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).


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.”

Post a Comment 9 Comments

  • Posted by Don Bacon

    Terrorism is a non-issue, with a miniscule impact, but it pays well. Annual cancer deaths in the USA are over half a million and there are more auto accident deaths daily than there are terrorist deaths annually.

  • Posted by sj

    The so called ‘Arab Spring’ has shifted the focus of militant Islamist groups to more localized struggles. Although groups such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular still espouse ‘global jihad’ rhetoric, their main action is in attacking local symbolic targets of the what they see as ‘infidel’ and corrupt regimes, promoting sectarian violence and joining the struggle in Syria etc. This really has not much to do with US foreign policy but more a need to appeal to a new generation of potential recruits who may not be as willing to participate in high risk activism, as was seen with 911, the Bali, London and Madrid bombings, but want a more regional/local focus.There are of course still a few symbolic attacks on western targets, such as kidnappings and suicide bombings in Algeria and Iraq etc but there seems to be a shift away from transnational violence to a more localized ethno-nationalist violence. Maybe these complexities have more of an influence than any US president does.

  • Posted by Javed Mir

    Death is however a sad occurrence and the tragedy is that is the eventual end of human life whatever may be the circumstances. According to the above calculations, excepting 9/11, deaths have been a little more than three thousand whereas only in Pakistan 40,000 lives have been lost because of this war on terror. Now there should be an end to this waste of human lives and also financial resources which can be used for some good purpose.

  • Posted by david

    Take the 4 fewest deaths per year under Bush and it comes out to twice what it is under Obama, yet the republicans say hes weak on terrorism. Will Romney step down if he surpasses Obamas record.

  • Posted by Jérémie Charlebois

    American are the most paranoid nation in the world…
    Total of firearm-related homicides in USA in 2011 only: 11 600
    Total of firearm-related deaths in USA in 2011 only: 32 000
    Total of american deaths by terrorist acts between 2000 and 2011 (INCLUDING 9-11): 3023
    Stop spending billions by making wars all over the world and start by looking at yourself in the mirror.

  • Posted by Michael Cenkner

    Climate change larger than all these, e.g. Darfur:

  • Posted by smitten

    Year 1933

    US citizens deaths by “Nazi action” : 0

    The United States fought in World War II, it was the wrong cause?

  • Posted by Murua

    @Jérémie Charlebois

    Not all of us are gun toting fanatics who think we should be in everyone’s business all over the world. The powers that be do not hold themselves accountable, and only pander to each other with no regard for the will of the people.

  • Posted by Robert Arnow

    We just launched a major campaign that points out through parody and in-depth research how astonishingly small the threat of terrorism is: http://www.waronirrationalfear.com

    It does not deserve to be nearly so high on our list of national priorities.

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