You know, you read this Washington Post article on the assassination of Ambassador Stevens, and you keep telling yourself This movie is completely unbelievable.
On the eve of his death, U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was ebullient as he returned for the first time in his new role to Benghazi, the eastern Libyan city that embraced him as a savior during last year’s civil war. He moved around the coastal town in an armored vehicle and held a marathon of meetings, his handful of bodyguards trailing discreetly behind.
Sure, that’s a great image for the cameras – some good distance and local shots for the film; quick shorthand for ‘this guy is important and influential’ for folks in the streets – but there’s no way that a real-life administration would just let one of its Ambassadors surrender so much control over his security. It’s just easier to defend a static area, and bring people to the meetings whenever possible. They’ll understand: real life ain’t Hollywood.
But as Stevens met with Benghazi civic leaders, U.S. officials appear to have underestimated the threat facing both the ambassador and other Americans. They had not reinforced the U.S. diplomatic outpost there to meet strict safety standards for government buildings overseas. Nor had they posted a U.S. Marine detachment, as at other diplomatic sites in high-threat regions.
And then there’s this. Sure, OK, if the plot of your big-budget film requires an Ambassador being killed at his compound then you will have to explain “Where are the Marines?” – because the Marines are (accurately) portrayed in American popular culture as “Old Testament angels of retribution with Southern accents and careful courtesy.” But you can’t just have the Marines not be there. There’s no way that the US government would neglect security that way. Real life ain’t Hollywood.
A U.S. military team assigned to establish security at the new embassy in Tripoli, in a previously undisclosed detail, was never instructed to fortify the temporary hub in the east. Instead, a small local guard force was hired by a British private security firm as part of a contract worth less than half of what it costs to deploy a single U.S. service member in a war zone for a year.
OK, this is where the suspension of disbelief just gets too hard to maintain. It may be handy for the plot to switch in a ‘private security firm’ to save money – the audience will hear these two things and immediately think ‘weak point at best; agent of betrayal at worst’ – but even action movies have to make some nods to accuracy. Could you imagine the stink that would occur if it came out that a Presidential administration let an Ambassador die because it was too cheap to pay for Marines? No. No, this would be protected against by, go figure, the bureaucratic impulse to cover your rear. Not even this White House is dumb enough – or ignorant enough to not fix that gaping security oversight. Real life ain’t Hollywood.
And, as it turns out: real life ain’t Hollywood. Because if it were Hollywood, then right now we’d be seeing some kind of dramatic scenes of retribution leading up to an awe-inspiring climax. Good would triumph over evil. The day would be saved. Villains would meet appropriate ends. There would be a montage of symbolic set-piece action scenes showing our victory. Soft instrumentals to tell us when to moisten those eyes. And a empty fall suburban street, with Our Hero walking down the middle of it to the warmly-lit house at the end, and his children running up to him while his wife just waits, half-leaning, on the fence.
Instead, we’ve got… Barack Obama.
Words fail me.
Moe Lane (crosspost)