Bravely etched into the opening chapter of this book is the proclamation that the harrowing account of the attack in Benghazi will not include a rundown of the crimes, real or imagined, of the Obama administration. This is not a political book. And thank Christ for that. Don’t get me wrong, I love history, and I see politics as history experienced unclouded by the mists of time. I enjoy reading about political machinations, and try to view the world through various partisan lenses. But there are issues that are so warped by their political implications and the grandstanding and brinkmanship of intellectual lightweights that it’s sometimes impossible to view them undaunted by spin.
This book looks at one such event, and the attempt is not only heroic, but successful. If you want to know what happened on September 11-12, 2012 in Benghazi, Libya, but don’t want to be told what Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama should’ve done differently, I found this to be a great resource.
The book is told in a narrative style, and is based on interviews with the persons involved on the ground. Some names have been changed to reflect the wishes of those who are still serving roles requiring anonymity, and a fair amount of space is given to humanizing the participants.
As with so many instances of the recent past, intelligence reports presaged the attack, and systemic bureaucratic ineptitude created a perfect storm for an almost inevitable tragedy. The men on the ground behaved heroically (the real kind, not intended to be diluted by my casual use of the word above). It’s easy to recognize, ex post facto, the long-existing failures in the lead up to a tragedy, for the tangled paths that life could take smooth out with the hindsight of history. But to recognize beforehand what seems inevitable afterwards is a rare gift.
There is an aphorism that’s been thrown around a lot over the last 15 years: the terrorists only have to succeed once, the US has to succeed every time. Benghazi is evidence of that. The attack wasn’t successful because the terrorists in Libya were so skilled, it worked because the departments of State and Defense dropped the ball. The men on the ground, however, did not. They did everything they could with the meager tools they were given to protect the lives of Ambassador Stevens and the other Americans.
I don’t know what Michael Bay’s adaptation of this book was like – I don’t recall hearing particularly great things – but this book is well worth checking out. It reminded me of Black Hawk Down, in that the significance of the tragedy is spelled out in the blood of its victims, not in the political fallout of those responsible for the shortcomings. That, I think, is as it should be. What happened to Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, Tyrone Woods and those who survived is a story that deserves to be told. Not so we can punish the Obama administration, but so that we can diagnose what happened and ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
Not previously reviewed for CBR.