So how’s that Arab Spring working out for us? After riots “spontaneously” erupted on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11 in Libya and Egypt, they spread overnight to two more Arab nations with recent populist uprisings. In Yemen, where we’re trying to fight a particularly virulent branch of al-Qaeda, protestors surrounded the US embassy chanting “Death to America!” Just as in Egypt, they breached the perimeter and burned the US flag, replacing it with an Islamist banner:
Chanting “death to America,” hundreds of protesters angered by an anti-Islam film stormed the U.S. Embassy compound in Yemen’s capital and burned the American flag on Thursday, the latest in a series of attacks on American diplomatic missions in the Middle East.
American missions have been attacked in three Arab nations – Yemen, Egypt and Libya – that have faced persistent unrest and are struggling to restore law and order after last year’s revolts deposed their authoritarian regimes.
Protesters smashed windows as they breached the embassy perimeter and reached the compound grounds, although they did not enter the main building housing the offices. Angry young men brought down the U.S. flag in the courtyard, burned it and replaced it with a black banner bearing Islam’s declaration of faith – “There is no God but Allah.”
Yemeni forces arrived and drove them out forty-five minutes later. But that’s not the only US embassy that found itself under siege today. Over in Tunisia, where hopes of liberalization after the so-called “Arab Spring” ran highest, Islamists nearly overran the gates of our still-open embassy:
Anti-American rioting spread yesterday to Tunisia, where police used tear gas to stop hundreds of protesters from storming the United States Embassy in protest over a film mocking the prophet Mohammed.
The throngs of demonstrators, who carried the white and black banners of militant Salifist Muslims, had been protesting peacefully in Tunis for hours when about 300 started to break through the gates.
The embassy remained open as police forced the protesters back.
Demonstrations continued in Cairo, and a flag-burning exercise took place in Gaza as well.
Yesterday I wrote that this looks like 1979 all over again. Today, we’re seeing the same diplomatic impotence displayed in that awful year, and the inevitable result. Thirty-three years ago, we got pushed out of the Persian Gulf; today, we’re getting pushed out of North Africa. Three years ago, President Obama assured us that his speech in Cairo would change the world, and eighteen months ago gave himself credit for the Arab Spring by citing that very speech. Ever since that speech took place, the American position has eroded in the Middle East, and it’s eroding rapidly now. We may not be able to retain embassies in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt any longer; we certainly can’t fly the flag above them securely at the moment.
We haven’t lost the Middle East yet, but that’s the direction we’re heading unless we start making our power felt, and fast. That can’t just be gunboat diplomacy, but that will have to be a significant component of it.
Update: Looting our embassy in Yemen?