After many dismaying days of watching anti-American protests across the Middle East, galvanized by an obscure anti-Mohammad video made by someone or other, Americans now have a protest to cheer: Libyans have taken to the streets en masse in Benghazi to make clear their anger at the militia groups they hold responsible for the attack that killed the popular American ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his colleagues. Fed up that Libya’s nascent, moderate government is unable to disarm militias, the people have taken the task into their own hands, forcibly disarming several militia groups and storming the headquarters of the extremist Ansar al Sharia group. Some 30,000 people marched through Benghazi, bearing signs that included “We want justice for Chris” and “The ambassador was Libya’s friend.” Protesters even chanted at Ansar al Sharia members: “You terrorists, you cowards. Go back to Afghanistan.”
This is, to put it mildly, heartening, and it shows that the people of Libya are hardly the anti-American radicals that many imagine them to be based on the actions of a few hotheads. One obvious takeaway is that the Middle East is not a uniform mass of sharia-spouting, America-hating crazies–which is, alas, the crude stereotype which remains popular in too many corners of the West. There are, in fact, complex forces at play and, while the radicals may grab the headlines, there is a “silent majority”–in the case of Libya, silent no more–that is more interested in peaceful social and economic development than it is in waging jihad against the West.
Politico reports that the Obama administration is now running a TV ad in Pakistan, condemning the anti-Islam film that it’s been blaming for the anti-American violence across the Muslim world:
The Obama administration is airing ads on Pakistani television condemning the anti-Islamic film “The Innocence of Muslims,” a State Department spokeswoman confirmed Thursday.
“As you know, after the video came out, there was concern in lots of bodies politic, including Pakistan, as to whether this represented the views of the U.S. Government. So in order to ensure we reached the largest number of Pakistanis – some 90 million, as I understand it in this case with these spots – it was the judgment that this was the best way to do it,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
The ads show clips of President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemning the film in English (but dubbed in Urdu) in remarks they made last week, emphasizing that it was not produced or authorized by the United States government.
Obama administration officials have denied there were security breakdowns at the Benghazi consulate, with UN Ambassador Susan Rice citing the two former Navy SEALs killed in the attack, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, as part of the “substantial security presence” at the compound. But the Washington Guardianreports today that Woods and Doherty were not part of the official security detail:
The officials provided the information to the Washington Guardian, saying they feared the Obama administration’s scant description of the episode left a misimpression that the two ex-Navy SEALs might have been responsible for the ambassador’s personal safety or become separated from him.
“Woods and Doherty weren’t part of the detail, nor were they personally responsible for the ambassador’s security, but they stepped into the breach when the attacks occurred and their actions saved others lives — and they shouldn’t be lumped in with the security detail,” one senior official said, speaking only on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the State Department. …
In fact, officials said, the two men were personal service contractors whose official function was described as “embassy security,” but whose work did not involve personal protection of the ambassador or perimeter security of the compound.
Josh Rogin reports that a top administration official conceded what had long become obvious during a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing yesterday:
The Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was in fact “a terrorist attack” and the U.S. government has indications that members of al Qaeda were directly involved, a top Obama administration official said Wednesday morning.
“I would say yes, they were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy,” Matt Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said Wednesday at a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, in response to questioning from Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT) about the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
After insisting last week that the U.S. embassy attack in Benghazi was prompted entirely by an anti-Islam video, the White House is now scrambling to walk back that position, which looks more absurd by the day (h/t Allahpundit):
Press secretary Jay Carney suggested the assault could have been the work of an armed group looking to “take advantage” of demonstrations he blamed on an anti-Islam video available online.
Carney repeatedly described that footage as the “precipitating” cause of the protests and the violence targeting American diplomatic posts in Egypt, Libya, Sudan, Tunisia and elsewhere.
Alana’s right that the White House’s effort to encourage YouTube to take the video down is a “dangerous precedent.” It’s also Sisyphean. YouTube is just the best known video hosting site: if they take the video down, it will show up elsewhere. Or for a nominal fee, its creators — or anyone else — could serve it from their own website. The whole approach is not only dangerous; it’s ridiculous. As the U.S. movie and music industries have found out, it’s impossible to win a war against the Internet if your only weapon is take-down notices.
The White House’s effort to play on YouTube’s terms of service could only have arisen in the context of an Administration that desperately wanted the video to go away, but recognized that mounting a legal challenge to it was a public opinion loser. I’d love to have been in the room when some bright young staffer said, “We can’t tell them to take it down. We can’t even ask. But what if we ask if it violates their terms of service?” I wonder if anyone in Silicon Valley is rethinking their support for Obama 2012 now.
