Normally, nations rely on their diplomatic staffs to calm the waters after unrest within and between nations. When that unrest targets the diplomatic missions, though, the process takes longer and leaves significant damage to the relationship. The Washington Post warns that not only will violent protests continue in Muslim nations, it will result in reduced or eliminated diplomatic posts, which will make it more difficult to mend ties:
In Cairo, the U.S. Embassy returned to full staffing Sunday, a spokesman said, for the first time since Tuesday protests against an anti-Islam video made in the United States sparked turmoil across the Muslim world. But the American diplomatic presence remained reduced elsewhere in the region, meaning that there were fewer routes to repair relations even as they came under the most strain since the wave of democratic change caused last year by the Arab Spring.
In Tunisia, where additional security has been deployed to protect the embassy, the Saturday decision to withdraw nonessential U.S. staff from the mission there appeared to jar Tunisian officials, who have marketed the country as a model of democratic transformation after the peaceful toppling last year of the longtime president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Tunisia’s 2011 protests set the rest of the Arab world afire — and led, in the end, to newfound freedoms for many citizens to express their distaste for their own governments and for the United States.
Speaking of “newfound freedoms” to express “distaste” …
In an address to the nation Friday night, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki condemned that day’s violent attack on the U.S. Embassy and an American school, in which four protesters were killed. He said those who organized the protest — widely described here as religious hard-liners known as Salafists — had “crossed a red line.” Yet he also sought to appease the sentiments of those reportedly angered by the video, “The Innocence of Muslims,”saying Tunisia would work with Egypt to sue its producers.
Tunisia’s foreign minister, Hedi Ben Abbas, wants the US to send back its diplomatic personnel, most of whom evacuated Tunis in the wake of the riot that sacked the embassy. His message? Trust us:
“We understand that there was a failure,” he said of security measures at the embassy and school. “Let’s be clear, the plan we put in place was not enough. It was weak.”
“The government of America cannot be responsible for the movie,” he said. Similarly, he said, “the Americans cannot blame the Tunisian government for the behavior” of protesters.
“The United States should trust us again,” Ben Abbas said. “We need them more than ever to support democracy.”
In other words, they need us more than we need them. But Ben Abbas offers a false equivalency in this message. The Tunisian government had the responsibility to protect the embassy from attack, and they failed. They also had a moral responsibility before and after to avoid feeding the nonsense outrage over a six-month-old YouTube video and to refrain from stoking anti-Americanism. Those failures are not the act of a friend, and we have no responsibility to put American diplomatic personnel in danger while the government there tries to appease paranoia by promising to file lawsuits in order to validate the rage of radicals. We had no responsibility to silence Americans to keep from hurting the feelings of Tunisians, which would be antithetical to our own identity and interests in real freedom of expression.
If the new government of Tunisia wants our help in establishing democracy, then they need to do more than just say trust us. They need to demonstrate some backbone and stop giving radicals a pretext to establish credibility. Otherwise, all the help we can provide won’t keep them from sinking into either an overt theocracy like Iran or a wafer-thin “democracy” used as a cover by the Muslim Brotherhood to establish a similar kind of system in a more secular context. Either way, the outcome will be hostile to our interests, and we don’t need to waste resources and perhaps lose American diplomats as we did in Benghazi in that process.