We may not think much of the president’s foreign policy, but we find it difficult to believe he could see all this and think “if it hadn’t been for that damned YouTube video . . . ”
The truth is that the video was a pretext, and the attacks the consequence of a deep current of anti-Western rage that persists in the Muslim world despite the president’s famous “Cairo speech” and the muddled engagement strategy for which it was the synecdoche. Because the administration cannot admit this — perhaps not even to itself — its spokesmen trot out patent absurdities such as Ambassador Rice’s and present them to a largely compliant media. Unfortunately, this does violence not just to the facts, but to that preponderant American value: the freedom of speech.
To say that the besieging of American missions abroad, and the murder of American diplomats, is “the direct result of a heinous and offensive video” is to implicitly legitimize such a causal connection; it is not more than a step or two removed from saying that the victim of a crime was “asking for it.” To lead not with condemnation of the killers but with apologies, epithets, and disclaimers for the speech acts alleged to have incited their rage, is to incentivize the kind of thinking displayed by the Egyptian prime minister, who said that the attacks on U.S. embassies were not wrong per se but merely misdirected because the United States government hadn’t actually produced the video. And to append embarrassed defenses of free speech aimed at Muslim extremists with soothing invocations of freedom of religion, as the Cairo embassy staff did and the administration continues to do, is to miss the point of both liberties in a tragically ironic way: Under the First Amendment, the free-speech and free-exercise clauses are both compatible and complementary. Under the Islamism that drives the embassy besiegers, the one is, as the vice president would say, literally the mortal enemy of the other.