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Politics around Benghazi tragedy distract us from bigger issues in Middle East

Deflecting some of the heat the Romney campaign has aimed at President Obama and Joe Biden for the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed responsibility for the security of US diplomats. America’s blind focus on avenging terrorism diverts us from asking hard questions about its historical roots – and our dubious alliances today.

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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers a speech in Lima, Peru, Oct. 15. Ms. Clinton said that security at all American diplomatic missions abroad is her job, not that of the White House. Op-ed contributor Jonathan Zimmerman writes: 'Did the White House turn a deaf ear to pleas for more security, as GOP critics have claimed? These are...reasonable questions, and voters deserve answers to them. But the American public shouldn’t let them distract us from much deeper issues about America’s past and present role in the Muslim world.'

Karel Navarro/AP

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I lived in Tehran, Iran as an elementary-school child, from 1969 to 1971. I remember it as a friendly and cosmopolitan city, full of expatriates enjoying the fruits of the oil boom. My friends included Koreans, South Africans, and Yugoslavs, as well as Iranians and Americans.

Eight years later, as a first-year college student, I watched on a flickering dormitory television as mobs overran the American Embassy – where I had once played tennis – and took more than 60 people hostage. And we’re still watching it, like an old horror film in a continuous loop. You can see that footage in Ben Affleck’s new movie, “Argo,” which includes a stunning re-enactment of the embassy takeover. And you can also see it in our 24/7 news culture, where any given day features images of angry Muslims protesting or threatening the United States.

Some of the most upsetting recent images come from Libya, where attackers killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans last month at the US consulate in Benghazi. Vice President Joe Biden has taken flack for his assertion in last week's debate that the White House didn't know of requests for more security for the US mission there. Perhaps in an effort to deflect some of that heat, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton stated Monday that she takes responsibility for the security of American diplomats abroad.

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