When Egyptian rioters stormed the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, raising the black banners (and bizarrely enough, some were hiding behind Guy Fawkes’s now ubiquitous visage), the news was bad enough. A handful of well-financed cranks, advancing a deluded and hateful but crushingly unsurprising agenda, helped ignite a crisis in a critical U.S. partner. The Embassy’s security personnel managed to avoid harm to its staff or the exercise of deadly force (today, it seems, Egyptian internal security has finally showed up at the compound walls). Yet despite the presence of Egyptian security services in the area, the rioters still stormed the walls, desecrated the flag, and flaunted those of the country’s foes – all on nominally sovereign U.S. territory.
In Benghazi, the stronghold of a revolution that, with aid from America and its allies, toppled the murderous Gaddafi regime, worse fears came to pass. Beset by militants – let no media outlet utter again the ridiculous phrase “armed protesters” – firing automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades, U.S. personnel returned fire. An outmatched Libyan security force proved basically ineffectual. One U.S. diplomat died, at least another was wounded, and the whole consulate burnt to the ground after the mob finished looting it.
UPDATE: As I woke up to edit this, news broke reporting that in addition to a potential three additional U.S. deaths, a high-level official – possibly a Consul or even U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, died as a result of the assault there. This new information, if it is verified, makes this all the more urgent, and the record of warning signs below all the more troubling.
This was not, of course, the first attack on diplomats in free Benghazi. Militants fired rocket propelled grenades at British embassy vehicles, and bombed an Egyptian diplomat’s car. America’s Benghazi legation also suffered an IED attack. I discussed the apparent compromises with, or neglect of, Libya’s extremist armed groups in a previous post, when they were mostly focused on razing Sufi shrines. Today, the inability or unwillingness of the Libyan security forces to rein in these actors cost American diplomats their lives. The last Ambassador to die in duty was Adolph Dubs, the U.S. Ambassador in Afghanistan, killed after a botched, hasty raid on his militant kidnappers in 1979. That same year, three American embassies – Tripoli, Tehran, and Islamabad – all suffered sieges. As in Tehran, there was a record of targeting foreign diplomats and officials (including by groups such as the MEK) before the siege. Unfortunately, the hindsight is too late.
What is to be done? The most obvious solution would be for the governments of Libya and Egypt to perform their diplomatic obligations and curb attacks on other countries’ diplomats. Yet compelling even a friendly government to conduct such a task when it disrupts transitional regimes’ relationships with violent, and powerful political actors, is a task difficult even when the government in question is deeply dependent on American largesse.
For those few for whom hasty (and later repudiated) Embassy press releases and tweets might tip the balance from violent assaults on American lives and sovereign soil to less ferocious forms of truculence, there is public diplomacy, information operations, and the “war of ideas” (which Adam critiques magnificently). For everyone else, there’s the Marine Corps. In addition to the Marine Security Guards at U.S. facilities, today’s Marines maintain FAST units – Fleet Antiterrorism Security Teams and RRTs – Rapid Response Teams – to protect American officials, citizens, and interests abroad.
Far from being historically unprecedented, the Marines and Navy have long been the big stick that enables American diplomats to speak softly, and for merchantmen to go about their business peaceably. In the hundreds of military interventions from America’s founding to today, many concerned specifically the enforcement of widely recognized sovereign privileges. These were initially, and especially, the rights of maritime shipping, upon which global trade and diplomatic communication depended. Depredations against American merchantmen, murder of sailors, and piracy all earned swift and limited punitive action. Revolutionary upheaval prompted landings in defense of American lives and property.
When the Marine Corps hymn sings of the “shores of Tripoli,” they really mean Derne, in Cyrenaica, where Marines, supporting a Consular official leading an army of mercenaries, with the backing of American offshore power, hoisted an American flag over foreign shores. The goal was not to liberate Libya but to discourage its governments from violating America’s maritime rights.
Similarly as important and almost universally recognized, in both practice and law, as legitimate sovereign privileges, are the rights of diplomats. All these rights have limits, of course. In 1984, when anti-Gaddafi protesters surrounded the Libyan embassy, Britain sent police officers for crowd control. The Libyan officials inside decided to open fire on the crowd, killing WPC Yvonne Fletcher. Libya then used its diplomatic bags to smuggle the submachine gun out of the country. Diplomatic missions and associated officials have obligations to avoid interference with domestic affairs and especially breaches of the peace, and host governments have responsibilities to assist them in that task. When that becomes impossible, diplomatic missions have a right to repel offenses with violence.
