Although the tumult subsided Saturday, senior administration officials said they had concluded that the sometimes violent protests in Muslim countries may presage a sustained crisis with unpredictable diplomatic and political consequences. While pressing Arab leaders to tamp down the unrest, Mr. Obama and his advisers are left to consider whether to scale back diplomatic activities in the region.
The unrest has suddenly become Mr. Obama’s most serious foreign policy crisis of the election season, and analysts say it is calling into question central tenets of his Middle East policy. Did he do enough throughout the Arab Spring to help the transition to democracy from autocracy? Has he drawn a hard enough line against Islamic extremists? Did his administration fail to address security concerns? Has his outreach to the Muslim world yielded any lasting benefits?…
[Obama] has struggled to find a balance between supporting the growth of democracy and guarding national interests in the region as authoritarian governments have been replaced by popular Islamist parties, some of them unfriendly to the United States. Even to the extent that the United States supports greater democracy, it may not necessarily be able to tamp down radicalism and anti-American rage in a region with no real history of popular rule and deep economic troubles. His citing of Libya as a model now looks suspect, and the United States has been powerless to stop a bloody crackdown in Syria.
The Islamic value — and it [is] a worthy one on its own terms and would certainly have been understandable to our western predecessors who punished blasphemy very severely — of prohibiting insults to the Prophet of Islam clashes directly with the modern western value of free expression. To the western eye (and it’s a perspective I share), a murderous riot in the name of a religion is a worse sin and deeper, uglier form of blasphemy than any film could ever hope to be. To kill someone created in the image of God because you don’t like the way God or one of his servants has been depicted in an artistic performance strikes westerners as an obscene perversion of religion — something that only a hate-filled fanatic or an ignorant fool could do…
The US and more generally the west (including Russia, so perhaps I should say the “Christian world” instead) has tried several approaches to this situation and so far we haven’t been happy with the results. Confrontation, reconciliation, cooperation: there are good arguments to be made for them all, but in practice none of them seem to make the problem go away…
The gap between American opinion and opinion in much of the Islamic world is as wide now as it was when President Obama flew to Cairo; things are not getting better.
I spoke with a well-placed journalist last night whose sources describe the situation at the State Department in one word: “Chaos.” The working assumption is that several American embassies may have been penetrated, or are vulnerable to attack, because so many of them rely on local residents for staff needs at the embassy, and as such may be in a position to breach security if they have been recruited by Al Qaida. Moreover, the full story of the attack on the Benghazi consulate is much worse than we have been told (except by the Independent newspaper report John and I linked to here on Thursday)…
As Drudge would say, developing. . .
QUESTION: What’s the divergence between what that message [from the U.S. embassy in Cairo] said and what the message is coming from Washington?
MS. NULAND: I don’t —
QUESTION: Because it seems to me it’s exactly the same thing as what the President and what the Secretary said over the last couple days.
MS. NULAND: I don’t think so, but I’m not going to sit —
QUESTION: Well, can you tell us what was wrong with it?
MS. NULAND: I’m not going to sit here and parse the two texts. I think from our perspective, the message was unbalanced, the words were mischosen, and they were not clearly comprehensible to all audiences.
Carney’s comments lie outside the range of plausible spin, even by Obama administration standards, and if his bosses believe them—as we fear they do—are simply delusional. But they are not without consequence. Nor are Gates’s and Dempsey’s phone calls. They all send the message to America’s enemies that if you kill our diplomats and lay siege to the our embassies, the first move the American government will make is to denounce . . . Americans. Our leaders apparently believe that the way to protect Americans from extremists and terrorists abroad is to tell other Americans to shut up.
What’s next? Where does it go from here? There are more than 300 million ways in which Americans expressing themselves might give offense to those who make it their business to be offended. Maybe it’s some other film, maybe it’s a book or even just a tossed-off phrase that our enemies might seize on to galvanize support for their causes. Is the White House going to put every American crank on speed-dial so it can tell them to shut up whenever a mob gathers outside a U.S. embassy or consulate?…
If the reaction of U.S. officials in the face of such an assault is to “condemn . . . efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims” (the initial response of the U.S. embassy in Cairo) and to try to silence individual citizens, there is good reason for the terrorists to believe that, with more acts of terror, they will also change American policies. The unpleasant fact is that the Obama administration has encouraged our adversaries to keep at it.
Why would the White House heap blame on the movie — indeed, insist that it is the sole cause of the violence — when officials don’t actually know that to be true? There are, perhaps, two reasons. One is that the administration has put an enormous amount of faith in the idea that Arab Spring uprisings will lead to democracy in much of the Middle East. Current events suggest that faith might be misplaced. For the administration, blaming the movie is easier than admitting they were wrong about something so big and important.
The second reason is that Barack Obama has based much of his approach to Middle Eastern affairs on what he perceives as his own unique ability to reach out to Muslims. The entire point of the president’s June 2009 speech to the Muslim world, delivered in Cairo — the same city where protesters are condemning the United States today — was that Obama’s life story allowed him to understand the Muslim experience in a way that previous American leaders could not. The fact that he spent part of his childhood in a Muslim country (Indonesia) and had many family members who were Muslim, the president apparently believed, would make many previously hostile Muslims somehow like the United States more.
It didn’t. So now, with anger at the U.S. burning throughout the region — and showing on Americans’ wide-screen TVs — it’s easier for the administration to blame the movie than to admit the president’s personal initiative failed.
Forget the free-speech arguments. In this case, as Secretary Clinton and General Dempsey well know, the film has even less to do with anything than did the Danish cartoons or the schoolteacher’s teddy bear or any of the other innumerable grievances of Islam. The 400-strong assault force in Benghazi showed up with RPGs and mortars: That’s not a spontaneous movie protest; that’s an act of war, and better planned and executed than the dying superpower’s response to it. Secretary Clinton and General Dempsey are, to put it mildly, misleading the American people when they suggest otherwise…
In a rare appearance on a non-showbiz outlet, President Obama, winging it on Telemundo, told his host that Egypt was neither an ally nor an enemy. I can understand why it can be difficult to figure out, but here’s an easy way to tell: Bernard Lewis, the great scholar of Islam, said some years ago that America risked being seen as harmless as an enemy and treacherous as a friend. At the Benghazi consulate, the looters stole “sensitive” papers revealing the names of Libyans who’ve cooperated with the United States. Oh, well. As the president would say, obviously our hearts are with you.
Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the local doctor who fingered bin Laden to the Americans sits in jail. In other words, while America’s clod vice president staggers around pimping limply that only Obama had the guts to take the toughest decision anyone’s ever had to take, the poor schlub who actually did have the guts, who actually took the tough decision in a part of the world where taking tough decisions can get you killed, languishes in a cell because Washington would not lift a finger to help him.
Like I said, no novelist would contrast Chris Stevens on the streets of Benghazi and Barack Obama on stage in Vegas. Too crude, too telling, too devastating.
This tragic attack takes place at a time of turmoil and protest in many different countries. I have made it clear that the United States has a profound respect for people of all faiths. We stand for religious freedom. And we reject the denigration of any religion – including Islam.
Yet there is never any justification for violence. There is no religion that condones the targeting of innocent men and women. There is no excuse for attacks on our Embassies and Consulates. And so long as I am Commander-in-Chief, the United States will never tolerate efforts to harm our fellow Americans.
Click the image to watch.