Military Embassy Bombings

Taking advantage of the ability to travel back in time, if not in reality by the use of imagination and the presentation of facts from the past, August 7, 1998 is a day of particular tragedy, horror and impact for the United States of America, especially those Americans who are involved in the diplomatic corps.

On that day in 1998, two American embassies in the East African nation of Kenya were bombed by Islamic militant groups (Barber, 1998), having the net effect of killing and maiming hundreds of Americans and Africans, throwing the international community into an uproar, and raising the question of overseas military operations, embassy attacks, and the responses to those attacks, which have varied in intensity and tactic since the Kenya bombings.

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This paper will take a look at American military response, actions, and posture overseas as a result of the embassy bombings that have already occurred, as well as the constant threat of additional attacks in the future.  Research will also explore the root causes of the Kenya bombings, what took place in the aftermath of the bombings, and how all of this has led to international implications and set a course for the future of American military operations.

In the final analysis, the thesis that will be presented herein is that the US military, in taking action overseas, has certainly been provoked, and is justified to a certain extent, but is also guilty of some offenses against other nations and has the responsibility to make sure that the actions taken do not cross the line and are done for the right reasons, and not for the advancement of unrelated agendas, unwarranted aggression, or the lust for power.

Facts of the Kenya BombingsWhile it would be more comfortable, and even more easily remedied if the Kenya embassy bombings of 1998 were the random acts of deranged individuals who simply wished to make a name for themselves by attacking the embassies of a superpower nation in a foreign land, the truth of the matter is more sinister and far-reaching.

Investigation conducted after the bombings led back to the terrorist faction Al Qaeda and its leader Osama Bin Laden, who in subsequent years has been linked to terrorist acts against the US in Yemen, the bombing of the USS Cole, and the most infamous act of terrorism against America which brought terrorism to the domestic front on September 11, 2001 (Kim, 2005).

What horrific events like those that began with Kenya, reached a critical stage with 9/11, and continue to threaten the West in the present have painfully illustrated to those who follow international affairs, and those whose job it is to defend America from enemies at home and abroad, is that definite proactive and reactive military action on the part of the US on foreign soil to protect American interests is an absolute necessity in the modern world.  In the interest of fully exploring the topics set forth in the introduction to this paper, an examination of the causes and issues that led to the Kenya bombings is in order.

Root Causes of the Kenya BombingsEarlier in this paper, the “who” of the Kenya embassy bombings was revealed in the person of Bin Laden and the group of Al Qaeda; having done this raises the important question of why millions of dollars, thousands of mercenaries, and all of the efforts and resources of a criminal mastermind would be devoted to sustained attacks against one of the strongest, if not the strongest, nation in the world, knowing full well that these actions would set in motion a program of offense and defense that would send Bin Laden and his cohorts into hiding, Al Qaeda into chaos, and the world community into a state of high alert.

The answer lies in the resentment against the US on the part of militant Islam, which has grown to hate what the US represents in light of increasing American military presence in defense of the nation of Israel, more involvement in the affairs of the nation of Yemen, alliances formed with nations in the Middle East, and more (Useem, 1998). In retrospect, apparently the Kenya bombings were the first move in the modern chess match of Islamic extremism against the US.  Of course, this first move would not go without a response for long.  Actually, the US took swift action in response, which seems to have thrown more fuel on the fire for the bloodshed and disputes that would follow in subsequent years.

Immediate Aftermath of Kenya BombingsReflecting back on the Kenya bombings, the American government took definite action as a response, delivered in most part by the US military, much of which served to further incite radical Islamic groups.  At the time, President Bill Clinton mobilized the American military and increased troop levels in Africa; these troops were given orders and information about dozens of organizations that functioned, at least on paper, as Islamic charity groups, but in reality, were suspected as money laundering networks whose sole purpose was to fund the actions of Al Qaeda and other groups to continue their “war” against the US, whom they viewed as the primary threat to their traditions and ways of life (Siesseger, 2004).

The American Military AbroadThe US military did not begin its activities overseas after the Kenya bombing, but rather have been involved in international affairs for many years, dating back to the “modern war” period of World War I and continuing to the present day (Cohen, et al, 2005).  This involvement is something that of course has been ongoing for nearly a century and shows no signs of changing any time soon.

American military forces have made some strong alliances in the subsequent years, which have served to help the US gain credibility and recognition of a positive nature overseas, but have likewise generated hatred of America in many circles.  For those in the know, the Kenya bombings came as no surprise, but for the average American, these events seemed like something that came out of nowhere for no reason at all.