Effective diplomacy demands the safety of diplomats. When diplomats feel they cannot leave the embassy, their professional duties suffer for it. In 1866, when bandits attacked the American consul in Newchwang, the USS Wachusett landed bluejackets to apprehend them. In the late 19th century, America landed forces in Samoa, Argentina, and Chile, in part to protect consular officials and properties – and these were acts where there were far more legitimate grievances about America’s role, such as its overt backing of rival partisans in the Chilean case. America landed also, in the early 20th century, to protect consular officials in Honduras, and even further aflung, in Syria and Abyssinia. America landed troops frequently in China throughout the late 19th and early 20th century, and defended legations in Korea frequently. In more modern times, George H.W. Bush deployed military forces to defend and evacuate U.S. diplomatic facilities in Africa, the Balkans, and Latin America.
The U.S. may not need be as audacious in its expeditions now, particularly since in the case of Egypt and Libya, the U.S. diplomatic presence is, however influential, nowhere near as powerful in each country’s internal political situation as America’s legations were in say, Latin America or the Pacific during the early 20th century. Yet the U.S. must remain willing to deploy the Marines as precautionary measures, and it must be willing to defend its diplomatic personnel with lethal force. While questions of punitive expeditions are more complicated, the use of military force in the defense of nigh-universally recognized sovereign rights is a principle in keeping with American interests, history, and its proper comportment under international law and state practice.
The alternative to effectively securing American diplomats through traditional means is not pretty. The rise of private security contractors owe much of their current prominence in part to this fact. After the 1983 Beirut Embassy bombing, private contractors took increasingly large roles in providing facility security, with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security hiring contractors in 1994 to protect State Department personnel in Haiti. Expanding the role of the State Department sounds well and good, but a more robust diplomatic presence requires security, and when military forces are unavailable, private contractors fill that gap, to frequently problematic results.
So, if and when the U.S. Department of State returns in full force to Libya, it may again be bringing a few hundred mercenaries with it – not to overthrow the government, but to keep its lack of will or martial capability from threatening its ability to maintain a presence in the country. The complement, or worse, the alternative, will likely be diplomatic missions – and their clandestine counterparts who rely on diplomatic covers – even less willing to leave the facility, less willing to engage with the local population, and less effective at actually doing the job of professional diplomacy (or intelligence collection and covert operations, as the case may be).
It is far too early to reasonably outline any kind of punitive measures for what has occurred now. In theory, the bulk of the work of securing cities for diplomats will fall to host governments. Yet it is manifestly unclear how or how soon governments such as Libya’s, (particularly given the almost total denial of reality some Libyan spokesmen have evinced by blaming these acts on Gaddafi bittereinders) can adequately secure these facilities, or if they really have the will to prioritize them.
In the past, offenses such as these – even against, say, sailors of naval vessels – prompted a punitive expeditions against non-state groups such as bandits or partisans, followed by the imposition of an indemnity on the government for the U.S.’s troubles. In Libya, nothing so dramatic is likely to occur. Yet the capability to rapidly respond to evacuate or assist State Department officials under threat will remain essential, even if the full expeditionary power of a Joint Task Force or MAGTF is unlikely to be unleashed.
The readiness to defend American diplomatic rights is a cornerstone of American foreign policy. The strength of the State Department is bolstered, not detracted, by deterring power of the limited military detachments which accompany it and stand over the horizon to defend it. The more that deterrent and security is weakened, the less able the State Department can operate safely and effectively without a growing reliance on private security or other measures. Regardless of what policy options should or do play out in Libya, the US Department of State – together with its colleagues in the USMC – ought ensure that anyone contemplating to forcibly enter our legations or partake in an open season on our diplomats do so only with a great and well-founded fear for their lives.
Lastly, and perhaps most striking, is something Joshua Foust reminded me of on Twitter today – since World War II, more Ambassadors have died in the line of duty than general officers. During many years of American history since, it has arguably even been more dangerous to be a member of the Foreign Service than the Armed Forces. The complexity and difficulty of protecting diplomatic personnel, as outlined above, leaves them in a deeply vulnerable situation. Responsible for the constant maintenance and crafting of the vast and inscrutable beast that is U.S. foreign policy, they assume serious amounts of personal risk, knowing that by the nature of their trade they must leave themselves exposed, and that the very nature of their profession will inherently constrain what their country can do to save them in an hour of need. In theory they are protected by inviolable sovereign rights and centuries of diplomatic tradition. In reality, the options for the Marines attached to the legations will always be circumscribed by the foreign policy considerations those they protect serve to advance. With the enormous amount of risk State Department civilians face, it is imperative the military components supporting the State Department ensure they retain the capability to protect those rights if called upon, and deter breaches of those rights so they need not be called upon in the first place – and it is also imperative that policymakers give them an effective mandate to support those missions. They fight so that we might not lose men such as Ambassador Chris Stevens and Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith, and it appears in Benghazi, some lay down their lives to do so.
