Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 12, 2012

Why is USAID Celebrating “Global Female Condom Day”?

The attacks on the U.S. embassy in Cairo and the U.S. consulate in Benghazi have sparked a debate in Congress about the efficacy and wisdom of foreign aid in both Egypt and Libya, and more broadly throughout the region; some congressmen are already calling for stripping aid to Egypt and Libya. Aid and assistance have their purpose but, against the backdrop of a severe financial situation at home and a looming threat that sequestration could decimate defense, the State Department and the larger aid community do themselves no good when, on a day of mourning, they prioritize this:

Today is the first-ever Global Female Condom Day, and women and men around the world are celebrating. They’re also speaking out for increased recognition of a prevention method that is too often overlooked… One new type of female condom is the Woman’s Condom, developed in part with funding from PEPFAR through USAID. PATH, CONRAD, and our research partners in several countries developed the Woman’s Condom using feedback from women and their partners. Their input helped us design a female condom that’s easy to insert, secure during use, and comfortable for both partners. Through our Protection Options for Women Product Development Partnership, we are now working to bring the Woman’s Condom to market in China and sub-Saharan Africa.

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The attacks on the U.S. embassy in Cairo and the U.S. consulate in Benghazi have sparked a debate in Congress about the efficacy and wisdom of foreign aid in both Egypt and Libya, and more broadly throughout the region; some congressmen are already calling for stripping aid to Egypt and Libya. Aid and assistance have their purpose but, against the backdrop of a severe financial situation at home and a looming threat that sequestration could decimate defense, the State Department and the larger aid community do themselves no good when, on a day of mourning, they prioritize this:

Today is the first-ever Global Female Condom Day, and women and men around the world are celebrating. They’re also speaking out for increased recognition of a prevention method that is too often overlooked… One new type of female condom is the Woman’s Condom, developed in part with funding from PEPFAR through USAID. PATH, CONRAD, and our research partners in several countries developed the Woman’s Condom using feedback from women and their partners. Their input helped us design a female condom that’s easy to insert, secure during use, and comfortable for both partners. Through our Protection Options for Women Product Development Partnership, we are now working to bring the Woman’s Condom to market in China and sub-Saharan Africa.

This isn’t the Marshall Plan. USAID and the State Department should dispense no money without first answering the very basic question: How does this enhance U.S. national security? If all they can respond with is theoretical and fluffy gobbledygook, perhaps they should shelve that project as something the private sector and non-governmental organizations can take up on their own. It’s well past time that foreign aid bolstered American security, not provided a slush fund to let do-gooders spend endlessly money that would better stay in taxpayers’ wallets.

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Who is “Sam Bacile”?

When the story broke about an anti-Islam film that (supposedly) sparked the riots in Egypt and Libya, the AP initially reported that an “Israeli Jew” named Sam Bacile was the producer, and that it was funded by Jewish donors. All day, the questions have swirled over who this mysterious Bacile character was, but many Israel-bashers ran with the claim that the producer holds Israeli citizenship.

In fact, at the Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg reports that “Bacile” may not be an Israeli citizen after all:

Klein told me that Bacile, the producer of the film, is not Israeli, and most likely not Jewish, as has been reported, and that the name is, in fact, a pseudonym. He said he did not know “Bacile”‘s real name. He said Bacile contacted him because he leads anti-Islam protests outside of mosques and schools, and because, he said, he is a Vietnam veteran and an expert on uncovering al Qaeda cells in California. “After 9/11 I went out to look for terror cells in California and found them, piece of cake. Sam found out about me. The Middle East Christian and Jewish communities trust me.”

Actually, there’s basically no evidence that “Sam Bacile” even exists. The closest person who fits that description (at least electronically) is a self-proclaimed Egyptian “movie-maker” in California, who calls himself “Sam Bassel” on Facebook. Bassel has been registered on Facebook since 2010, and has posted regularly about the movies he supposedly produces, including the one that was used as a pretext for the Egyptian riots.

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When the story broke about an anti-Islam film that (supposedly) sparked the riots in Egypt and Libya, the AP initially reported that an “Israeli Jew” named Sam Bacile was the producer, and that it was funded by Jewish donors. All day, the questions have swirled over who this mysterious Bacile character was, but many Israel-bashers ran with the claim that the producer holds Israeli citizenship.

In fact, at the Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg reports that “Bacile” may not be an Israeli citizen after all:

Klein told me that Bacile, the producer of the film, is not Israeli, and most likely not Jewish, as has been reported, and that the name is, in fact, a pseudonym. He said he did not know “Bacile”‘s real name. He said Bacile contacted him because he leads anti-Islam protests outside of mosques and schools, and because, he said, he is a Vietnam veteran and an expert on uncovering al Qaeda cells in California. “After 9/11 I went out to look for terror cells in California and found them, piece of cake. Sam found out about me. The Middle East Christian and Jewish communities trust me.”

Actually, there’s basically no evidence that “Sam Bacile” even exists. The closest person who fits that description (at least electronically) is a self-proclaimed Egyptian “movie-maker” in California, who calls himself “Sam Bassel” on Facebook. Bassel has been registered on Facebook since 2010, and has posted regularly about the movies he supposedly produces, including the one that was used as a pretext for the Egyptian riots.

“Hello, I am a producer in a America and I live in Hollywood California,” he wrote in a July 15 post, well before the controversy erupted in Egypt. “I recently produced a movie that I believe to be one of the most historically important movie of our times. It is a 2 hour long movie about the entire life of the Prophet Muhammad from start to finish. Everything that is depicted in the movie is very true and well documented in all historical books that are found and taught in all Islamic countries.”

Bassel has posted about the film often over the past few months. According to one post, the movie took Bassel 12 years to complete and “blames America for the wars that occurred recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

UPDATE: The Facebook page belonging to “Sam Bassel” was apparently taken down a few hours after I posted this, but PolicyMic published some screenshots. Hold on, though, the story gets weirder. PolicyMic also flags an AP article that suggests Bacile/Bassel may actually be a man named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, who claims to be a “manager” for the company that produced the film, as well as a Coptic Christian. Nakoula denied that he posed as Bacile, but the details dug up by the AP sure sound suspicious:

“Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, told The Associated Press in an interview outside Los Angeles that he was manager for the company that produced “Innocence of Muslims,” which mocked Muslims and the prophet Muhammad and may have caused inflamed mobs that attacked U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya. He provided the first details about a shadowy production group behind the film.

“Nakoula denied he directed the film and said he knew the self-described filmmaker, Sam Bacile. But the cellphone number that AP contacted Tuesday to reach the filmmaker who identified himself as Sam Bacile traced to the same address near Los Angeles where AP found Nakoula. Federal court papers said Nakoula’s aliases included Nicola Bacily, Erwin Salameh and others. …

Nakoula denied he had posed as Bacile. During a conversation outside his home, he offered his driver’s license to show his identity but kept his thumb over his middle name, Basseley. Records checks by the AP subsequently found it and other connections to the Bacile persona.”

Can this get any more bizarre?

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Strength Matters, Groveling Doesn’t

When the going gets tough anywhere in the world, and the United States wants to pull out its big diplomatic guns, it’s often the secretary of state who will get going. The head of the State Department is the diplomat-in-chief for the United States. His or her presence at the negotiating table should bring great weight to bear.

There is a point of diminishing return, however, when a secretary of state—or any other high-level figure—travels so much that their intervention becomes routine and even pedantic.

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When the going gets tough anywhere in the world, and the United States wants to pull out its big diplomatic guns, it’s often the secretary of state who will get going. The head of the State Department is the diplomat-in-chief for the United States. His or her presence at the negotiating table should bring great weight to bear.

There is a point of diminishing return, however, when a secretary of state—or any other high-level figure—travels so much that their intervention becomes routine and even pedantic.

In the early 1990s, Secretary of State Warren Christopher distinguished himself by the sheer number of trips he embarked on to meet Syrian President Hafez al-Assad. He diminished the office of the secretary, and essentially transformed himself into a junior diplomat. Assad got a propaganda boon: After all, here was the secretary of state of the most powerful nation on earth traveling to meet him!

Alas, it seems the Obama administration is now making the same mistake in Turkey. From Turkey’s Hürriyet Daily News:

“Turmoil brings Turkey one-way US diplomacy”

The number of senior U.S. officials visiting Turkey has dramatically increased recently, likely due to turmoil in the Middle East, notably including the Syrian crisis, Ankara’s fight against terrorism, Iran, and the NATO anti-missile radar system housed in Turkey… “Right now, there are certain things expected of the United States. It has not yet catered to those expectations,” [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan said in a recent interview on CNN International.

Diplomats like to travel, and aides scramble to go along on their trips. We have reached the point in Turkey, however, of diminishing returns. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has perhaps the most strategic sense of anyone in the Obama administration. How unfortunate, therefore, she is transforming herself into Warren Christopher, the sequel.

