The attack on our embassy in Baghdad and President Trump’s reaction are in no way comparable to the events in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11, 2012.
I fought to defend the American diplomatic post and CIA annex in Benghazi for more than 13 hours against a determined, organized assault by dozens of Al Qaeda fanatics armed with belt-fed machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and heavy mortars.
The Obama administration’s mishandling of this attack — which resulted in the first murder of a U.S. ambassador in the line of duty since the 1970s — was a far cry from the Trump administration’s decisive response to threats against our embassy in Iraq.
The basic facts should be enough to dismiss any serious comparison. My team and I were told to “stand down” no fewer than three times in the face of what the media later called “protesters” — even as Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, were being killed and maimed by the terrorists. No U.S. military reaction force was sent, despite our numerous requests for help. Only by our own tenacity and courage were more than 30 Americans able to escape with our lives.
Compare that to the recent attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. When Iran-backed militias and their supporters stormed the embassy grounds and Iraqi forces refused to do their duty to defend American lives and property,
President Trump reacted forcefully. In roughly the same amount of time it took to the Obama administration to get an unarmed American drone over our heads as we fought for our lives in Benghazi, more than 100 U.S. Marines were on the scene to defend the Baghdad embassy and two Apache helicopter gunships were in the air asserting American sovereignty.
In no small part due to that decisive reaction, no Americans were seriously hurt in the attack.
The comparison breaks down even further when you look beyond the events of the day and examine the longer-term strategies employed by each administration. The difference comes down to one thing: leadership. President Trump is demonstrating bold and effective leadership, whereas President Obama showed only weakness and cowardice.
I’ve learned a thing or two about leadership, not only over my 12-year career in the United States Marine Corps, but also as a police chief and as a private security contractor working around the world defending American lives in far-flung hostile countries, where our safety depended on competent leadership on the ground as well as from Washington. Effective leadership often goes unnoticed by those serving under it. It simply makes the task at hand look easy, natural, and uncontroversial.
When leadership is lacking, however, its absence is frighteningly apparent. Failures of leadership cost lives and leave subordinates scrambling to cover for the leadership that was needed. That’s what we saw after Benghazi, as senior Obama administration officials insisted for days that the Al Qaeda attack, which was clearly planned and organized to kill Americans on the anniversary of 9/11, was a spontaneous protest in reaction to an amateurish “Islamophobic” YouTube video that hardly anyone had seen.
That story was plainly absurd, but it would have allowed inept leaders to save face had it not fallen apart under scrutiny.
President Trump’s leadership needed no such weaseling and excuse-making. After making sure the military was fully prepared to protect our embassy and our interests, President Trump was forthright and open with the American people. He didn’t try to hide who was attacking us — Iran-backed Shiite militias — nor why they were doing so: anger at American airstrikes on militants.
Rather than scramble to defend a lie, and relying on solid intel of impending attacks, President Trump quickly struck back to ensure that our enemies understood the consequences of attacking an American embassy. Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the man most responsible for fomenting those militias in Iraq, paid the ultimate price for underestimating those consequences. Throughout the region, his compatriots are quickly learning similar lessons.
Effective leadership can be easy to overlook when it’s practiced by one’s own side. But our enemies never mistake strong American leadership for weakness. Far from being comparable, the contrast in leadership between Benghazi and Baghdad is striking. President Trump’s leadership style will keep Americans in the Middle East and elsewhere safe. I know from experience that the alternative is unacceptable.