Thoughts on Cario and Benghazi

by Victor Davis Hanson

NRO’s The Corner

We Seem to Have Learned Nothing from 9/11

I thought we had learned long ago on 9/11 that radical Islam hates the West not because of troops in Saudi Arabia, or Danish cartoons or Mr. Rushdie, or even, as Dr. Zawahiri and bin Laden once wrote, global warming and an absence of campaign-finance reform — or, this week, a low-rent, do-it-yourself crackpot video — but out of a deep sense of its own inferiority in a globalized world, whose causes run throughout traditional Middle Eastern society (e.g., tribalism, gender apartheid, statism, anti-intellectualism, a lack of freedom and transparency, religious intolerance, anti-Semitism, fundamentalism, and on and on). These things cannot be freely analyzed and discussed — and ameliorated — without apparent loss of face. Hence, the pathetic scapegoating and blame-gaming.

We also need to pause and reflect that we may well be in a descending revolutionary situation in both Egypt and Libya, in a way analogous to Iran between 1979 and 1981 in which we were a day late and a dollar short through fooling ourselves that the fall of the shah was the product of liberal dissent and that Khomeinists would fade before European-like social reformers. In other words, we should think hard about continuing relationships with the Muslim Brotherhood, and accept that Libya is a mess like Lebanon circa 1981-3. This is all occurring amid a depressing backdrop of snubbing Netanyahu, the looming Iranian bomb, and the suspicion that the Arab Spring is not a Democratic Enlightenment, but a revolutionary pause, in the manner of the French and Russian Revolutions, on the way to something as authoritarian as what was overthrown — and far more hostile to US interests. Since the US military cannot birth another consensual government as in Iraq, there will probably be no more consensual governments in the Middle East for the immediate future.

At the very least, the Obama administration needs to drop the politically-correct euphemisms, stop the Cairo-speech banalities, and remind its diplomatic team that radical Islam’s hatred of the West is not placated by loud American outreach, soaring mytho-history about Islam, or the particular politics, race, pedigree, or charisma of the occupant of the White House, but that Islamic expressions of that hatred most surely are predicated on the degree to which America appears diffident, apologetic, and unsure — or confident, occasionally dangerous, and unpredictable. It also might be wise to remind Egypt that it has given the world Mohamed Atta, the Zawahiri brothers, serial anti-American rioting — and taken from the US over $50 billion in US aid. We are told ad nauseam that Egyptians really do not want the aid, or that it goes to the military mostly and is of little utility, and so we should give them their wish to see it end.

In this regard, after four Americans are murdered and embassies attacked, a loud campaign rally in Las Vegas last night seems an unfortunate place for the president to offer serious commentary on last Tuesday’s violence.

There Must Be Ongoing Debate over the Embassy Attacks

The Cairo embassy’s depressing communiqué (“The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims”) reflects an abandonment of support for US constitutionally protected free speech and the right of expression, to the degree that anyone who read the communiqué would only encourage the growing anger by agreeing with the false premises that the American government is in any way responsible for what one or two Americans say.

Further, the “clarification” authored by Secretary Clinton that followed was not all that much of an improvement, given that it mixed messages and ended up once again contextualizing the violence (i.e., “Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind”). Why the need for “But let me be clear” — unless what preceded it most certainly was not too clear?

In other words, we have two US official communications that bookended the violence, one as violence was simmering, one after demonstrators were over the walls. The first was abject appeasement with no effort to defend American values, the other sought to damn both the Americans who made the video (and hence supposedly sparked the uprisings?) and those who reacted to it. We had to wait hours for an unequivocal denunciation of the violence.

Finally, who believes that an unhinged, unknown YouTube video that had been in the public domain for some time suddenly enraged the Arab Street — just by happenstance — on 9/11? We now know that the assaults were preplanned to send a message on 9/11 that we should remember that radical Islam is still with us, and especially strong in revolutionary Egypt and Libya, despite our Arab Spring hopes. In other words, by referring to Terry Jones and his cohort’s video, all the communiqués did was play into the radical Islamists’ game of putting the onus on the American government for something that is entirely a private matter of bad taste and free expression. The Islamists wanted 9/11 assaults, preplanned them, and used the excuse of the video. And we fell for it, ending up with dead personnel and befuddled in our sort of, not quite apologizing.

As for the sermons about coming together in crisis — wise and sober advice, of course. But I remember not long ago when criticism of ongoing military operations was considered speaking truth to power. In the midst of the surge, when we were at war and it was critical to show solidarity to the enemy as American soldiers streamed into Anbar Province and Baghdad, presidential candidate Barack Obama, on no factual basis, prematurely pronounced the surge to be a failure — a proud assertion that mysteriously vanished from his campaign website in July 2008, when the surge’s success was undeniable. These shoot-from-the-hip statements about the surge in the midst of its implementation — from Hillary Clinton: “The surge . . . has failed”; Joe Biden: “This whole notion that the surge is working is fantasy”; and Harry Reid: “This war is lost and . . . the surge is not accomplishing anything” — were not helpful at the time and seemed rank election-cycle partisanship.

But all this back and forth hides the real issues. Why were there not adequate security forces around the US ambassador in Libya? Why do lower-level embassy employees of dubious sense speak for the US government in times of crisis and remain the official record for hours? If these communiqués were not apologies of sorts, why were they finally superseded with language far different from both?

Ally, Enemy, or None of the Above?

If the president does not consider Egypt either an ally or an enemy, it is perhaps best to hold off on the $1 billion-plus aid package until he can determine which, of any category, it belongs in. In the meantime, given Mr. Morsi’s failure to protect the embassy of his American diplomatic guests (odd, given that America offered sanctuary to Morsi when he sought freedom and education that he apparently could not find in his homeland), and his constant citation of a crackpot video of a private American citizen, we should quietly go ahead and curtail aid to Mr. Morsi, call in the visas of all Egyptian nationals, prohibit travel there by American citizens, bring home our ambassador for consultation, ask their ambassador to leave Washington — at least until we can clarify what sort of state we are supposed to be subsidizing. The subtext to Morsi’s constant referencing of a silly video by a private citizen is our director of national intelligence’s declaration that his Muslim Brotherhood government is really “secular.”

©2012 Victor Davis Hanson

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