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More to this Feud Than Personalities

How bad have things gotten between Israel and the United States? Yesterday’s nasty exchange between the two countries in which President Obama turned down a request for a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu showed that the problem has now escalated from a simmering, longstanding argument about the peace process to a full-blown feud. The White House did some damage control and reportedly the two men spoke at length last night. But anyone who thinks that will resolve their differences hasn’t been paying attention to the unhealthy dynamic that has been festering since the two both came into office in early 2009.

The two have sniped and carped at each other for most of the past four years. But the decision of much of the mainstream media, including some journalists in Israel, to characterize this as being a personal dispute is a mistake. Though there’s no question that the two don’t like each other, what is at play here isn’t merely a brawl between two overachieving powerful men who like to have their own way and don’t care much for those who contradict them. Their quarrel is primarily about serious policy differences that represent a fundamental disagreement about the alliance between the two nations and Israel’s place in the world. Obama’s stubborn refusal to treat the nuclear peril from Iran as an existential threat that must be met expeditiously can’t be put down to personal antipathy. Nor is Netanyahu’s refusal to accept Obama’s lip service to the question as an adequate response a function of his surly temperament. Though the personality conflict has aggravated the squabble, it would exist and probably be just as dangerous even if the two were thoroughly compatible.

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How bad have things gotten between Israel and the United States? Yesterday’s nasty exchange between the two countries in which President Obama turned down a request for a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu showed that the problem has now escalated from a simmering, longstanding argument about the peace process to a full-blown feud. The White House did some damage control and reportedly the two men spoke at length last night. But anyone who thinks that will resolve their differences hasn’t been paying attention to the unhealthy dynamic that has been festering since the two both came into office in early 2009.

The two have sniped and carped at each other for most of the past four years. But the decision of much of the mainstream media, including some journalists in Israel, to characterize this as being a personal dispute is a mistake. Though there’s no question that the two don’t like each other, what is at play here isn’t merely a brawl between two overachieving powerful men who like to have their own way and don’t care much for those who contradict them. Their quarrel is primarily about serious policy differences that represent a fundamental disagreement about the alliance between the two nations and Israel’s place in the world. Obama’s stubborn refusal to treat the nuclear peril from Iran as an existential threat that must be met expeditiously can’t be put down to personal antipathy. Nor is Netanyahu’s refusal to accept Obama’s lip service to the question as an adequate response a function of his surly temperament. Though the personality conflict has aggravated the squabble, it would exist and probably be just as dangerous even if the two were thoroughly compatible.

That Obama can’t stand Netanyahu is not in dispute. We didn’t really need the president’s “hot mic” moment last year, in which Obama sympathized and agreed with then French President Nicolas Sarkozy about his distaste for the Israeli, to know the two weren’t buddies. But that placed it on the record.

Obama came into office saying that any good feelings about Israel were not extended to Netanyahu’s Likud Party and quickly demonstrated that he meant what he said when he resolved to distance the U.S. from Israel as part of his campaign to show that the closeness between the two nations that had grown up during the Bush administration was at an end. In each of his first three years in office, Obama picked fights with Israel over settlements, Jerusalem and the 1967 borders. What’s more, he personalized the argument by repeatedly showing disrespect to Netanyahu on his visits to the U.S. and pointedly refusing to make a courtesy call to Israel when he made his outreach speech to the Muslim world in Cairo in June 2009.

Netanyahu held his fire and took the abuse without saying much the first two times, but when the president ambushed him with a speech on the peace process that tilted the diplomatic field in favor of the Palestinians, Netanyahu had enough. He lectured Obama publicly about the dangers facing Israel and then received the cheers of a bipartisan pro-Israel majority at a joint meeting of Congress. The president made no secret about the fact that he was ticked off about the reception Netanyahu was given. But since the Palestinians’ disinterest in making peace even on Obama’s terms rendered the arguments moot, nothing came of any of this.

However, the issue which the two countries are currently arguing about can’t be pigeonholed in this manner.

Netanyahu is not mad at Obama because of a snub or hurt feelings about what the president said to Sarkozy or any of the other slights he has received or given. What he wants from the president is a commitment to do something about the Iranian nuclear threat. The American pretense that failed diplomacy and ineffective sanctions can still resolve the problem cannot be sustained. Netanyahu wants the United States to pledge to establish some red lines about Iran that would at the very least make it clear that at some point action rather than further talk would be contemplated. Were Netanyahu to gain such a pledge there’s little doubt he would gladly put up with all manner of personal indignities from the president. But that is something the president and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton firmly refuse to do.

If Netanyahu is frustrated and angry, it is not out of pique but the result of a growing conviction that the administration is not serious about making good on its pledges about Iran. You don’t have to be a mind reader to see that the Israeli fears the president is considering a course change should he receive a second term. Such a switch might lead him to push for a nuclear deal with Iran that would compromise Israel’s security.

This distrust is exacerbated by the fact that both men consider each other obnoxious and arrogant. They are both probably right about that, but that would mean nothing were they in agreement about the need to act in such a manner as to convince the Iranians that the only alternative to surrender at the negotiating table was the application of force. It is this profound difference on a question that is a matter of life and death to Israel that is at the heart of the row, not that the two get on each other’s nerves.

The personality story line serves Obama’s interests, since it provides him with a ready excuse for his shabby treatment of the Israelis and distracts us from the key foreign policy issue facing the United States. Though it is undoubtedly true that the quarrel has gotten personal, were it not so it would still be just as bitter.

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Media Building False Narratives on Top of Already Debunked Ones

Today’s furious attack on Mitt Romney by the media—epitomized by reporters’ embarrassing behavior at a morning press conference—presented a perfect example of the media’s proud perpetuation of their own false narratives. These narratives don’t just win or lose the news cycle in which they are invented, but reappear later on as building blocks to the newest such narrative.

Today’s piece on the complaints about Romney’s statements on the embassy attacks over at Buzzfeed is a great illustration of this. Ben Smith writes (emphasis mine):

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Today’s furious attack on Mitt Romney by the media—epitomized by reporters’ embarrassing behavior at a morning press conference—presented a perfect example of the media’s proud perpetuation of their own false narratives. These narratives don’t just win or lose the news cycle in which they are invented, but reappear later on as building blocks to the newest such narrative.

Today’s piece on the complaints about Romney’s statements on the embassy attacks over at Buzzfeed is a great illustration of this. Ben Smith writes (emphasis mine):

Romney keyed his statement to the American Embassy in Cairo’s condemnation of an anti-Muslim video that served as the trigger for the latest in a series of regional riots over obscure perceived slights to the faith. But his statement — initially embargoed to avoid release on September 11, then released yesterday evening anyway — came just before news that the American Ambassador to Libya had been killed and broke with a tradition of unity around national tragedies, and of avoiding hasty statements on foreign policy. It was the second time Romney has been burned by an early statement on a complex crisis: Romney denounced the Obama Administration’s handling of a Chinese dissident’s escape just as the Administration negotiated behind the scenes for his departure from the country.

I have corrected this mistake before, but it appears necessary to do so again. This narrative of the Chinese dissident holds that Hillary Clinton was in the process of successfully negotiating his release when Romney and other Republicans crudely turned it into a political game and almost jeopardized the rescue. In fact, this is, from what we’ve known now for a while, the exact opposite of what actually happened. From Susan Glasser’s glowing cover profile of Clinton for Foreign Policy:

Her final encounter with Dai came, at her request, in an early-morning session in a room at the Diaoyutai compound where, 40 years earlier, Nixon had stayed when he famously met Mao to reopen U.S.-China relations. It was just hours before the close of the formal Strategic and Economic Dialogue that was the ostensible purpose of Clinton’s trip; if Clinton had no agreement by then, they both knew it would open a rift in their relationship and create a political disaster back in Washington, where the secretary and her team were being accused of fumbling an important human rights case by delivering the sick dissident to a Beijing hospital and right back into the hands of his persecutors.

Still, the Chinese did not give in. At one point, an advisor who was present recalled, Clinton finally seemed to catch their attention by mentioning what a political circus the case had become — with Chen even dialing in to a U.S. congressional hearing that Thursday by cell phone from his hospital bed to say he feared for his safety if he remained in China. The Chinese team was visibly surprised. Eventually, Dai agreed at least to let the negotiations proceed. A few hours later, exhausted U.S. officials announced a deal.

Clinton’s diplomacy had failed, so she threatened her Chinese counterparts with a fraying of the relationship if they didn’t release Chen. They ignored her threat. Then the Chinese were told that the Republicans had drawn public attention to Chen’s case, and decided it wouldn’t be worth the trouble to hold him. The Republicans not only correctly recognized that American “quiet” diplomacy was failing, but understood the limited window of time they had to produce a game changer. The hearing to which the article refers was considered by many here in the U.S. to be an unnecessary spectacle; in fact, it may have saved Chen’s life.

