Small is Big

In my last post – “Death of an American Ambassador” – I commented on how a small group or even a single individual now has the power to change the debate. While the anger that fuelled the anti-American protests in some 20 countries in the Middle East and beyond was not new, the spark that lit the fires was that miserable video first pasted and then posted, on line, by a small knot of nobodies.

It is the on line part that’s key here. Never before the Internet would this sort of thing have been possible. To be sure, there have been moments in history when the act of one person – typically an assassin – changed everything. For example, World War I is reputed to have been ignited by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne. But that was an act of violence against one of the most important men in early 20th century Europe. This is something different. This is a cheap and tawdry video that – because it was sent in an instant to everyone everywhere – led to a series of events with implications that are impossible now precisely to calculate.

But what we do know now is this: the nobodies who made the film had the capacity to create change on a massive scale. These few followers impacted a good number of the most prominent and, ostensibly, powerful political leaders – demonstrating again the shifting balance between leaders and followers. Presidents and prime ministers from Washington to Cairo, from Berlin to Khartoum, and from Tunis to Tehran were dragged into the mayhem and maelstrom, none exempt from the fallout of the film.

Moreover the story is far from over. Case in point: American Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. The more we learn the more it seems clear that Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya who last week was murdered, was inadequately guarded and protected. Given the context in which he served, and given the constant cautions to the Americans even by the Libyan government, the question inevitably arises: did the
U. S. State Department fall down on the job? Should the Americans have done a better job guarding the Benghazi compound that was housing their ambassador? Does this buck stop at the desk of Secretary Clinton?

I have no idea how all this will wash out. But if Hillary Clinton does ever decide to run for president, I suspect the tragic death of Ambassador Stevens will resurface. It’s a vivid example of how the powerless now impinge on the powerful – the tail that wags the dog.

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