In case you missed it, I wrote a series of columns for World Politics Review on what I see to be a disturbing trend in U.S. foreign policy: the increasing belief that special operations forces are the answer to each and every tricky problem the United States faces. Below, I am providing links to each of my three columns. I think it is clear from the tenor of my columns that I have a lot of admiration for and a little familiarity with U.S. special operations forces, and it is from that position of admiration and familiarity that I worry about their expanding role.
World Politics Review provides access to their content when linked from this blog, but do yourself a favor and buy a subscription anyway to support my work and the work done by all the other World Politics Review contributors.
P.S. My column today is on Egypt. You can read it here.
I apologize for the light blogging. I returned from a few days at Ft. Leavenworth -- education, not incarceration -- this morning and am in the middle of the final edits on a big report Bruce Jentleson, Melissa Dalton, Dana Stuster and I have been writing for CNAS. I preview one of our recommendations in this column for World Politics Review:
If Americans do not appreciate the Israeli-Egyptian peace now, though, they certainly will when it is no longer there. And for the first time in 30 years, that is a real possibility.
The United States needs to get serious about heading off confrontation between the new Egyptian authorities and our friends in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Read the rest here.
I have missed several events here in Washington featuring Toby Dodge this week, but on the way back from Ft. Leavenworth, I read a review essay on Iraq by the great Sami Zubaida in the International Journal of Middle East Studies that features Dodge's book. I recommend the former, at least, for any Iraq nerds out there. (I have never, actually, read the latter but know I should. And I love the fact that academic journals get around to reviewing books nine years after they were published.)
[The United States] gave Egypt’s military $1.3 billion worth of tanks and fighter jets, and it gave Lebanese public-school students a $13.5 million merit-based college scholarship program that is currently putting 117 Lebanese kids through local American-style colleges that promote tolerance, gender and social equality, and critical thinking. I’ve recently been to Egypt, and I’ve just been to Lebanon, and I can safely report this: The $13.5 million in full scholarships has already bought America so much more friendship and stability than the $1.3 billion in tanks and fighter jets ever will.
I am more than sympathetic to arguments that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East must go beyond military partnerships, but this Tom Friedman op-ed is nonsense. First off, no where in this op-ed is there any discussion of U.S. interests in the region, which are, according to the president:
That $1.3 billion in annual military aid? That is the price the United States pays to ensure peace between Israel and Egypt. For three decades, it has been a fantastic bargain.
Second, I am a proud graduate of the American University of Beirut, but do you know who else counted the AUB as their alma mater? The two most innovative terrorists in modern history, George Habbash and Imad Mughniyeh. U.S. universities and scholarship programs are nice things to do and sometimes forge important ties between peoples and future leaders, but they can also go horribly wrong and do not necessarily serve U.S. interests. There is certainly no guarantee a U.S.-style education leads to greater tolerance or gender and social equality.
Third, I'm glad Tom Friedman is traveling, but after a few weeks (days?) in Cairo and Beirut, he can "safely report" nothing about the relative effectiveness of U.S. activities in Egypt and Lebanon.
Fourth, the military aid we give to Egypt does not come out of the International Affairs budget, so it's not a simple matter of moving some cash around. Tom Friedman will want to speak to the U.S. Congress about this. I was wrong about this! See this Congressional Research Service report (.pdf) for more. Also, Gulliver wrote in to add that "ISA (which includes Foreign Military Finance – particularly the earmarked Israel and Egypt money – and International Military Education and training) is a separate budget line to the humanitarian aid and educational exchange stuff. Congress specifically appropriates that money and would have to be the ones to change it."
Fifth, in 1975, Lebanon was arguably the best educated and most cosmopolitan population in the Arabic-speaking world. I don't need to tell the guy who wrote this book what happened next, but for the rest of you, I'll just say that only in a twisted way did it involve "transforming [Lebanon] into what it should be and can be."
Today's news from Egypt, where the offices of the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute were raided along with several other civil society organizations*, should prompt swift action from the U.S. Congress when it returns from the holidays.