Ironically, it’s been the media lamenting the rise of a post-truth presidential campaign. Yet they’re not exactly awash in credibility, are they?

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Media Confuse Egypt with Libya

During the question-and-answer portion of Romney’s remarks this morning, a reporter asked the following: “The world is watching. Isn’t this itself a mixed signal when you criticize the administration at a time that Americans are being killed? Shouldn’t politics stop for this?” While the media seems outraged over Romney’s statements about the events that took place in the Mideast yesterday, they seem unaware of the fact that Romney’s remarks were not about the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and events in Libya, but instead about the attacks on our embassy in Cairo as well as the embassy’s own response beforehand and afterwards.

Late last night Mitt Romney made the following (poorly worded) statement on the attacks,

“I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

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During the question-and-answer portion of Romney’s remarks this morning, a reporter asked the following: “The world is watching. Isn’t this itself a mixed signal when you criticize the administration at a time that Americans are being killed? Shouldn’t politics stop for this?” While the media seems outraged over Romney’s statements about the events that took place in the Mideast yesterday, they seem unaware of the fact that Romney’s remarks were not about the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and events in Libya, but instead about the attacks on our embassy in Cairo as well as the embassy’s own response beforehand and afterwards.

Late last night Mitt Romney made the following (poorly worded) statement on the attacks,

“I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

These remarks were released at 10 p.m. last night. As evidenced by the remarks referring to the death of just one “consulate worker,” it is clear that the Romney campaign, like the rest of the world, were at that time unaware that the deceased was the ambassador. It is also clear that Romney’s criticism was aimed at the administration’s response to the attacks in Cairo, not Libya. The critical portion of his remarks clearly referenced the Egyptian situation, not the one in Libya. How could Romney have released a statement critical of the administration’s response to Libya if the administration had not yet made a comment on the situation in Libya? The Obama administration actually agreed with Romney’s criticism of the Cairo embassy’s response, as they have since disavowed the response sent from the embassy’s Twitter account and those tweets were later deleted.

Many have criticized Romney for speaking on the embassy attacks before all the facts were known. Another allegedly non-biased reporter asked Romney this morning:

“Some people have said that you jumped the gun a little bit in putting that statement out last night and that you should have waited until more details were available. Do you regret having that statement come out so early before we learned about all of the things that were happening?”

What details, exactly, was Romney supposed to wait for? The embassy in Cairo was attacked. Before the attack, the embassy was sending tweets apologizing to the protestors storming their doors. Hours later, after the embassy walls were breached, the account sent a tweet stating, “This morning’s condemnation (issued before protest began) still stands. As does our condemnation of unjustified breach of the Embassy.” Romney assumed that the president and his State Department were in control of the staff and the messaging coming out of our embassy in Cairo. In the future, is Romney supposed to wait for the Obama administration to confirm or deny that it is in command of its own personnel? The tragedy in Libya does not erase the fact that our embassy continued to apologize to protestors angered over statements made by an obscure American, whose statements are protected by the First Amendment.

Since this morning it’s come to light that the attackers weren’t even protesting over the film, but instead over the release of the “blind sheik.” Will the media turn on the secretary of state, president, and the press office in Cairo for jumping to conclusions before we knew the true nature of the “protests?”

Yet again, the mainstream media has decided to play according to the Obama campaign’s rules instead of doing their jobs. In the future it appears the media would like Romney and his campaign to wait for the Obama administration’s spin before forming any kind of opinion. One would hope that the Romney campaign would refuse to abide by these media and Obama campaign guidelines because if they don’t, the campaign might as well close up shop today.

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Romney Slams Obama for Turning Down Netanyahu Meeting

Romney continues to weather criticism over his denunciation of the Obama administration’s response to the Egyptian protests, but that didn’t stop him from taking a swipe at Obama’s decision to turn down a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu later this month:

“I can’t ever imagine if the Prime Minister of Israel asked to meet with me, I can’t imagine ever saying no,” Romney said when asked about Israel, according to a pool report. “They’re our friends. They’re our closest allies in the Middle East.”

Amid tension over how to stop Iran’s nuclear program, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had sought a meeting with Obama when they both attend the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York later this month. The White House told Jerusalem that a meeting was impossible, because the two leaders would not be in the city at the same time.

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Romney continues to weather criticism over his denunciation of the Obama administration’s response to the Egyptian protests, but that didn’t stop him from taking a swipe at Obama’s decision to turn down a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu later this month:

“I can’t ever imagine if the Prime Minister of Israel asked to meet with me, I can’t imagine ever saying no,” Romney said when asked about Israel, according to a pool report. “They’re our friends. They’re our closest allies in the Middle East.”

Amid tension over how to stop Iran’s nuclear program, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had sought a meeting with Obama when they both attend the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York later this month. The White House told Jerusalem that a meeting was impossible, because the two leaders would not be in the city at the same time.

This is the predictable fallout from Obama’s decision, which John noted when he channeled Obama’s inner thoughts yesterday. But how much will it factor in politically? The Democratic convention appeared to be a disaster in terms of Jewish outreach — it doesn’t get much worse than half the delegates booing the inclusion of Israel in the party platform — but Obama’s overall poll numbers haven’t declined. While surveys have shown him losing Jewish support, that doesn’t appear to have cost him much in Florida yet. In fact, yesterday’s SurveyUSA poll shows Obama up by four in the state.

Still, Alan Dershowitz maintains that Obama may lose the majority of Jewish by snubbing Netanyahu:

Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz predicted on Tuesday that President Obama’s apparent snub of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will put the critical swing state of Florida at “substantial risk” in the November election and threatens to further ratchet up the likelihood of a military strike against Iran.

“I think that the Democrats are in danger of losing even at this point a majority of the Jewish voters,” asserted Dershowitz in an exclusive interview with Newsmax. “What matters is how many votes they get in Florida. And I think they are putting Florida at substantial risk.”

There’s plenty of evidence that Obama’s support from the Jewish community has declined sharply, but has he hit a floor? If a majority of Jewish voters are still sticking by Obama after everything he’s done so far — Dershowitz included! — what’s one rejected meeting with Netanyahu on top of it?

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Embassy Attack Perpetrators Do Not Represent Islam

The U.S. should respond strongly and sternly to the unprovoked attacks on our consulate in Benghazi and the embassy in Cairo and to the deaths of our ambassador to Libya and several of his aides. But we must also react smartly and not succumb to the rage of the moment into thinking that Sam Bacile, the amateur filmmaker whose anti-Mohammad video was initially blamed for these assaults, is right when he says, “Islam is a cancer.”

Not only is that hate speech, it is also wrong on its face because it assumes that the kind of people who carried out these outrages are typical Muslims—that somehow Islam by its very nature drives its adherents to intolerance and violence. That is not the case—Islam, like other religions, is complex and multifaceted. It has meant many things to many people over the ages. Most of its followers, like the followers of other religions, are peaceful and law-abiding and not interested in attacking anyone. The radicals are hardly representative of the mainstream, but even small numbers of extremists can sully the image of an entire country or religion by skillful attacks and manipulation of the news media.

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The U.S. should respond strongly and sternly to the unprovoked attacks on our consulate in Benghazi and the embassy in Cairo and to the deaths of our ambassador to Libya and several of his aides. But we must also react smartly and not succumb to the rage of the moment into thinking that Sam Bacile, the amateur filmmaker whose anti-Mohammad video was initially blamed for these assaults, is right when he says, “Islam is a cancer.”

Not only is that hate speech, it is also wrong on its face because it assumes that the kind of people who carried out these outrages are typical Muslims—that somehow Islam by its very nature drives its adherents to intolerance and violence. That is not the case—Islam, like other religions, is complex and multifaceted. It has meant many things to many people over the ages. Most of its followers, like the followers of other religions, are peaceful and law-abiding and not interested in attacking anyone. The radicals are hardly representative of the mainstream, but even small numbers of extremists can sully the image of an entire country or religion by skillful attacks and manipulation of the news media.

Indeed, evidence is emerging of the planning that went into both assaults, with USA Today reporting: “The protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo was announced Aug. 30 by Jamaa Islamiya, a State Department-designated terrorist group, to protest the ongoing imprisonment of its spiritual leader, Sheikh Omar abdel Rahman. He is serving a life sentence in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.”

Meanwhile the New York Times is reporting: “The Obama administration suspects that the fiery attack in Libya that killed the American ambassador and three other diplomats may have been planned rather than a spontaneous mob getting out of control…” The Times article further notes: “About 24 hours before the consulate attack… Al Qaeda posted to militant forums on the Web a video in which its leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, acknowledged the death in an American  drone strike in June of his Libyan deputy, Abu Yahya al-Libi, and called on Libyans to avenge the death.”