The role of Anti-Americanism in embassy relations, and the bombings of these embassies, is prominent and will therefore be discussed and presented for a thorough view of the topic and better explanation of the thesis that began the paper itself. The Role of Anti-Americanism in Embassy RelationsA chief culprit in the Kenya embassy bombings, aside from the flesh and blood individuals who carried out the plot of course, is anti-Americanism.

In the course of defending the world from threats such as Nazism and Communism, the US has in fact made its share of enemies.  A classic example of this is strained relationship between the US and Korea over the years since the Korean War.  While Korea has spent years trying to achieve financial and political independence since escaping the oppression of the former Soviet Union, the hatred for America has become an obsession.  In fairness, this is not something that has come out of nowhere, but has been the result of American actions that the Koreans view likewise as acts of war.

In 2001, the villagers of Nogunri in Kyungbuk province publicly accused the American military of systematically killing Korean civilians during the Korean War (1950-1953). The accusations were fueled by a documentary on the alleged massacre produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation. An angry Korean public demanded compensation and an official apology for the killings from the American government. While denying the “systematic” nature of the killings, the American government agreed to establish a memorial and scholarship funds.

On June 13, 2002, an American military vehicle killed two middle-school girls in Northern Gyunggi province during a routine exercise. When an American military court acquitted the driver and his assistant, there were public demands for revision of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the U.S. and Korea. Candlelight vigils of up to one million participants denounced the SOFA and demanded an official apology from the U.S. president and withdrawal of U.S. forces from Korea. College students attempted to break into the Embassy compound in September 2002, and activists attempted to break into American military facilities around the country.

The current American Embassy building in Seoul is generally acknowledged to be both physically and aesthetically inadequate. In 2002, the Embassy announced a plan to relocate to a site that was sold to the American government by the last Korean king at the end of the 19th century. The plan generated controversy among many environmental NGOs, who contended that the site was historically sacred. In response, Seoul City government withheld support for the plan, and members of the National Assembly demanded special hearings, effectively putting the project on indefinite hold.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the State Department announced a new worldwide visa policy on June 17, 2003. The tighter policy requires mandatory interviews for first-time student visa applicants and total abolition of referrals from travel agents. More applicants will be required to undergo in-person interviews. The new visa policy is being applied to all American diplomatic missions in the world. Koreans perceive such changes as an indiscriminate and insensitive application of inappropriate standards to countries that pose little threat to the U.S.

In 2001, the villagers of Nogunri in Kyungbuk province publicly accused the American military of systematically killing Korean civilians during the Korean War (1950-1953). The accusations were fueled by a documentary on the alleged massacre produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation. An angry Korean public demanded compensation and an official apology for the killings from the American government. While denying the “systematic” nature of the killings, the American government agreed to establish a  scholarship fund.

On June 13, 2002, an American military vehicle killed two middle-school girls in Northern Gyunggi province during a routine exercise. When an American military court acquitted the driver and his assistant, there were public demands for revision of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the U.S. and Korea. Candlelight vigils of up to one million participants denounced the SOFA and demanded an official apology from the U.S. president and withdrawal of U.S. forces from Korea. College students attempted to break into the Embassy compound in September 2002.

The current American Embassy building in Seoul is generally acknowledged to be both physically and aesthetically inadequate. In 2002, the Embassy announced a plan to relocate to a site that was sold to the American government by the last Korean king at the end of the 19th century. The plan generated controversy among many environmental NGOs, who contended that the site was historically sacred. In response, Seoul City government withheld support for the plan, and members of the National Assembly demanded special hearings, effectively putting the project on indefinite hold.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the State Department announced a new worldwide visa policy on June 17, 2003. The tighter policy requires mandatory interviews for first-time student visa applicants and total abolition of referrals from travel agents. More applicants will be required to undergo in-person interviews. The new visa policy is being applied to all American diplomatic missions in the world. Koreans perceive such changes as an indiscriminate and insensitive application of inappropriate standards to countries that pose little threat to the U.S. and a new expression of American xenophobia (Kim, 2005, p. 235) .

What these and other American actions in other nations and against other groups have served to do is to put the US on a pedestal- inaccessible by immigrants who wanted to become part of the American experience, chased by American soldiers in their own homelands, and denied an equal voice in forums like the UN because of their small size in comparison to America (Washington Times, 1998).  Based on this, resentment against US is understandable, but still unacceptable.

