The Forgotten Embassy Crisis of the Carter Presidency

The Siege of Mecca: The Forgotten Uprising in Islam’s Holiest Shrine and the Birth of Al Qaeda is a superbly written book that, for the first time, tells the true story of the attack on Mecca’s Great Mosque in 1979.

The attack was undertaken by a group of extremist who were rebelling against the perceived moves towards liberalism being undertaken by the Saudi royals of the time. The Saudi regime was fearful of their hold on power. To receive religious blessing for their counter-attack they had to strengthen their ties with hard line religious groups in Saudi Arabia-furthering strengthening the power of Wahhabi extremists and making more likely the rise of Al Qaeda and other anti-Western extremist groups (some of whose members and leaders, including Osama Bin laden had links to the group of religious fanatics that had attacked the Great Mosque).

The Saudis imposed censorship over the details of the attack-not wanting the religious arguments of the attackers to be broadcast. Regardless of the Saudi regime’s wishes, these details were leaked-causing a furious reaction among Saudi royals-including those in positions of power today.

Ayatollah Khomenei had recently taken power in Iran after the Shah of Iran had fallen and had immediately embarked on a severe anti-American policy-including, of course, the seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran. However, the Iranians went much further-spreading rumors around the world that Americans and “Jews” were behind the attack on the Great Mosque.

This led to a brutal attack against our Embassy in Pakistan. The Pakistani leader at the time, General Zia was seeking a rapprochement with religious extremists in Pakistan and was increasingly adopting anti-American policies. He refused to send Pakistani forces to protect the Embassy-though he had received warnings regarding the mob and request to send forces to protect the Americans. The attacks by the Pakistani mobs (including by police who were supposed to protect the Embassy) led to the destruction of the Embassy and the deliberate and brutal murder of Americans. One American was napping; the mobs gunned him down and set his body afire. Others-137 of them-had to hide in a “vault” as they were surrounded by screaming mobs and flames. Eventually the rioters tired of the attack and drifted away.

As the author Yaroslav Trofamov wrote:
The Pakistani government’s monumental failure to help people trapped in the Embassy-all 137 of whom could have died in the vault-did not seem to cause any offense in Washington. To the contrary, President Carter and Secretary of State Vance rushed to publicly praise General Zia for the troops’ supposedly stellar behavior. “President Mohammed Zia immediately dispatched Pakistani troops to protect our personnel and property, called to extend his personal apologies to the American people…” Carter later wrote in his memoirs.
Carter, supine as ever, displayed his usual obeisance to anti-American attackers. The Great Seal of America during his Presidency might has well had as its motto the phrase: Thank you, Sir, may I have another. Trofamov continues:
Americans personally involved in the ordeal had a different opinion. “Shit. They didn’t do shit” U.S. Navy Commander Charles W. Monaghan told a Washington Post reporter about the Pakistani government after emerging from the burning compound. Carter’s praise for Zia, in particular, produced cold fury among the survivors. From then on, every time the marines in Islamabad had a beer, they made a point to curse their president and commander in chief.
President Carter, ex-Navy submariner-as he tirelessly reminds us-refused to support not only the Marines guarding the Embassy but the hundred plus other Americans who were threatened and murdered. In praising the Pakistani leader who gave carte blanch to the mob to attack America (embassies are considered, by the way, to be sovereign property of the nations represented by them), Carter again displayed the cowardice that was the hallmark of his Presidency. He dishonored those who suffered and died-as he has so often since the ruin of his Presidency.
The Siege of Mecca: The Forgotten Uprising in Islam’s Holiest Shrine and the Birth of Al Qaeda is a superbly written book that, for the first time, tells the true story of the attack on Mecca’s Great Mosque in 1979.

The attack was undertaken by a group of extremist who were rebelling against the perceived moves towards liberalism being undertaken by the Saudi royals of the time. The Saudi regime was fearful of their hold on power. To receive religious blessing for their counter-attack they had to strengthen their ties with hard line religious groups in Saudi Arabia-furthering strengthening the power of Wahhabi extremists and making more likely the rise of Al Qaeda and other anti-Western extremist groups (some of whose members and leaders, including Osama Bin laden had links to the group of religious fanatics that had attacked the Great Mosque).

The Saudis imposed censorship over the details of the attack-not wanting the religious arguments of the attackers to be broadcast. Regardless of the Saudi regime’s wishes, these details were leaked-causing a furious reaction among Saudi royals-including those in positions of power today.

Ayatollah Khomenei had recently taken power in Iran after the Shah of Iran had fallen and had immediately embarked on a severe anti-American policy-including, of course, the seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran. However, the Iranians went much further-spreading rumors around the world that Americans and “Jews” were behind the attack on the Great Mosque.

This led to a brutal attack against our Embassy in Pakistan. The Pakistani leader at the time, General Zia was seeking a rapprochement with religious extremists in Pakistan and was increasingly adopting anti-American policies. He refused to send Pakistani forces to protect the Embassy-though he had received warnings regarding the mob and request to send forces to protect the Americans. The attacks by the Pakistani mobs (including by police who were supposed to protect the Embassy) led to the destruction of the Embassy and the deliberate and brutal murder of Americans. One American was napping; the mobs gunned him down and set his body afire. Others-137 of them-had to hide in a “vault” as they were surrounded by screaming mobs and flames. Eventually the rioters tired of the attack and drifted away.

As the author Yaroslav Trofamov wrote:
The Pakistani government’s monumental failure to help people trapped in the Embassy-all 137 of whom could have died in the vault-did not seem to cause any offense in Washington. To the contrary, President Carter and Secretary of State Vance rushed to publicly praise General Zia for the troops’ supposedly stellar behavior. “President Mohammed Zia immediately dispatched Pakistani troops to protect our personnel and property, called to extend his personal apologies to the American people…” Carter later wrote in his memoirs.
Carter, supine as ever, displayed his usual obeisance to anti-American attackers. The Great Seal of America during his Presidency might has well had as its motto the phrase: Thank you, Sir, may I have another. Trofamov continues:
Americans personally involved in the ordeal had a different opinion. “Shit. They didn’t do shit” U.S. Navy Commander Charles W. Monaghan told a Washington Post reporter about the Pakistani government after emerging from the burning compound. Carter’s praise for Zia, in particular, produced cold fury among the survivors. From then on, every time the marines in Islamabad had a beer, they made a point to curse their president and commander in chief.
President Carter, ex-Navy submariner-as he tirelessly reminds us-refused to support not only the Marines guarding the Embassy but the hundred plus other Americans who were threatened and murdered. In praising the Pakistani leader who gave carte blanch to the mob to attack America (embassies are considered, by the way, to be sovereign property of the nations represented by them), Carter again displayed the cowardice that was the hallmark of his Presidency. He dishonored those who suffered and died-as he has so often since the ruin of his Presidency.