This conforms squarely with recent experience in Afghanistan, where seemingly spontaneous riots and attacks in response to Koran-burnings were actually carried out with considerable planning and complicity from the insurgency. There is no doubt that there is religious passion in the Muslim world that extremists can exploit, but these outrages are the work of calculating extremists and do not represent the actions of the average man-on-the-street—certainly the anti-American protests have attracted far fewer followers than the protests that were being held not so long ago in both Egypt and Libya to protest the previous rulers of those countries. Rather than succumb to extremism ourselves in the face of Islamist extremists, we must make critical distinctions and understand that the radicals do not speak for their whole of their countries nor for the whole of a religion with more than a billion adherents.

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Nothing Stops the Campaigner-in-Chief

Yesterday, as the world mourned the 11th anniversary of the September 11th attacks on New York City, Washington D.C. and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the Obama campaign was still in campaign mode. Kevin Eder showcased the different ways the Obama and Romney campaigns marked the day on Twitter. The first tweets of the day from each campaign were as follows:

The president, hours later, eventually sent a personal tweet (which is marked by the tweet signing off with his initials “bo”) to mark the anniversary of the worst attack on our soil since Pearl Harbor. Mitt Romney’s social media accounts went on campaign blackout yesterday outside of the messages related to 9/11, and he suspended any campaign-related events or appearances. Despite media claims that both campaigns came to a truce on the 9/11 anniversary, only one actually held to that promise.

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Yesterday, as the world mourned the 11th anniversary of the September 11th attacks on New York City, Washington D.C. and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the Obama campaign was still in campaign mode. Kevin Eder showcased the different ways the Obama and Romney campaigns marked the day on Twitter. The first tweets of the day from each campaign were as follows:

The president, hours later, eventually sent a personal tweet (which is marked by the tweet signing off with his initials “bo”) to mark the anniversary of the worst attack on our soil since Pearl Harbor. Mitt Romney’s social media accounts went on campaign blackout yesterday outside of the messages related to 9/11, and he suspended any campaign-related events or appearances. Despite media claims that both campaigns came to a truce on the 9/11 anniversary, only one actually held to that promise.

Today the gloves are off and the campaign is back on. Romney made statements condemning the pathetic response from the Obama administration on attacks on our embassy in Egypt (not Libya, despite what many mainstream media outlets may be reporting). While the media are criticizing Romney for daring to make any statements on foreign policy today, the president gets a free pass for continuing his campaign (he’s making a stop today in Nevada) despite the crisis taking place in the Mideast. Sadly, the president even prioritized rebuking the Romney campaign’s Egypt response before rebuking the events in Egypt and Libya themselves.

Yesterday Alana reported that since the campaign began, the president has attended more fundraisers than intelligence briefings. Today, of all days, the president should be reminded by his staff (and his campaign) that he’s running for re-election, that he currently occupies the White House and should at least pretend to be presidential.

During his speech to the DNC, the president joked, “My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy.” Three years after coming into the White House as green as Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan supposedly are, the president is still looking completely inexperienced. The embassy in Cairo made apologetic statements after protests began (but before the embassy itself was attacked). Many, including our Jonathan Tobin, saw these statements echoing the president’s historic stance of apologizing to extremists as opposed to rebutting their radical opposition to the freedoms enjoyed by Americans everywhere. Despite this, the White House began to walk back the apologies made (and then deleted from) the embassy’s Twitter account, which appeared in both Arabic and English. Why the embassy wasn’t clearing these tweets with Washington, given the explosive nature of the protests, has yet to be explained by the State Department or the White House. The White House’s apology makes Washington appear as if it’s not in control of its own personnel as opposed to appearing apologetic to extremists yet again.

The president is continuing his campaign, and Mitt Romney is continuing his; not surprisingly, though, the media only finds fault with one.

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Report: Riots Actually About Release of Blind Sheik

USA Today reports that the riot at the U.S. embassy in Cairo appears to have been planned well before the Egyptian media reported on the anti-Islam YouTube film that was blamed for sparking the protest. The protest was reportedly announced on August 30 by Gamaa Islamiyya, an Egyptian terrorist group, to call for the release of its leader, Sheikh Omar abdel Rahman — aka the blind sheik, who is serving a life sentence for the first World Trade Center bombing:

Days of planning and online promotion by hard-line Islamist leaders helped whip up the mobs that stormed the U.S. Embassy in Egypt and launched a deadly attack on the U.S. Embassy in Libya that killed an ambassador and three others. …

The protest was planned by Salafists well before news circulated of an objectionable video ridiculing Islam’s prophet, Mohammed, said Eric Trager, an expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo was announced Aug. 30 by [Gamaa Islamiyya], a State Department-designated terrorist group, to protest the ongoing imprisonment of its spiritual leader, Sheikh Omar abdel Rahman, who is serving a life sentence in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

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USA Today reports that the riot at the U.S. embassy in Cairo appears to have been planned well before the Egyptian media reported on the anti-Islam YouTube film that was blamed for sparking the protest. The protest was reportedly announced on August 30 by Gamaa Islamiyya, an Egyptian terrorist group, to call for the release of its leader, Sheikh Omar abdel Rahman — aka the blind sheik, who is serving a life sentence for the first World Trade Center bombing:

Days of planning and online promotion by hard-line Islamist leaders helped whip up the mobs that stormed the U.S. Embassy in Egypt and launched a deadly attack on the U.S. Embassy in Libya that killed an ambassador and three others. …

The protest was planned by Salafists well before news circulated of an objectionable video ridiculing Islam’s prophet, Mohammed, said Eric Trager, an expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo was announced Aug. 30 by [Gamaa Islamiyya], a State Department-designated terrorist group, to protest the ongoing imprisonment of its spiritual leader, Sheikh Omar abdel Rahman, who is serving a life sentence in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

Based on the report, it sounds like the anti-Islam YouTube video was a secondary issue — a way for Islamist leaders to stoke anger and draw more bodies out to the embassy protest. If the storming of the embassy was organized by Gamaa Islamiyya — as opposed to a spontaneous uprising — why hasn’t the State Department’s response reflected that? It’s hard to imagine they’re not aware of the group’s activities. In June, the State Department actually issued a visa to a member of Gamaa Islamiyya — again, this is a designated terrorist organization — and met with him in Washington, as part of a delegation of Egyptian leaders. During the meeting, he reportedly asked White House officials to release the blind sheik. Here was the State Department’s defense at the time, which is even more astonishing in light of the latest news:

“We neither had then, nor do we have now, any reason to believe that this particular individual — who at the time of his application was a member of parliament — would pose a threat to the United States,” [State Department spokesperson Victoria] Nuland told reporters.

Nuland pointed to rapid changes in the Middle East, where an Islamist was declared the winner Sunday of Egypt’s first democratic presidential elections a year and a half after street protests toppled strongman Hosni Mubarak.

“It’s a new day in Egypt; it’s a new day in a lot of countries across the Middle East and North Africa. So new political personalities are coming to light,” Nuland said.

“We have more folks who want to come here, want to know us, want to learn about the US, want to develop relationships with us. We have the same interest with regard to them,” she said.

Apparently State miscalculated on that “develop relationships” part.

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Not Getting the Dem Memo on Voter Fraud

For most of this year, Democrats have been furiously asserting that Voter ID laws are not only racist but also unnecessary. They have tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to make the case that requiring someone to present proof of their identity or citizenship while attempting to vote is the moral equivalent of segregationist “Jim Crow” laws. That is patently false, but they have also claimed that efforts to curb cheating in elections are not needed because there is no such thing as voter fraud in the United States. But apparently one Democratic congressional candidate didn’t get the memo.

Wendy Rosen, the Democrat who was nominated to run in Maryland’s 1stCongressional District, withdrew from the race against a Republican incumbent after it was revealed that she had personally committed vote fraud in 2008. Apparently, Rosen voted in both Maryland and in Florida in both 2006 and 2008. Voting in more than one state is just one form of such fraud, but it is both easy and possibly quite commonplace. But as a candidate, Rosen’s double dip was discovered and now the Democrats are stuck without a viable candidate in the district since it is no longer possible for them to put someone else on the ballot. But the issue here is bigger than their already dim prospects for taking the seat or even whether Rosen will be, as she should be, subjected to prosecution. It is the absurdity of Democrats around the nation spending months telling us that such fraud is unheard of when not only is it quite common but also was committed by one of their own candidates.

