Beyond Benghazi: How The U.S. Embassy Helped Stave Off Disaster In Liberia

We’re beyond ironic. After years of grandstanding and bashing the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton for security and response lapses implicated in the death of a U.S. Ambassador and others in Benghazi, the Republicans are obviously willing to make embassy security a crass political bargaining chip.  But we shouldn’t really be surprised. They‘ve done this before.

In a new book, The Embassy: A Story of War and Diplomacy, Dante Paradiso depicts in graphic detail the attempts of an embassy team, aid workers and peacekeepers to help stave off catastrophe in Liberia as the state, ruled by the infamous Charles Taylor, he of “blood diamond” lore, collapses around them. 

When U.S. Ambassador John W. Blaney refused to close the embassy after the first of three rebel attacks on the capital, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld appears to have pulled out augmented security and delayed the deployment of a requested Marine Fleet Antiterrorism Support Team to force the Ambassador to lower the flag. All, it seems, for expediency: Rumsfeld simply did not want to bother with assistance to an African country, an ally, one that had been founded by the United States and the stabilization of which would cost a fraction of a fraction of what was being spent in his misguided war in Iraq.

The Embassy puts you in the room with the ambassador and his team as chaos engulfs Liberia.  It makes takes us, in a visceral way, through the decisions that confront our diplomats and Marine Security Guards every day in places like Kabul, Mogadishu, and Bangui. The ambassador had to answer: Does he make a final attempt at diplomacy to stave off calamity? Or does he accept defeat and try and get as many of his people out before all hell breaks loose?

As a result of the politicization of our foreign affairs, Americans unfortunately have become all-too-familiar with tales of our failings abroad.  But The Embassy reminds us that sometimes we get it right too, and a united effort, however we get there, can save lives. In fast and fluid prose, Paradiso shows us how the ambassador and his team risked it all to cross the front lines of the Liberian war to broker a local ceasefire that gave peace one last chance. We are fortunate that our diplomats press on even when the support from our political class is tenuous at best, because we need them most when the world spins out of control.  As Paradiso shows in The Embassy, they can accomplish amazing things ― forestall or end wars, prevent humanitarian disasters ― even with minimal resources.

Bravo to Paradiso for bringing us this incredible story.  There may just be a message in here, for the possibilities of foreign policy by consensus and not by tweet, for our better angels driving smart policy, as opposed to the dark forces with which we’re all too familiar.  In short, not only is The Embassy a gripping story you won’t be able to put down once you start, it provides thought-provoking lessons on what we can do better as a country, and a reminder that we can and must be a force for good in the world.  We’re going to need to remember these lessons going forward.

Bob Cesca is the host of The Bob & Chez Show a funny, fast-paced political podcast that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The twice-weekly podcast is hosted by Bob Cesca (Salon.com, The Huffington Post, The Daily Banter, The Stephanie Miller Show), and CNN/MSNBC producer turned writer Chez Pazienza. Follow the show at www.bobcesca.com with special thanks to McCoy Hiestand.

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