How Quickly We Discount Violent Protests in Other Countries

Trey Gowdy just asked what besides Benghazi could possibly have been going on in the Middle East in September of 2012. About that “¦

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) speaks about immigration during a news conference on Capitol Hill, April 25, 2013 in Washington, DC. The news conference was held to discuss immigration control issues that are before Congress. 
National Journal
Lucia Graves
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Lucia Graves
May 7, 2014, 1:06 p.m.

On Wed­nes­day’s Morn­ing Joe, Rep. Trey Gowdy, when asked by host Joe Scar­bor­ough what he thought of Jay Car­ney’s re­sponse to the most re­cent hul­laba­loo around Benghazi, re­spon­ded with an earn­est ques­tion.

“How many people were harmed in the Middle East dur­ing that time peri­od?” he asked. “The second or third goal of [White House ad­viser] Ben Rhodes’s memo was to bring coun­tries to justice for harm­ing our cit­izens. What else was be­ing dis­cussed oth­er than Benghazi?”

Well if you care about what was go­ing on at oth­er U.S. em­bassies in the Middle East, quite a bit. It’s un­clear wheth­er Gowdy, now the des­ig­nated head of the newly formed se­lect com­mit­tee to in­vest­ig­ate Benghazi, has writ­ten off the loss of so many non-Amer­ic­an lives as ir­rel­ev­ant, or wheth­er he’s simply for­get­ting what was go­ing on in the world at the time. But I’ll give him the be­ne­fit of the doubt and as­sume the lat­ter.

The week of the Benghazi at­tack, as Amer­ic­ans who were read­ing the news­pa­per then prob­ably re­mem­ber, there were protests all across the Middle East. Re­call that in Tunis, in Cairo, in Khar­toum, and else­where, there was vi­ol­ent un­rest. A few re­ports to jog Gowdy’s memory:

A Re­u­ters story on Sept. 11, 2012 noted that about 20 people stood atop the U.S. Em­bassy wall in Cairo, while 2,000 pro­test­ers gathered out­side. To wit: “Egyp­tian pro­test­ers scaled the walls of the U.S. Em­bassy, tore down the Amer­ic­an flag, and burned it dur­ing a protest over what they said was a film be­ing pro­duced in the United States that in­sul­ted Proph­et Muhammad.”

A CNN re­port from around the same time found that demon­strat­ors breached a se­cur­ity wall and stormed the em­bassy in San­aa. Four pro­test­ers were killed dur­ing clashes with Ye­meni se­cur­ity per­son­nel and a flag was burned out­side the em­bassy.

On Sept. 12 of that same week, hun­dreds of pro­test­ers ran­sacked the U.S. Em­bassy in Tunisia, killing at least two and in­jur­ing 29 “in their fury over a film den­ig­rat­ing the Proph­et Muhammad,” ac­cord­ing to the Re­u­ters re­port at the time. Also from that re­port: “The pro­test­ers smashed win­dows, hurled pet­rol bombs and stones at po­lice from in­side, and star­ted fires in the em­bassy and the com­pound. A black plume of smoke rose from the build­ing.”

In Khar­toum, the Brit­ish, Ger­man, and U.S. em­bassies were all be­sieged by ri­oters, ac­cord­ing to a re­port in The Guard­i­an from around that time.

So to an­swer Gowdy’s ques­tion, yes, there were in fact a few oth­er things be­sides Benghazi be­ing dis­cussed in for­eign policy at the time. There were people dy­ing and dip­lo­mats at risk in oth­er places, though to look at the news cov­er­age ever since then you’d hardly know it.

And that, as Matt Gertz ex­plained so co­gently last week, is why protests around the Middle East were in fact of in­terest to the Sunday shows at the time. It also goes a fair bit of the way to­ward ex­plain­ing why it is that that now in­fam­ous email from Rhodes sug­ges­ted that then-U.N. Am­bas­sad­or Susan Rice pre­pare a few talk­ing points speak­ing to those mat­ters, as well as to the at­tack in Benghazi.

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