values of free speech and freedom of religion are becoming powerful actors in the Middle East.

The challenges we face in the Middle East are immense, and we have to understand the roots of this violence. The groups responsible for the attacks are using individuals who hate America like chess pieces in their quest for influence. I hope there is someone with authority in our government who understands the game being played by terrorist organizations across the Middle East.

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