by Victor Davis Hanson
National Review Online
The attacks on the US embassy yesterday in Cairo and the storming of the American consulate in Libya, where the US ambassador was murdered along with three staff members — and the initial official American reaction to the mayhem — are all reprehensible, each in their own way. Let us sort out this terrible chain of events.
Timing: The assaults came exactly on the eleventh anniversary of bin Laden’s and al Qaeda’s attack on America. If there was any doubt about the intent of the timing, the appearance of black al-Qaedist flags among the mobs removed it. The chanting of Osama bin Laden’s name made it doubly clear who were the heroes of the Egyptian mob. Why should we be surprised by the lackluster response of the Egyptian and Libyan “authorities” to protect diplomatic sanctuaries, given the nature of the “governments” in both countries? One of the Egyptian demonstration’s organizers was Mohamed al-Zawahiri, the brother of the top deputy to Osama bin Laden, and a planner of the 9/11 attacks, which were led by Mohamed Atta, an Egyptian citizen. In Libya, the sick violence is reminding the world that the problem in the Middle East is not dictators propped up by the US — Qaddafi was an archenemy of the US — but the proverbial Arab Street that can blame everything and everyone, from a cartoon to a video, for the wages of its own self-induced pathologies. So far, all the Arab Spring is accomplishing is removing the dictatorial props and authoritarian excuses for grass roots Middle East madness.
Ingratitude: Egypt is currently a beneficiary of more than $1 billion in annual American aid, and its new Muslim Brotherhood–led government is negotiating to have much of its sizable US debt forgiven. Libya, remember, was the recipient of the Obama administration’s “lead from behind” intervention that led to the removal of Moammar Qaddafi — and apparently gave the present demonstrators the freedom to kill Americans. This is all called “smart” diplomacy.
Appeasement: Here are a few sentences from the statement issued by the Cairo embassy before it was attacked: “The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. . . We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”
The Problem? The embassy was condemning not those zealots who then stormed their own grounds, but some eccentric private citizens back home who made a movie.
One would have thought that the Obama administration had learned something from the Rushdie fatwa and prophet cartoon incidents. This initial official American diplomatic reaction — to condemn the supposed excess of free speech in the United States, as if the government is responsible for the constitutionally-protected expression of a few private American citizens, while the Egyptian government is not responsible for a mass demonstration and violence against an embassy of the United States — is not just shameful, but absurd. The author of this American diplomatic statement should be fired immediately — as well as any diplomatic personnel who approved it. Obviously our official representatives overseas do not understand, or have not read, the US Constitution. And if the administration claims the embassy that issued the appeasing statement did so without authority, then we have a larger problem with freelancing diplomats who across the globe weigh in with statements that supposedly do not reflect official policy. Note, however, that the initial diplomatic communiqué is the logical extension of this administration’s rhetoric (see below).
Shame: As gratitude for our overthrowing a cruel despot in Libya, Libyan extremists have murdered the American ambassador and his staffers. The Libyan government, such as it is there, either cannot or will not protect US diplomatic personnel. And the world wonders why last year the US bombed one group of Libyan cutthroats only to aid another.
The attacks in Egypt come a little over three years after the embarrassing Obama Cairo speech, in which the president created an entire mythology about the history of Islam, in vain hopes of appeasing his Egyptian hosts. The violence also follows ongoing comical efforts of the administration to assure us that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is not an extremist Islamic organization bent on turning Egypt into a theocratic state. And the attacks are simultaneous with President Obama’s ongoing and crude efforts to embarrass Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.
The future: Expect more violence. The Libyan murderers are now empowered, and, like the infamous Iranian hostage-takers, feel their government either supports them or can’t stop them. The crowd in Egypt knew what it was doing when it chanted Obama’s name juxtaposed to Osama’s.
Obama’s effort to appease Islam is an utter failure, as we see in various polls that show no change in anti-American attitudes in the Middle East — despite the president’s initial al Arabiya interview (“We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect.”); the rantings of National Intelligence Director James Clapper (e.g., “The term ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ . . . is an umbrella term for a variety of movements, in the case of Egypt, a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried al-Qaeda as a perversion of Islam.”); and the absurdities of our NASA director (“When I became the NASA administrator . . . perhaps foremost, he [President Obama] wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science.”) — to cite only a few examples from many.
At some point, someone in the administration is going to fathom that the more one seeks to appease radical Islam, the more the latter despises the appeaser.
These terrible attacks on the anniversary of 9/11 are extremely significant. They come right at a time when we are considering an aggregate $1 trillion cutback in defense over the next decade. They should make us cautious about proposed intervention in Syria. They leave our Arab Spring policy in tatters, and the whole “reset” approach to the Middle East incoherent. They embarrass any who continue to contextualize radical Islamic violence. The juxtaposed chants of “Osama” and “Obama” in Egypt make a mockery of the recent “We killed Osama” spiking the football at the Democratic convention. And they remind us why 2012 is sadly looking a lot like 1980 — when in a similar election year, in a similarly minded administration, the proverbial chickens of four years of “smart” diplomacy tragically came home to roost.
©2012 Victor Davis Hanson