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For most of this year, Democrats have been furiously asserting that Voter ID laws are not only racist but also unnecessary. They have tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to make the case that requiring someone to present proof of their identity or citizenship while attempting to vote is the moral equivalent of segregationist “Jim Crow” laws. That is patently false, but they have also claimed that efforts to curb cheating in elections are not needed because there is no such thing as voter fraud in the United States. But apparently one Democratic congressional candidate didn’t get the memo.

Wendy Rosen, the Democrat who was nominated to run in Maryland’s 1stCongressional District, withdrew from the race against a Republican incumbent after it was revealed that she had personally committed vote fraud in 2008. Apparently, Rosen voted in both Maryland and in Florida in both 2006 and 2008. Voting in more than one state is just one form of such fraud, but it is both easy and possibly quite commonplace. But as a candidate, Rosen’s double dip was discovered and now the Democrats are stuck without a viable candidate in the district since it is no longer possible for them to put someone else on the ballot. But the issue here is bigger than their already dim prospects for taking the seat or even whether Rosen will be, as she should be, subjected to prosecution. It is the absurdity of Democrats around the nation spending months telling us that such fraud is unheard of when not only is it quite common but also was committed by one of their own candidates.

Admittedly, voter ID laws won’t prevent voting in more than one state. But it can prevent party machines from stuffing ballot boxes with the illegal votes of unregistered citizens or illegal aliens. It also will make it harder for politicians to employ those who might be inclined to try and vote in more than one district as opposed to a state.

As I have written before, in order to believe Democratic talking points about voter fraud, you have to ignore everything we know about American political history, politicians, parties and human nature. If there is a way to cheat, partisans will find it and employ it until caught. Though Democrats claim it doesn’t happen, we know neither party trusts each other to act in good faith on these issues (as the debacle in Florida in 2000 proved). And now one of their own congressional candidates has helpfully provided an example of how tempting it is for them to cheat.

Providing the country with fair and honest elections is a compelling government interest and most Americans rightly believe asking them to show an ID when they vote–an ID they would need to travel, conduct any transaction with the government or a bank, or to buy a beer–is inherently reasonable. And now we can thank Wendy Rosen for proof of why they think this way.

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The EU’s Pursuit of Stability Über Alles

At City Journal, the invaluable Theodore Dalrymple reviews the equally invaluable Dan Hannan’s A Doomed Marriage: Britain and Europe, and predicts pessimistically that it will change few minds about the EU, since “in the Eurocrats’ world, ignoring arguments is the highest form of refutation.” By way of explaining why the EU has a stranglehold on elite opinion, Dalrymple argues that the EU is good at corrupting business with the promise of controlled markets, politicians with perks far beyond their merits, and civil society with bribes.

All that is true, but not true enough. In Britain, the EU appeals to the elite in part because of the myth of leadership, i.e. the belief that, if only it rolls up its sleeves, Britain will be able to lead the EU in a direction that suits its desires. This is the myth that lies behind the so-called lost opportunity of Britain’s failure to sign the original Treaty of Rome, and it has inspired politicians as diverse as Harold Macmillan and Tony Blair to toss their chips in with Brussels. In reality, the reason why Britain did not sign on was because its interests and ideals led it to prefer different arrangements, and the past 50 years have proven comprehensively that the EU imposes far more on Britain than Britain is able to impose on the EU. Yet the myth lingers.

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At City Journal, the invaluable Theodore Dalrymple reviews the equally invaluable Dan Hannan’s A Doomed Marriage: Britain and Europe, and predicts pessimistically that it will change few minds about the EU, since “in the Eurocrats’ world, ignoring arguments is the highest form of refutation.” By way of explaining why the EU has a stranglehold on elite opinion, Dalrymple argues that the EU is good at corrupting business with the promise of controlled markets, politicians with perks far beyond their merits, and civil society with bribes.

All that is true, but not true enough. In Britain, the EU appeals to the elite in part because of the myth of leadership, i.e. the belief that, if only it rolls up its sleeves, Britain will be able to lead the EU in a direction that suits its desires. This is the myth that lies behind the so-called lost opportunity of Britain’s failure to sign the original Treaty of Rome, and it has inspired politicians as diverse as Harold Macmillan and Tony Blair to toss their chips in with Brussels. In reality, the reason why Britain did not sign on was because its interests and ideals led it to prefer different arrangements, and the past 50 years have proven comprehensively that the EU imposes far more on Britain than Britain is able to impose on the EU. Yet the myth lingers.

But the larger reason why the European elite like the EU is simple. From their point of view, Europe tried democracy in the first half of the twentieth century. The result was two world wars, the near-collapse of European civilization, and the rise to superpower status of the U.S.S.R. and (even worse, for many of them) the U.S.

Blaming democracy for the Kaiser and Hitler is poor history, but–as Ben pointed out last week–European voters, unlike British and American ones, do have a predilection for political extremism when times get rough. That’s what comes of not having conservative movements in the Anglo-American tradition of individual liberty. It’s also why Europeans always expect fascism to dawn in the U.S.: they’re looking in the mirror.

The idea behind the EEC, from its start, was to prevent wars, reassert European power, and promote economic growth by removing decisions about portions of the economy from the exclusive control of the nation-state, i.e., from the control of the voters. It was an explicitly elite approach. Add to that the fact that the EU has allowed the image if not the reality of national parliaments to survive–with most laws now made in Brussels, Gladstone would not recognize the House of Commons, even if it still sits in Westminster–and the appeal the EU has long had to France as a way to assert its political superiority over an economically potent Germany, and one does not need to appeal to corruption to explain the EU’s appeal to the powers that be.

But the EU turned from an instrument for restoring a degree of stability to one dedicated to the preservation of the status quo. That approach–and Dalrymple is absolutely right about this–is bound to fail. It means the EU, which still talks a lot about increasing Europe’s power in the world, is more interested in pursuing policies which guarantee Europe’s continued relative decline. It also means that the reality of German dominance of the EU–politics win in the short run, but economics win in the long haul–is becoming ever more obvious to most Europeans, which is one reason why the EU is less popular now than ever. When the Germans take full account of how rapidly they are sinking into the same debt morass that afflicts their profligate neighbors in and out of the euro, they too may well decide that their elites (and their Constitutional Court) have made a hash of it.

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Is Romney Running As a “Hawk”?

Ross Douthat takes a look at Mitt Romney’s stagnating poll numbers and concludes, in part, that Romney is being held back by his hesitation to offer more clarity and creativity on economic policy and refusal to break more clearly with the Bush administration, especially on foreign policy. I find Douthat’s argument on economic policy compelling, but his estimation of the Bush administration’s drag on Romney less so.

Douthat is right to call attention to the weaknesses in the Romney camp’s favorite analogy: 2012 is just like 1980. There are parallels, of course, but their utility is limited and create the danger of Romney’s overreliance on them producing overconfidence. According to most major metrics, the Carter economy was in noticeably worse shape than the current economy. This recovery is still far too weak and unemployment far too high, and Romney has a very strong hand to play here. But Romney chose vagueness at his convention address, just as Reagan did at his, while voters seem to want more from Romney. He may very well have to respond to that.

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Ross Douthat takes a look at Mitt Romney’s stagnating poll numbers and concludes, in part, that Romney is being held back by his hesitation to offer more clarity and creativity on economic policy and refusal to break more clearly with the Bush administration, especially on foreign policy. I find Douthat’s argument on economic policy compelling, but his estimation of the Bush administration’s drag on Romney less so.

Douthat is right to call attention to the weaknesses in the Romney camp’s favorite analogy: 2012 is just like 1980. There are parallels, of course, but their utility is limited and create the danger of Romney’s overreliance on them producing overconfidence. According to most major metrics, the Carter economy was in noticeably worse shape than the current economy. This recovery is still far too weak and unemployment far too high, and Romney has a very strong hand to play here. But Romney chose vagueness at his convention address, just as Reagan did at his, while voters seem to want more from Romney. He may very well have to respond to that.

Douthat continues:

Since Bush left office, conservatives have been willing to acknowledge his failures as a fiscal conservative and to promise more responsibility on deficits and debt. This has been a necessary and important shift, responsible both for the energy of the Tea Party in the 2010 midterm elections and for the current Republican ticket’s (relatively) brave proposals on entitlement reform.

But the shift toward fiscal rectitude is the easy part, in a sense, because it just involved calling conservatives back to their principles, without necessarily acknowledging the places where ideology might need to adapt itself to new realities. It’s made the Republicans more serious than they were in January of 2008, but it’s left the party’s post-Bush weaknesses on the economy and foreign policy conspicuously unaddressed….

On national security, he’s campaigned as a by-the-numbers hawk, with barely a hint that hawkishness might have delivered America into difficulties during the last Republican administration.

I’m not sure this is quite fair to either Bush or Romney. Americans binged on electing conservatives to Congress and, more dramatically, to the governor’s office in places like New Jersey, just to set limits on the Obama Democrats’ ability to govern. If anything, Romney has been less conservative on many of the issues than the Tea Party, yet it is Tea Partiers voters sent enthusiastically to the House and Senate while Romney fights lukewarm poll numbers.

