Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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Tracking U.S. Citizens’ Deaths by Terrorism

by Micah Zenko
September 27, 2012

Bangladeshi Muslims attempt to break a police barricade during a protest in Dhaka on September 14, 2012 (Andrew Biraj/Courtesy Reuters). Bangladeshi Muslims attempt to break a police barricade during a protest in Dhaka on September 14, 2012 (Andrew Biraj/Courtesy Reuters).

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The viral spread of an incomplete and crude—even by YouTube standards—video defaming the Prophet Mohammed led to a spike in anti-American and anti-Western demonstrations throughout the Muslim world. On September 11, concurrent with these demonstrations, the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, faced a well-coordinated and intense terrorist attack that killed four U.S. citizens. On NBC News, Libyan president Mohammed Magarief called the attack “a preplanned act of terrorism directed at American citizens.” He added, “They chose this date, 11th of September, to carry a certain message.”

Some Republicans are attempting to use the protests and security disintegration in Libya to portray President Obama as weak on national security. This is an entirely predictable reaction, given that Mitt Romney is falling further behind Obama in key swing states, and Americans consistently rate Obama better at “protecting this country” or being “a good commander in chief” than Romney. Senator John McCain recently claimed that people in the Middle East “believe the United States is weak, and they are taking appropriate action.” Last night, vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan stated that Obama’s policies “project weakness abroad,” and that he and Romney “believe that when America’s military is strong, America is safer.”

Today, conservative blogger Jenifer Rubin posed this hypothetical question to Obama:

“After Sept. 11, 2001, there were no terrorist attacks on the United States, but during your administration there have been the jihad-inspired Fort Hood massacre and the killing of four Americans in Libya, so isn’t your anti-terror record worse than Bush’s?”

This is a particularly crude generalization—which some Democrats were guilty of as well during the George W. Bush administration. Rubin reasons that the president is directly responsible for every U.S. citizen fatality that occurred during his term. By this logic, Ronald Reagan had by far the worst anti-terror record, since there were more terrorism incidents in the United States during his presidency (188) than under, say, Bill Clinton (25), according to FBI statistics. Apparently, U.S. enemies incorrectly interpreted Reagan’s strength or badly misinterpreted Clinton’s alleged weakness.

Nevertheless, to test her logic, here is a compilation of the number of citizens who died from terrorism under the Bush and Obama administrations, according to the latest data from the State Department. Judge for yourself.

BUSH: 301 (excluding 9/11)

OBAMA: 45 (including the Benghazi attacks)

2000: 23
2001: 2,689
2002: 25
2003: 35
2004: 74*
2005: 56
2006: 28
2007: 19
2008: 33
2009: 9
2010: 15
2011: 17

* No complete U.S. government estimate for this year; based on U.S. State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs count of citizens deaths by “terrorist action.”

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