Also unacceptable is the victimization of innocent embassy workers who are natives of the countries in which the embassies are located who find themselves targeted by anti-American factions because of their association with the American embassies.  This wholesale intimidation and violence against non-combatants only intensifies the need for the US military to remain in place internationally.Like Koreans,  Islamic radicals have sought to oppose the US in a variety of ways.  Going back to the basis of this paper, the link between radical Islam and attacks on American embassies is vital to understand.

Islam and American Embassy AttacksRadical Islam has been associated with countless acts of sabotage against the US, and its many allies in Europe for decades, clearly showing that embassy attacks are not exclusive to the US, nor are they random acts without structure or reason (Shank, 1999).

What needs to be realized when discussing embassy attacks, and how the US military is answering these attacks, is that they are only one tool in a terror network that seeks nothing short of world domination, much as Communism sought to do in previous generations.  What makes this fight different, and more complicated, is that groups like Al Qaeda do not wear uniforms, carry a flag, or engage in battle by the rules of regular warfare.  Conventional forces, like those of the US or Europe, are restricted by the rules of war and are at a disadvantage against enemies that are “uncivilized”.

Therefore, one must understand the right of the US military to self defense. Does the Military Have the Right of Self Defense?Even with the massive power that the US military wields in every corner of the globe, that power should not be viewed as absolute or without guidelines or controls in place; in fact, the military operates under the guidelines that were originated by the United Nations in the years immediately following World War II, when a world in chaos sought a means of keeping military power in check and providing for the common good of the world at large (Beard, 2002).

From these basic guidelines, the UN of today has stepped up to make a genuine effort to make sure that the US does not use its power improperly in the midst of the emotion and turmoil of attacks on American installations overseas.  Of course, the UN could not even begin to comprehend the face of modern terror when many of the guidelines in use today were first put to paper decades ago, but the core values of those rules still have relevance today.

Within that relevance is not only the responsibility of the US military to adhere to UN guidelines, but also the right of the US, as a victim of attacks on their sovereign territory-be it an embassy in Kenya or skyscrapers in New York- to defend itself and deter future aggression. To be specific about the granted rights of the US military to take defensive measures against future attacks like the one on the embassy in Kenya, these rights are granted by Article 51 of the UN Charter, which again was ratified in the late 1940s in response to the horrors the world endured during World War II.

Furthermore, the US has a sound basis for taking the extreme action that it is taking today, based on the following chain of events: “On April 14, 1986, in response to a bombing  of a West German discotheque in which an American serviceman and a Turkish woman were killed and more than 230 other persons injured, the United States launched air strikes against five terrorist-related targets in Libya. Based on intercepted and decoded exchanges between Tripoli and the Libyan embassy in East Berlin, the United States claimed that this attack was one of a continuing series of Libyan state-ordered terrorist attacks.

The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Vernon Walters, informed the U.N. Security Council that the United States had acted in self-defense, consistent with Article 51, and that the air strikes were necessary to end Libya’s continued policy of terrorist threats  and the use of force.

On June 26, 1993, the United States launched a cruise missile attack on Iraq in response to a foiled assassination attempt against former President Bush. Twenty-three Tomahawk missiles were launched at the Iraqi Intelligence Service in Baghdad, causing a number of civilian deaths and destroying much of the complex. On June 27, 1993, U. S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright reported to the U.N. Security Council.

In response to the suicide bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, which killed more than two hundred people, including twelve U.S. citizens, and were allegedly perpetrated by the Al Qaeda terrorist network, on August 20, 1998, the United States launched seventy-nine Tomahawk missiles at terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and against a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant that the United States identified as a “chemical weapons facility” associated with Osama bin Laden” ( Beard, 2002, p. 560).

The chain of events quoted in the previous passage, beyond the obvious horror of them, paint another picture as well; that of a powerful nation that finds itself repeatedly attacked by others much smaller than they, and not conducting themselves by the international rules set forth for nations to engage one another and the response to same.   Because the US has been attacked, provoked, and basically reviled in the Islamic community, and the conventional means of diplomacy and pacifism have not worked, the US has little other choice than to mobilize the military and fight back- not only for American interests, but also to allow the US to remain strong enough to keep those nations in check that would use their power to victimize weaker nations.

The US military has presented what most would agree is a strong argument and evidence to provide the right to take some actions against those that, given their way, would destroy the American nation and way of life.  This being said, however, whether the responses to embassy bombings in recent years have been just beyond permission to respond is important to consider and understand.