Unlike many other regional analysts, I am not terribly upset by U.S. military aid to regimes in the Middle East: this aid, in theory, gives the United States influence over the behavior of regimes and institutions in the region -- and also professionalizes Arab military organizations. But the United States has an opportunity to support the promotion of democracy in the region by linking military aid to the development of civil society. Egypt receives approximately $1.3 billion in annual military aid from the United States. The Congress should include a clause to the effect that regimes will not be eligible for U.S. military aid if organizations funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (such as the NDI and the IRI) cannot operate free from host government harassment. The Egyptian military claims organizations like the NDI and the IRI "meddle" in the affairs of Egypt. Well, $1.3 billion in military aid also "meddles" in the affairs of Egypt. If you want the latter, you should be prepared to accept the former as well.**
I have written about the sources of U.S. leverage in the Middle East. I do not think the problem is that the United States does not have leverage but that it has been incompetent in using it. The United States now has an opportunity to use it in Egypt. And even if the Egyptian military declines U.S. military aid (unlikely), the United States will have sent a strong signal that democracy promotion is a strategic goal of the United States in the region and that allied regimes should adjust their behavior. I might not have recommended such a gambit in 2010, but I think the events of 2011 mean the United States has to play by new rules in the region.
*Reports from Cairo indicate the other organizations were the Arab Center for Independence of Justice and Legal Professions (ACIJP), The Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory, Freedom House and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung.
**Military aid comes from a different pool of money than does other aid. One of the problems the United States has using its leverage is that the right hand often does not know what the left hand is doing. So the Dept. of Defense might be doing one thing while U.S. AID is doing another. Foreign governments know all about the fault lines and divisions in the U.S. government and exploit them. They bet (correctly) the U.S. government will not be able to come up with a whole-of-government approach. The U.S. Congress, though, can step in here and tie one set of activities to another by federal law.
For the past several months, I've been working on a big project related to U.S. policy toward the Middle East at the Center for a New American Security. (My research partner is Duke's Bruce Jentleson, whose research I have long admired.) During that time, I've had the opportunity to interact with a wide array of former and current U.S. policy makers as well as the kinds of na'er-do-well academic specialists on the region whose work I have always found to be thought-provoking. One thing virtually everyone can agree on is the dilemma in which U.S. policy makers find themselves: in a region that is rapidly democratizing, the United States is over-invested in the least democratic institutions and regimes in the region.
Where things get tricky is when one tries to decide what to do about that. The principle problem is one that has been in my head watching more violent crackdowns in Bahrain and Egypt: the very source of U.S. leverage against the regimes in Bahrain and Egypt is that which links the United States to the abuses of the regime in the first place. So if you want to take a "moral" stand against the abuses of the regime in Bahrain and remove the Fifth Fleet, congratulations! You can feel good about yourself for about 24 hours -- or until the time you realize that you have just lost the ability to schedule a same-day meeting with the Crown Prince to press him on the behavior of Bahrain's security forces. Your leverage, such as it was, has just evaporated. The same is true in Egypt. It would feel good, amidst these violent clashes between the Army and protesters, to cut aid to the Egyptian Army. But in doing so, you also reduce your own leverage over the behavior of the Army itself.
At some point, of course, the United States has no choice to cut all ties to a regime or institution. We are not, I feel strongly, quite there in either Egypt or Bahrain. But as I hear of more and more of my friends in the region beaten with crowbars and pelted with rubber bullets by the forces charged with protecting the citizenry, it's fair to wonder whether or not the United States is using the leverage it has to its greatest effect.
An incident in which five Egyptian guards were killed when Israeli forces pursued terrorists crossing the border helped to trigger the upsurge in tensions with Cairo.
Were killed? Who or what killed them? Did they fall into a pit of vipers? Did God smite the Egyptian guards? Were they, perhaps, swallowed up by the Red Sea? Because, hey, these kinds of things have happened before, right?
Media reporting on the incident informs us that the IDF in fact killed these five Egyptian guards. Israelis and Israeli allies can all surely agree this was a bit of an own goal on the part of the IDF, since Israel and Egypt are in the process of renegotiating the terms of their relationship after the fall of Hosni Mubarak and -- keep your fingers crossed -- the return of democratic politics in Egypt.
The recent events in which Egyptian protesters stormed the Israeli embassy in Cairo were shocking. The Egyptian government's failure to protect the embassy of a government with whom it has full diplomatic relations was unforgivable. And, as the editorial points out, the way in which Arab regimes deflect attention away from their own problems toward Israel is both pathetic and habitual. But does it actually serve any useful purpose to pretend our Israeli friends are just passive by-standers to what is taking place in the Middle East? Sometimes, in their efforts to counter terrorism, Israel is its own worst enemy.
The tactical and operational decisions of Israeli commanders often have negative strategic effects or are taken in a strategic vacuum. Surely we can and should just admit this, right, and help our Israeli friends to realize this as well?
