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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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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.#more#

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 U.S. ambassador in Libya? Why do lower-level embassy employees of dubious sense speak for the U.S. 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? 


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