A “Just War” or “Just A War” in Response to BombingsAmerican military actions against the attackers of embassies, beginning nearly a decade ago and still going strong, increasing, and showing no signs of stopping at the present, leads to the question of whether US armed actions overseas are justified and necessary or something that is being done under the guise of legitimate defense actions but is in fact aggressive provocation along the same lines of the argument that terrorists use to explain the massive amounts of American blood they have shed and wish to continue to shed.  Basically, the question comes down to that of a just war versus “just a war”.

;Properly and objectively measuring the justification for American military activity must be done with certain preparations in place.  First, it is essential to understand that although the US is powerful, and portrays an attitude of attempting to protect free people everywhere and spread the blessings of democracy, there is a possibility that American policy is far from perfect, and as such, should be brought into question by others.

Along with this, the average American needs to put aside their awe for the American military and realize that it is extremely important to view this controversy objectively, lest the facts of the matter be lost in the shuffle (Cassidy, 2006).;The validity of the American military’s activities overseas can conveniently be discussed against the old adage of means justifying ends.

Of course, no logical person would argue against the fact that because of the threat that terrorism poses to free people around the world, including in the US itself, all essential resources, military and otherwise, should be devoted to eradicating terrorism from the face of the earth and it should never be allowed to re-emerge.  However, this being said, something also needs to be said about the tactics employed by the American military in the pursuit of anti-terrorist agendas (Nolan, 1993).

The US itself was founded on the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and of course, these criteria are used to fuel the military machine that seeks to crush terrorist cells in all corners of the world.  If, however, these same principles are ignored by the military in their missions, then they are no better than those that they oppose.

Force needs to be fought with force to be sure, but the rights of the accused always need to be acknowledged and respected.  In the US itself, those accused of wrongdoing are afforded the right of trial by jury, the ability to defend them, be confronted by their accuser and the like.  If suspected terrorists are not given some level of evaluation, righteousness goes out the window in a sense.;In fairness to the magnitude of the fight against embassy bombings and the bigger issue of the terrorism that is motivating these attacks, how can anyone say that American forces are incorrect in their actions?  The stakes are very high, and mistakes are too costly to occur with frequency.

Herein lies the paradox- US military has a mission to fulfill, but also should realize that human beings all have basic rights, no matter what nation’s flag they salute.;SummaryThis research has shown that the US military, in regard to response to embassy bombings and other aggression aimed at America overseas, has truly been given little choice but to respond to these aggressions through armed action, war and occupation of foreign lands.

In fairness, however, the questions of justification, appropriateness of the actions taken, and whether or not the US military has gone beyond balancing the scales and keeping the peace to trying to advance other agendas need to be revisited in conclusion.;When the Kenya embassies were bombed, followed closely by the USS Cole and Yemen incidents, the writing was on the wall for America- if the nation’s power in world politics and status as a protector of the world was to be maintained, military action was not only justified, but all but mandatory.

Surely, this was also supplemented by intelligence information that showed links to international terrorism.;Given the evidence that suggested the involvement of villains like Bin Laden and groups like Al Qaeda, the full force of the US military was in order for overseas operations designed to stem the tide of terrorism.

Of course, this was reinforced on a clear September morning in 2001, when New York was attacked, killing thousands of innocent Americans and repeating the distress call that the military had to keep answering no matter what.;At present, the American government finds itself divided from within on the question of US military operations overseas, or more precisely, if they are justified based on the evidence available.

Ironically and sadly, there seems to be no clear answer to this, given the chaotic nature of the modern world, and indeed, no answer seems to be on the horizon.  In closing, perhaps the most accurate statement that can be made about the topic is that only time will tell.

References

  1. Barber, B. (1998, October 2). 11 Kenyan Groups Closed for Possible Ties to Bombing. The Washington Times, p. 15.
  2. Beard, J. M. (2002). America’s New War on Terror: The Case for Self-Defense under International Law. Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, 25(2), 559+.
  3. Cassidy, R. M. (2006). Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground. Parameters, 36(2), 159+.
  4. Cohen, D. B., & Dolan, C. J. (2005). Revisiting El Dorado Canyon: Terrorism, the Reagan Administration, and the 1986 Bombing of Libya. White House Studies, 5(2), 153+.
  5. Embassy Bombings Spur Security Boost; Diplomats Abroad Kept Insulated. (2004, April 5). The Washington Times, p. A01.
  6. Kim, M. (2005). Between a Rock and a Hard Place: The Impact of Anti-Americanism on Locally Employed Staff at the American Embassy in Korea. Public Personnel Management, 34(3), 235+.
  7. Nolan, C. J. (1993). Principled Diplomacy: Security and Rights in U. S. Foreign Policy.

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