Update: Here is the original Washington Post report on the incident, which followed an attack that killed eight Israelis. Note how, in the original report, the murder of Israelis is described in the active voice, whereas the killing of Egyptians is, again, described in the passive voice.
The Egyptian government had demanded an Israeli apology for and joint investigation into the border skirmish, in which an Egyptian military officer and two policemen were killed. It had also criticized statements by Israeli officials about Egypt after the attack in southern Israel, which killed eight people.
When Arabs kill Israelis, the reader can understand their frustration and anger because agency is established. By contrast, since Arabs are killed by ... Magic? The Hand of God? Too many bad Egyptian cigarettes? ... the reader is left to wonder why these irrational Arabs are so angry and frustrated. I don't mean to go all Orwell on you kids, but language matters. The Washington Post can dismiss Egyptian popular anger toward Israel as something ginned up by cynical Arab leaders in part because it never honestly describes an Israeli action that killed five Egyptians.
Each year, around this time in the (lunar) calendar, Western newspapers are usually filled with stories about the latest exciting Ramadan soap opera everyone is watching. Nothing happens during Ramadan, the story goes, so most reporting on the Arabic-speaking world is of the human interest variety.
It's worth pausing to consider, then, how remarkable this year has been and continues to be. I woke up this morning to images of Hosni Mubarak in a cage, on trial in Egypt. This is a stunning image for me to see, so I can only imagine the effect it has on 83m Egyptians and about 250m other people in the region.
Elsewhere in the Arabic-speaking world, meanwhile, violent civil wars and upheavals continue to press for the fall of the Qadhdhafi regime in Libya, the al-Asad regime in Syria, and the Saleh regime in Yemen. If I had to place my bets, I would bet all will ultimately and bloodily be successful.
Remarkable. Ramadan mubarak indeed.
1. Jane Mayer's lengthy article in the New Yorker on the National Security Agency should be required reading within defense policy circles because it raises so many good questions about domestic spying, classification, and how we prosecute leakers. I like Mayer's reporting a lot, as I've made clear in the past, so I'll only pause to take issue with one thing in her article: I have a tough time having any degree of sympathy for those who leak classified information -- even when that information exposes a problem in or abuses of the system. And I think Mayer intends for us to pity her protagonist, who is being prosecuted for feeding information to a reporter for the Baltimore Sun. (The protagonist claims none of the information he leaked was classified, though it was cut-and-pasted from SECRET documents.) I found myself nodding along with the guy who told Mayer, "To his credit, he tried to raise these issues, and, to an extent, they were dealt with. But who died and left him in charge?" Exactly right: the system breaks down when every Tom, Dick, Harry and Jane gets to decide what gets released to the media and what does not. Unsurprisingly, journalists have a more sympathetic view toward those people who feed them scoops than do those whose jobs and lives are made harder by their colleagues leaking information.
2. Egypt: Why Are the Churches Burning? by Yasmine El-Rashidi in the New York Review of Books.
3. Kim Dozier on the Osama bin Laden raid. Kim is much admired within the special operations community, and her excellent sources and contacts inform this great article, which incorporates inside information (and leaks) without compromising OPSEC ...
4. ... but John Kenney gets the real scoop on the raid, interviewing several SEALs and printing their testimonies.
5. Confessions of a Vulcan: Dov Zakheim explains how the Bush Administration screwed up Afghanistan.
6. Finally, the Modern Library has re-issued Shelby Foote's Civil War Trilogy with a series of introductory essays. The first essay, by Jon Meacham, correctly places Foote within a very specific social and literary context in central Mississippi in the early 20th Century and notes the influence of the salon of William Alexander Percy. My scarily erudite paternal grandfather, actually, grew up in the exact same time and place, and it was a crazy one: on the one hand, it was in some ways a Third World country, yet on the other hand, it managed to produce a ridiculously disproportionate number of the Twentieth Century's men of letters. (And women, of course, because you can't forget Eudora!) Having only read the section on the Gettysburg Campaign previously, I started the first volume of the series last night and had trouble putting it down.
The activists [Sec. Clinton] did meet with were not as organized as she had hoped. “As incredibly emotional and moving and inspiring as it was,” she said, speaking of the demonstrations, “I looked at these twenty young people around the table, and they were complaining about how the elections are going to be held, and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamists are so well organized, and the remnants of the old National Democratic Party are so well organized. I said, ‘So, well, are you organizing? Do you have an umbrella group that is going to represent the youth of Egypt? Do you have a political agenda?’ And they all looked up and said no. It made my heart sink.”