I am not naïve. Embassies have been centers of intrigue, propaganda disseminators, bases for political intervention in a nation’s internal affairs, intermediaries for the promotion of markets and investments, etc., practices not confined to those representing the US, and hardly confined to recent times. That said, Benghazi (technically, a consulate), signifies, as so much else under the Obama Administration, a qualitative departure from the customary. Lines are becoming blurred in the table of organization—the State Department, CIA, Pentagon, White House—all, with some rubbing of elbows, have been pressed in the service of imperialism, less cohesive than POTUS would like, but sufficiently unified as to make US embassies active weapons, stalking horses, outposts (whichever you prefer) in establishing, solidifying, and focusing the power of America’s presence in a global geopolitical strategy of military-economic-ideological dominance, loathe, on Obama’s watch, to be relinquished as the world structure itself is in process of decentralizing. The US is engaged in a Sisyphean struggle as it slides from the post-World War II state of unilateral hegemonic, into a multipolar context of China’s ascendence, Third World emerging industrialization, and postcolonial mass aspirations.
So much the need for Benghazis everywhere (along with the vast network of military bases) if America is to remain top dog, or at least think of itself that way—until its fantasies are overtaken by reality, at which time even the militarization of diplomacy can be expected to give way to naked displays of power as such. We’re almost there. There is something psychopathological about the current political debate on Benghazi, in which both major parties are squaring off against each other, as meanwhile neither one questions the desirability, profitability, and wisdom of imperialism, that which embassies are intended to serve. And designed to serve: the more unwanted the American presence in a country, the greater the concrete (as though giant bunkers), the greater the military protection, the hulk announcing and embodying US influence, right down to exempting private contractors (think Blackwater under its new corporate name) for crimes committed against the laws of the penetrated—in some cases, occupied—country. In the last three days, an article in the Washington Post (May 21) by Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung and the New York Times editorial (May 23) make clear that Benghazi is but a pawn not only in US domestic politics, but also in spreading America’s emphasis on paramilitary operations worldwide, beyond what other presidents contemplated, and at one with the program of armed drones for targeted assassination. Embassies are beachheads for more forward maneuvers, both political and military.
Benghazi was primarily a CIA installation, its “annex” given the cloak of diplomatic immunity. The Post article details the way David Petraeus, then DCIA, did everything possible to protect the Agency, such as drafting the so-called talking points used by Susan Rice (the present tempest-in-a-teapot fueling inter-party rage) while obfuscating its interventionist mission, while the Times editorial rightly pointed to CIA’s primacy within the consulate, in both cases, although the larger question is not addressed, nailing down that these facilities are often fronts for a range of covert activities. Politely put—given the role of operatives and mercenaries running loose, itself reason enough for the anger expressed by the crowds, which then turned to violence. That larger question, still an untouchable (just as drone assassination is untouchable), involves, not cost-benefit analysis, or what others may think of us, or even, the danger of setting precedents which might come home to haunt us, but the intrinsic morality of domination, in its manifold forms, military, economic, political, cultural, ideological, all of which are aided by the Benghazis numbering in the tens if not hundreds.
My Comment on the New York Times editorial, which deserves commendation for its implicit criticisms of the CIA, its presence there, its role in managing the news, follows:
“Reforms are under way,” states the editorial, except the one reform which merits frank discussion: Why these embassies in the first place, because, far from representing traditional diplomatic functions and concerns, they have proven to be the forward edge of US hegemonic intent, such as the massive hulk in Baghdad, or in this case, a CIA outpost? The locals know the score and deeply resent the armed fortresses spread globally, the claims of diplomatic immunity when personnel or the protectors (often private contractors, aka, mercenaries) violate the laws of the country when committing crimes, such as the clearing of intersections when passing through.
Embassies have become instruments of war and/or social control, and, not surprisingly, elicit hostile feelings and attacks. Renounce imperialistic policies, demonstrate good will, keep CIA and related forces out, and I doubt there would be attacks. Nothing is any longer normal, given the total politicization of the American presence in foreign lands.
Norman Pollack is the author of “The Populist Response to Industrial America” (Harvard) and “The Just Polity” (Illinois), Guggenheim Fellow, and professor of history emeritus, Michigan State University.