So when Douthat writes that this Tea Party focus on debt and the deficit has “left the party’s post-Bush weaknesses on the economy” unaddressed, it seems to me the opposite might be true.

And on the “hawkishness” of Romney’s foreign policy, I think there’s less bluster to it than people seem to think. Romney took some heat for leaving Afghanistan out of his convention speech, and Politico reports that, in their estimation, at Romney’s foreign policy speech yesterday “he seemed to endorse the broad outlines of Obama’s policy.” This has actually become a popular refrain as well: Romney criticizes Obama generally on foreign affairs but hasn’t actually staked out more hawkish ground.

Then you have the Democrats’ convention, at which the crowd spent half the time cheering on targeted assassination. And then the Obama campaign rolled out its plan to “Kerry-ize” Romney on foreign policy. (Calling on Kerry to aid in the “Kerryization” of someone else is so thoroughly humiliating to the Massachusetts senator that it almost makes you hope Kerry gets something out of this after all, like the job at State that he so openly covets. Almost.)

And Obama’s most successful foreign policy moves were arguably hawkish ones. Take his announcement of the Afghanistan surge. As I wrote in March:

After Obama announced a troop “surge” in Afghanistan in December 2009, polls showed a 9-percent jump in Americans who thought staying in Afghanistan was the right course of action, and a 6-percent drop in those who opposed the war. Americans favored the speech itself by a 23-point margin. And the president saw a 7-point jump in public approval of his handling of the war.

If Romney is concerned that voters are having trouble imaging him as commander-in-chief, he will probably try to change the calculus on foreign policy, thinking it may also elevate his other numbers if he does so successfully. But it is Obama, surging at first in Afghanistan and then boasting of bin Laden and the Libya intervention, who is arguably running as the hawk in this election.

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A Problem With State Department Security?

CBS reported earlier today that members of the Libyan security detail hired by the U.S. tipped off rioters about the location of the U.S. ambassador, who had apparently been moved from the consulate to a “safer” building (h/t Ed Morrissey) — an extremely troubling detail by itself. But Breitbart’s Michael Patrick Leahy also adds that the ambassador was being guarded solely by Libyan nationals, and the two Marines who were killed were only sent in after the violence broke out:

Security at the consulate was apparently provided by Libyan nationals hired by the United States. While security for American embassies is typically provided by our own Marines, the two Marines reported killed in yesterday’s attacks appear not to have been stationed at the embassy, but were sent there from another unknown location as the violence erupted. There is also no indication if these two Marines were the only American military personnel on site at the time of Ambassador Stevens’s death.

All reports indicate that the security forces at the consulate were overwhelmed by the size of the militant crowds and offered no resistance as they stormed the building, looted it, and killed the four Americans.

As the facts surrounding the destruction of the American consulate and death of Ambassador Stevens become known, investigators will focus on these questions: Did the State Department provide adequate security for our embassy staff there? If not, why not?

And finally, the most important question of all: Where were the Marines?

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CBS reported earlier today that members of the Libyan security detail hired by the U.S. tipped off rioters about the location of the U.S. ambassador, who had apparently been moved from the consulate to a “safer” building (h/t Ed Morrissey) — an extremely troubling detail by itself. But Breitbart’s Michael Patrick Leahy also adds that the ambassador was being guarded solely by Libyan nationals, and the two Marines who were killed were only sent in after the violence broke out:

Security at the consulate was apparently provided by Libyan nationals hired by the United States. While security for American embassies is typically provided by our own Marines, the two Marines reported killed in yesterday’s attacks appear not to have been stationed at the embassy, but were sent there from another unknown location as the violence erupted. There is also no indication if these two Marines were the only American military personnel on site at the time of Ambassador Stevens’s death.

All reports indicate that the security forces at the consulate were overwhelmed by the size of the militant crowds and offered no resistance as they stormed the building, looted it, and killed the four Americans.

As the facts surrounding the destruction of the American consulate and death of Ambassador Stevens become known, investigators will focus on these questions: Did the State Department provide adequate security for our embassy staff there? If not, why not?

And finally, the most important question of all: Where were the Marines?

This isn’t the first recent example of a breakdown in State Department security. The attack in Libya came just one week after the suicide bombing of a U.S. consulate vehicle in Pakistan, which was rammed with a car packed with explosives as it drove through a residential area in Peshawar. The New York Times reported at the time:

A suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden vehicle into a sport utility vehicle belonging to the United States Consulate in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Monday morning, Pakistani and American officials said, in one of the most brazen attacks against Americans in the country in recent years.

There were conflicting reports about the number and nationality of the casualties. Pakistani officials said that at least two people were killed by the blast and at least 13 were injured, including two police officers. The United States Embassy in Islamabad confirmed the attack and said in a statement that two Americans and two Pakistani employees of the consulate were injured. It denied early reports that an American had been killed.

How did a suicide bomber find out where the American consulate vehicle would be at the time? Was he tipped off by security — the same way a mob of violent fanatics reportedly discovered the location of the U.S. ambassador to Libya?

Either these are just unfortunate coincidences of timing, or they point to a more fundamental problem with State Department security. The department is entrusted to keep American officials safe abroad, and the past two weeks do not engender confidence.

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Has Romney Erred on Obama Criticism?

Pundits and many in the foreign policy establishment are slamming Mitt Romney today for taking issue with Obama administration statements about attacks on U.S. diplomats and embassies in Libya and Egypt. Their assumption is that in the wake of a tragedy involving the deaths of U.S. personnel, Romney should have held his tongue rather than wading into the controversy and, in the opinion of those critical of his stance, politicizing something that is beyond politics. For some liberals, this will not just reinforce the message of the Democratic National Convention that Romney is not qualified to speak on foreign policy. They hope this will be a turning point in which a close race will turn into a cakewalk for President Obama.

It remains to be seen whether they will turn out to be right. In his statement at the White House this morning, the president sounded and looked presidential when he eulogized Ambassador Chris Stevens and the other Americans. Presidents are at their best when they play commander-in-chief, but the idea that the administration’s mistakes should be treated as out of bounds for Romney is absurd. Contrary to the Democrats’ talking points, President Obama’s foreign policy is a disaster in the making. Though he must be careful, Romney would be a fool to sit by quietly and allow these events to pass without comment, as Islamists rampage in Egypt and Libya while the president snubs Israel and allows Iran to drift toward a nuclear weapon without a serious effort to stop it.

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Pundits and many in the foreign policy establishment are slamming Mitt Romney today for taking issue with Obama administration statements about attacks on U.S. diplomats and embassies in Libya and Egypt. Their assumption is that in the wake of a tragedy involving the deaths of U.S. personnel, Romney should have held his tongue rather than wading into the controversy and, in the opinion of those critical of his stance, politicizing something that is beyond politics. For some liberals, this will not just reinforce the message of the Democratic National Convention that Romney is not qualified to speak on foreign policy. They hope this will be a turning point in which a close race will turn into a cakewalk for President Obama.

It remains to be seen whether they will turn out to be right. In his statement at the White House this morning, the president sounded and looked presidential when he eulogized Ambassador Chris Stevens and the other Americans. Presidents are at their best when they play commander-in-chief, but the idea that the administration’s mistakes should be treated as out of bounds for Romney is absurd. Contrary to the Democrats’ talking points, President Obama’s foreign policy is a disaster in the making. Though he must be careful, Romney would be a fool to sit by quietly and allow these events to pass without comment, as Islamists rampage in Egypt and Libya while the president snubs Israel and allows Iran to drift toward a nuclear weapon without a serious effort to stop it.

It may well be that the initial statement made by Romney last night was issued on the assumption that the shameful apology issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo after, rather than before, the attack on the compound. But the embassy stuck by the statement and thus showed that criticism of the apology was justified. Either way, it still reflected the moral equivalence and willingness to kowtow to Islamist sensibilities and that has been at the core of this administration’s policies in the Middle East.

The willingness of Secretary of State Clinton to condemn a foolish independent film critical of Islam that is supposedly the reason why Americans are being attacked, before speaking of the outrage against U.S. facilities and personnel, was similarly ill-considered and deserved Romney’s riposte. While the president’s statement today was better, Romney still needs to point out that the administration’s desire to appease and conciliate the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt while refusing to meet the prime minister of Israel or to set red lines on Iran is the product of a mindset that has ill served America’s best interests.

Most Americans are inclined to unite around the government and the president in times of crisis. These attacks, coming as they did on 9/11, were acts of war against the United States. The responsibility for responding to such attacks belongs to the president and it is to be hoped that the administration will react in such a manner as to ensure such actions will not be repeated.

