American ambassadors: From untouchable to dead

No Holds Barred: Because even a monster as evil as Hitler, arguably the most dangerous man that ever lived, wasn’t going to mess with the American ambassador.

Photo of Nazi troops to be displayed at Wolf's Lair 370 (photo credit: Wilczy Szaniec)
Photo of Nazi troops to be displayed at Wolf's Lair 370
(photo credit: Wilczy Szaniec)
I just finished one of the best books I’ve read in a long time: In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. The book tells the story of William Dodd, President Roosevelt’s first ambassador to Hitler, and chronicles the slow descent of Germany into Nazi tyranny. One of the most striking features of the narrative is the fear that slowly descends on the German populace as they become terrified of expressing an opinion about Hitler and his police state, even in the company of close family and friends.
Yet Dodd and his family were utterly immune to such fear. Though they lived in a home that was owned by a Jewish banker; regularly hosted journalists who wrote critically of Hitler; drove by the home of Franz von Papen – the deputy chancellor – to show their support even after he had been placed under house arrest by Hitler for his Marburg speech of June, 1934; though Dodd openly snubbed Hitler every year by refusing to attend the Nazi Nuremberg rally where Hitler was celebrated as a god, Dodd never had anything to fear.
He did not have to worry that the SA would ransack his Berlin home in the middle of the night. He did not have to fear that his daughter Martha, who even had an affair with Gestapo head Rudolf Diels, would be summarily shot for her increasing disillusionment with Hitler’s regime. He did not have to fear that the SS would arrest him on his frequent walks through the Tiergarten for a speech he gave on that made subtle reference to Hitler’s growing assault on freedom. And he did not have fear that roaming bands of Nazi thugs would attack him for his protests to the German foreign minister against unprovoked attacks that threatened the lives of Americans.
And why didn’t he fear? Because even a monster as evil as Hitler, arguably the most dangerous man that ever lived, wasn’t going to mess with the American ambassador.
In fact, one of the stories told in the book is of the day Dodd took a walk with French ambassador André François-Poncet in the Tiergarten, when the latter told him he would not be surprised if he were shot in the street by the SS. Dodd was astonished. It had never occurred to him to worry; he was the American ambassador.
Indeed, Hitler and the Nazis never harassed Western ambassadors.
It therefore matters that just 80 years later a bunch of terrorist thugs think they can murder an American ambassador, in full sight of the world, without consequence.
American diplomatic staff were once the safest people in the world, representatives of a superpower that would rain hell from the skies should you touch one. But no more.
The revelations coming out of the Congressional hearings on Benghazi, Libya – such as that the Obama State Department watered down public statements on the attack, cleansing them of any mention of al-Qaida and terrorism – are a travesty and demonstrate a lack of moral will to call evil by its proper name.
ABC News and Fox News reported this past Friday that the department’s talking points were revised fully 12 times to purge them of any mention of terrorism. State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland asked the CIA to remove mention of their own security warnings about Benghazi. According to ABC News the original paragraph read, “The Agency has produced numerous pieces on the threat of extremists linked to al-Qaida in Benghazi and eastern Libya. These noted that, since April, there have been at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi by unidentified assailants, including the June attack against the British ambassador’s convoy.
We cannot rule out [that] individuals [have] previously surveilled... US facilities, also contributing to the efficacy of the attacks.”
But Nuland was concerned that the line “could be abused by members [of Congress] to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings, so why would we want to feed that, either?” I have earlier written about how ambassador Susan Rice was an utterly inappropriate choice as secretary of state based on her efforts to disassociate the word “genocide” from the Rwandan mass slaughters of 1994 so as not to commit the Clinton administration to intervention. In a 2001 article published in The Atlantic, Samantha Power, author of the Pulitzer-Prize winning A Problem of Hell and arguably the world’s foremost voice against genocide, who currently serves on the National Security Council as an aide to President Obama, referred to Ambassador Susan Rice and her colleagues in the Clinton administration as “Bystanders to Genocide.”
She quotes Rice in the 2002 book as saying, “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November congressional election?” Rice’s subordination of a human tragedy of epic proportions to partisan politic interests mirrors the allegations that the current administration denied a terror attack in Benghazi for political gain.
Worse, the attempt to whitewash the Benghazi attacks and describe them merely as “a protest that turned violent” trivializes the death of ambassador Chris Stevens and the three Americans murdered with him, and threatens to cheapen the life of every American diplomat currently serving in a dangerous post.
We need to accept that the fear the United States once instilled in those with evil intent against our diplomatic staff has worn thin and the only way to reintroduce that fear is to understand fully what happened in Benghazi, and to rain fire on the culprits so that this never happens again.
The author, whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” served as rabbi to the students of Oxford University for 11 years, where he created the Oxford L’Chaim Society, which hosted world leaders lecturing on values-based leadership. He has just published The Fed-Up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.