But yesterday’s apologies, as well as those that President Obama has issued before this–such as his June 2009 Cairo speech–are part of the problem that set these events in motion. Romney is right that Obama has sent some mixed signals to the world on the defense of American values and has given a measured rather than a knee-jerk bellicose response. If Americans want a better choice on foreign policy, then this is exactly the time for Romney to be speaking up and giving it to them.

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Cairo Encouraged Embassy Attack by Letting Previous Attackers Walk

As Jonathan noted earlier, the Obama administration’s behavior to date has given Egypt every reason to think it can let a mob attack the U.S. embassy in Cairo with impunity. But there’s a very specific precedent he failed to mention: Just two weeks ago, a Cairo court sentenced 76 people indicted over last September’s mob attack on Israel’s embassy in Cairo. The net result is that not a single person is going to jail over that attack, sending the clearest possible message that mobs can attack foreign embassies in Cairo with impunity. Yet no world leader has lodged even a pro forma protest over this decision.

A brief recap: On September 9, 2011, thousands of Egyptians stormed the Israeli embassy, broke through the security wall and proceeded to loot it. No Israeli diplomats were present at the time, but six Israeli security guards were, and Israel was afraid they would be lynched: They had barricaded themselves in an interior room, but the mob was trying to break down the door. And not only did Egyptian police do nothing to stop the assault, but government officials in Cairo refused even to take calls from their frantic Israeli counterparts. Only after Washington intervened did the Egyptians finally send troops to rescue the Israelis.

The attack was denounced by leaders and diplomats worldwide, and ultimately, 76 people were put on trial for it, as well as for having stoned the nearby Saudi embassy–or, at least, so say various foreign media reports. Two Egyptian media sources, MENA and Al-Ahram, actually reported the indictments as being for attacking the Saudi embassy only, meaning those who attacked Israel’s embassy enjoyed complete immunity.

Either way, the charges were weighty, including “an assault against diplomatic missions” and “sabotage.” But the sentences handed down on August 26 were a joke: All the defendants received suspended sentences except for one who was tried in absentia. He was sentenced to five years, but according to Al-Ahram, less for the embassy attack than for “inciting violence against police” by authoring a book about police brutality and torture. And in any case, since he’s abroad, he won’t be serving any time, either.

The message couldn’t be clearer: The Egyptian legal system doesn’t view attacking embassies as a serious crime. Yet no world leader or diplomat thought this message worth protesting. Indeed, just a week after that verdict, the Obama administration announced that it was about to approve a sweeping debt forgiveness deal for Egypt, and would also back Egypt’s request for a $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan. Is it any wonder if official Egypt concluded that Washington doesn’t care all that much about embassy attacks?

The man on the street got the message as well: Attacking embassies is a risk-free endeavor. And today, a crowd of them applied this lesson by attacking another.

As Jonathan noted earlier, the Obama administration’s behavior to date has given Egypt every reason to think it can let a mob attack the U.S. embassy in Cairo with impunity. But there’s a very specific precedent he failed to mention: Just two weeks ago, a Cairo court sentenced 76 people indicted over last September’s mob attack on Israel’s embassy in Cairo. The net result is that not a single person is going to jail over that attack, sending the clearest possible message that mobs can attack foreign embassies in Cairo with impunity. Yet no world leader has lodged even a pro forma protest over this decision.

A brief recap: On September 9, 2011, thousands of Egyptians stormed the Israeli embassy, broke through the security wall and proceeded to loot it. No Israeli diplomats were present at the time, but six Israeli security guards were, and Israel was afraid they would be lynched: They had barricaded themselves in an interior room, but the mob was trying to break down the door. And not only did Egyptian police do nothing to stop the assault, but government officials in Cairo refused even to take calls from their frantic Israeli counterparts. Only after Washington intervened did the Egyptians finally send troops to rescue the Israelis.

The attack was denounced by leaders and diplomats worldwide, and ultimately, 76 people were put on trial for it, as well as for having stoned the nearby Saudi embassy–or, at least, so say various foreign media reports. Two Egyptian media sources, MENA and Al-Ahram, actually reported the indictments as being for attacking the Saudi embassy only, meaning those who attacked Israel’s embassy enjoyed complete immunity.

Either way, the charges were weighty, including “an assault against diplomatic missions” and “sabotage.” But the sentences handed down on August 26 were a joke: All the defendants received suspended sentences except for one who was tried in absentia. He was sentenced to five years, but according to Al-Ahram, less for the embassy attack than for “inciting violence against police” by authoring a book about police brutality and torture. And in any case, since he’s abroad, he won’t be serving any time, either.

The message couldn’t be clearer: The Egyptian legal system doesn’t view attacking embassies as a serious crime. Yet no world leader or diplomat thought this message worth protesting. Indeed, just a week after that verdict, the Obama administration announced that it was about to approve a sweeping debt forgiveness deal for Egypt, and would also back Egypt’s request for a $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan. Is it any wonder if official Egypt concluded that Washington doesn’t care all that much about embassy attacks?

The man on the street got the message as well: Attacking embassies is a risk-free endeavor. And today, a crowd of them applied this lesson by attacking another.

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Romney Stands by Criticism of Obama Response on Egypt

At a press conference this morning, Mitt Romney did not back down when asked whether he spoke too soon in criticizing the Obama administration’s initial response to the attack on the U.S. embassy in Egypt.

Earlier today, Romney slammed the administration’s response as “disgraceful,” saying that it appeared to “sympathize” with those who waged the attacks. As Jonathan wrote earlier, the initial statement from the Obama administration — which was released before the embassy attack — seemed to apologize for an anti-Islam movie that Egyptian extremists used as a pretext for the violence. The White House has since distanced itself from the statement, saying it didn’t sign off on it.

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At a press conference this morning, Mitt Romney did not back down when asked whether he spoke too soon in criticizing the Obama administration’s initial response to the attack on the U.S. embassy in Egypt.

Earlier today, Romney slammed the administration’s response as “disgraceful,” saying that it appeared to “sympathize” with those who waged the attacks. As Jonathan wrote earlier, the initial statement from the Obama administration — which was released before the embassy attack — seemed to apologize for an anti-Islam movie that Egyptian extremists used as a pretext for the violence. The White House has since distanced itself from the statement, saying it didn’t sign off on it.

According to Romney, the Obama administration statement and subsequent walk-back “reflects the mixed signals they’re sending to the world.”

“The world remains a dangerous place,” said Romney. “America cannot shrink from the responsibility to lead.”

When asked whether he regretted speaking out so soon, Romney said he did not. “That [response from the administration] was a mistake, and I believe when a mistake is made of that significance, you speak out.”

This was Romney seeking to contrast his leadership style with Obama’s. Conflicting responses and apologies for free expression can be taken as signs of weakness by America’s enemies, and Romney’s message was that he will stand firm in the face of attacks on America and never apologize for the devotion to, or defense of, free speech.

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Will Morsi Meet Obama?

Last month, the White House confirmed that Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi would visit Washington on the heels of the United Nations General Assembly session. The White House spokesman was cagey about whether Morsi would meet President Obama, but if Morsi is coming to Washington, he will have high level meetings.

Obama has now confirmed that he will not meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He is too busy; after all, the David Letterman Show calls. Given the attack on the U.S. embassy in Cairo yesterday, and the inability of the Egyptian government to take full responsibility for the safety and security of American diplomatic personnel, it will truly be a reflection of where the White House stands if he meets with Morsi after the outrage in Cairo, but declines to meet with the Israeli prime minister.

It is time someone ask Obama just what Morsi is going to do in Washington and whether he should have any meetings until those responsible for the attack in Cairo are brought to justice.

Last month, the White House confirmed that Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi would visit Washington on the heels of the United Nations General Assembly session. The White House spokesman was cagey about whether Morsi would meet President Obama, but if Morsi is coming to Washington, he will have high level meetings.

Obama has now confirmed that he will not meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He is too busy; after all, the David Letterman Show calls. Given the attack on the U.S. embassy in Cairo yesterday, and the inability of the Egyptian government to take full responsibility for the safety and security of American diplomatic personnel, it will truly be a reflection of where the White House stands if he meets with Morsi after the outrage in Cairo, but declines to meet with the Israeli prime minister.

It is time someone ask Obama just what Morsi is going to do in Washington and whether he should have any meetings until those responsible for the attack in Cairo are brought to justice.

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A Foreign Policy Challenge Emerges

Given how common attacks on U.S. military and diplomatic personnel have become since the 1970s–the great age of international terrorism–it is a little startling to realize that it has been 33 years since an American ambassador was murdered by terrorists. It makes sense that the last such death–that of Ambassador Adolph Dubs in Afghanistan, on February 14, 1979–occurred in Afghanistan at the dawn of its agony, after a Communist coup but before the Soviet invasion. The year 1979 was, in fact, the year when militant Islam first became a major threat to the West. That was the year of the Iranian hostage crisis, the siege of Mecca, the assault on the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad and, of course, the Red Army’s invasion of Afghanistan. That last gave rise to mujahideen groups some of which (e.g., the Haqqani Network) are now fighting American forces. We must hope that the tragic deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and other personnel at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya does not signal yet another era of anti-American attacks in the Middle East–but it might.

At the very least it suggests the uncertainties inherent in the Arab Spring, even in a country such as Libya, where relatively moderate forces have triumphed. The difficulty has been that the government in Tripoli has had trouble asserting its authority and disarming militia groups. Thus it was apparently a radical Islamist militia group that was behind the attack that killed Stevens. Some, no doubt, will take this attack as all the more reason why the U.S. should take a hands-off attitude toward the region. If only we had that luxury. But Libya and its neighbors remain of vital strategic importance for a variety of reasons–not least their oil–and our interests lie in helping the Libyan government to establish its authority. Indeed this latest attack shows just how important it is to step up security assistance–providing everything from weapons to advisers–so that the Libyan government can assert its authority over its own territory.

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Given how common attacks on U.S. military and diplomatic personnel have become since the 1970s–the great age of international terrorism–it is a little startling to realize that it has been 33 years since an American ambassador was murdered by terrorists. It makes sense that the last such death–that of Ambassador Adolph Dubs in Afghanistan, on February 14, 1979–occurred in Afghanistan at the dawn of its agony, after a Communist coup but before the Soviet invasion. The year 1979 was, in fact, the year when militant Islam first became a major threat to the West. That was the year of the Iranian hostage crisis, the siege of Mecca, the assault on the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad and, of course, the Red Army’s invasion of Afghanistan. That last gave rise to mujahideen groups some of which (e.g., the Haqqani Network) are now fighting American forces. We must hope that the tragic deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and other personnel at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya does not signal yet another era of anti-American attacks in the Middle East–but it might.

At the very least it suggests the uncertainties inherent in the Arab Spring, even in a country such as Libya, where relatively moderate forces have triumphed. The difficulty has been that the government in Tripoli has had trouble asserting its authority and disarming militia groups. Thus it was apparently a radical Islamist militia group that was behind the attack that killed Stevens. Some, no doubt, will take this attack as all the more reason why the U.S. should take a hands-off attitude toward the region. If only we had that luxury. But Libya and its neighbors remain of vital strategic importance for a variety of reasons–not least their oil–and our interests lie in helping the Libyan government to establish its authority. Indeed this latest attack shows just how important it is to step up security assistance–providing everything from weapons to advisers–so that the Libyan government can assert its authority over its own territory.

Similar attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, meanwhile, make clear that the provision of further IMF loans and loan forgiveness by the U.S. must be made conditional on Mohamed Morsi’s government doing more to control Islamist militants. In the longer term, such attacks show the need for the U.S. to do more to aid secular liberal groups in their struggle for power so that the Muslim Brotherhood does not develop a hammerhold on Egypt’s government, which it can then use to whip up hysteria over alleged wrongs done to Islam. Beyond that, the U.S. government must do everything possible–including the unleashing if necessary of Special Operations Forces and covert CIA operatives–to hunt down the perpetrators of the Libyan attack. They must be killed or captured–justice must be done and extremists must know that they will pay a price for killing one of the president’s personal representatives abroad. More broadly, President Obama needs to reconsider his “pivot to the Pacific”: While we do need to build up forces to contain the rise of Chinese power, we cannot safely shift substantial military resources from a region as important or as turbulent as the greater Middle East.

The greatest mistake we could make in this moment of trial would be to appear weak and frightened–an easy mark. It is perfectly proper for the U.S. government to make clear that the actions of amateur film-maker Sam Bacile, who has been quoted saying such revolting things such as “Islam is a cancer,” are in no way reflective of official American policy. But we must also make clear that there is nothing Washington can do to punish or stifle the buffoon, as Morsi demands, because he is exercising his First Amendment rights–and that we will react strongly to attacks on our missions abroad, no matter the justification for those acts.

Looming over the current crisis, of course, is the legacy of Jimmy Carter who went down to defeat in 1980 in no small part because he appeared helpless in the face of attacks on America and our interests in the Middle East. President Obama has a big leg up on Carter–Obama’s commando mission (to kill Osama bin Laden) succeeded while Carter’s mission (to free the hostages in Tehran) failed. But unless Obama shows steely resolve in confronting these latest attacks–which come at the same time as a crisis in U.S.-Israel relations and the possible “unraveling” of Iraq–he may find that foreign policy is not as much an advantage for him in the current campaign season as he had imagined.

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How to Respond to the Embassy Attacks?

It’s all well and good to condemn the film clippings that precipitated the attacks—I myself find them noxious—but neither anger at United States policy nor at the insensitivity or insults of one’s speech ever excuses an attack on an embassy or diplomatic personnel. Diplomats are meant to be representatives and problem-solvers stationed abroad for the convenience of both the United States and the host government; they are not meant to be hostages against which to retaliate.

President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are eulogizing the slain American ambassador and staff members, as they should. The question of what comes next is trickier.

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It’s all well and good to condemn the film clippings that precipitated the attacks—I myself find them noxious—but neither anger at United States policy nor at the insensitivity or insults of one’s speech ever excuses an attack on an embassy or diplomatic personnel. Diplomats are meant to be representatives and problem-solvers stationed abroad for the convenience of both the United States and the host government; they are not meant to be hostages against which to retaliate.

President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are eulogizing the slain American ambassador and staff members, as they should. The question of what comes next is trickier.

Libya has a weak government which has apologized but has struggled to defeat the militias and extremists behind yesterday’s attack in Benghazi. The Egyptian situation is different, as the Egyptian government is stronger and has a greater mandate. It also has not, to my knowledge, unreservedly apologized for the attack on the U.S. embassy in Cairo.

It is important that the United States not show weakness in the face of fire. The State Department should not withdraw its diplomats from Benghazi but should rather redouble them and their protection. The last U.S. ambassador slain in duty is, I believe, Adolph “Spike” Dubs in Kabul in 1979 (if one does not count the 1988 plane crash—likely caused by sabotage or a bomb–which killed Ambassador Arnold Raphael and the president of Pakistan. I had the opportunity to chat with a junior officer serving under Dubs who was present during the botched rescue attempt. Once the building was stormed, he rushed forward with the medical team to the room where the ambassador had been held. When they were around the corner, they heard four more gunshots and the assailants running away: Dubs and three guards lay dead. The bullets recovered from their bodies did not match those used by the hostage-takers or the Afghan SWAT team. The KGB observers did not submit their ammunition for ballistics tests but promised to get back to President Carter. They never did, of course; we did not replace our ambassador but rather scampered away—and the Soviets invaded, believing the United States did not have the wherewithal to defend our own.

When controversy erupted in 2005 about whether newly-elected Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was among the hostage-takers at the U.S. embassy in Tehran, focus on that single question was myopic. The greater revelation from that episode for me was that, more than a quarter-century after those events, the CIA had not gone through every photo of the hostage-takers to identify them. The Libyan government may not yet be able to crackdown, but it is essential that we pulse whatever resources we have to talk to informants and identify the perpetrators. If the Libyan government is unable to arrest them and turn them over to the United States, they should become Predator fodder. Doing nothing would be equivalent to declaring open season on U.S. diplomats around the world.

Egypt is a different story. If there is one lesson from more than three decades of our dealings with the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is that governments will exploit plausible deniability unless we hold them fully accountable. If President Mohamed Morsi wants a single dime of American aid, he should arrest every single Egyptian who violated the embassy walls. Remember, when the U.S. embassy in Tehran was seized on November 4, 1979, it was actually the second attack on the embassy. A few months earlier, Iranians had violated the embassy grounds and Carter administration inaction had convinced them that they could get away with it again. There can be no excuses, nor should President Obama or the Congress accept any.

Another issue we must face is the cost of leading from behind. While members of both President Obama’s team and some among Governor Romney’s advisers celebrate our alliance with Qatar, the fact is that tiny Qatar funds the most radical elements in both Egypt and Libya, elements which now very well may be responsible for the death of American diplomats.

The final issue we must still address, alas, eleven years after 9/11 is what motivates terrorism. It may be tempting to look toward grievance. That may be comforting because, then, if we address the grievance then the terrorism would go away. Unfortunately, that is a false hypothesis, as naïve as it is deadly. It is time to recognize that the problem with Islamist-motivated terrorism has far less to do with grievance and far more to do with ideology. Until we address that we are confronted with an uncompromising, Manichaean ideology, we are condemning ourselves to suffer far more casualties in the future.

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