It seems so so long since President Obama’s famous Cairo speech.
On June 4, 2009, speaking at Cairo University, the president, who still has not visited America’s most stalwart ally in the region, Israel, told his listeners that he was turning the page on the acrimony that had previously defined relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world: “I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”
Shortly before protestors poured into the streets of Cairo’s Tahrir Square to put the final nail into the coffin of Hosni Mubarak’s regime, the headline on the Presidential Daily Brief produced by the Central Intelligence Agency for the president was, according to word among administration officials, something to the effect of “Tunisian Unrest Unlikely to Spread to Egypt.”
It is no secret that the Arab Spring uprisings took not only the United States by surprise, but also the Muslim Brotherhood and more radical Islamists as well. The Muslim Brotherhood filled the vacuum but, in recent days, the radicals appear to be unfurling a deliberate plan to whip up fervor and seize the initiative. The Bolsheviks are now supplanting the Mensheviks. This, too, appears to have caught the CIA and many of our diplomats stationed in the Middle East by surprise. It shouldn’t have: During the Iranian crisis 33-years ago, radicals seized the US Embassy as much to rally the hardliners for domestic reasons as they did out of animus toward the United States.
White House spokesman Jay Carney just held a press briefing that was equal parts absurd and horrifying. Even as American embassies are mobbed by radicals, and our flags are torched and replaced with Islamist banners, Carney continued to repeat — almost as if he were trying to convince himself — that the riots are purely a reaction to a low-budget anti-Islam Youtube film. Nothing to do with the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Nothing to do with anti-American sentiment. Nothing to do with support for al-Qaeda or Islamic terrorism.
“Let’s be clear: these protests were in reaction to a video that had spread to the region,” said Carney. “We have no information to suggest that it was a preplanned attack.”
“The unrest we’ve seen around the region has been in reaction to a video that many Muslims find offensive,” added Carney. “It is not a response to 9/11.”
The Independentreports that the U.S. State Department was warned about threats to its embassies 48 hours before the attack in Benghazi, but did not respond with heightened security:
According to senior diplomatic sources, the US State Department had credible information 48 hours before mobs charged the consulate in Benghazi, and the embassy in Cairo, that American missions may be targeted, but no warnings were given for diplomats to go on high alert and “lockdown”, under which movement is severely restricted.
The Obama administration denies this, telling Politico there’s no intelligence indicating the attacks were planned in advance. While there were clearly breakdowns in State Department security, it’s hard to believe the Obama administration would have intelligence of an attack and not respond by heightening security.
As Americans mourn the loss of our ambassador in Libya and three of his colleagues, the circumstances of their demise remain murky. Some accounts suggest there was a spontaneous demonstration at the Benghazi consulate followed by a well-executed ambush against consulate personnel while they were being evacuated; other accounts suggest that the initial assault was not the result of demonstrations but planned by a jihadist group in advance. Whatever the case, the situation raises an obvious question: Why didn’t the consulate have better protection, especially given the presence there of Ambassador Chris Stevens? Was there an intelligence failure, a failure of security, or simply a “perfect storm” that could not have reasonably been anticipated? These are all questions that both the State Department and Congress need to probe, and urgently, because of the continuing threat against American outposts in the Middle East.
In general, the State Department has done an excellent job of protecting its ambassadors and other diplomatic personnel–not a single senior diplomat has been killed so far in either Iraq or Afghanistan, notwithstanding numerous plots aimed at doing just that. Partly this is a matter of serendipity, but it’s also a tribute to the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security and to the private security contractors it has hired, including the now-notorious Blackwater. In my experience traveling around the Middle East, Regional Security Officers–the officials responsible for security in each embassy–tend to err on the side of caution, so much so that their desire to protect their charges often makes it hard to conduct the outreach with the local community needed for successful diplomatic initiatives. That makes it all the more surprising that Ambassador Stevens did not have more protection.
The attack on the U.S. embassy in Cairo and the Egyptian government’s lame response have understandably drawn international attention. But the same isn’t true for Egypt’s other provocative moves of the last month. And given that American and European officials have been claiming for years that Mideast peace is one of their top foreign policy priorities, their deafening silence over these moves is incomprehensible.
During this month, Egypt first violated the cardinal principle of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty by remilitarizing the Sinai, and then announced plans to spend a significant chunk of the international aid it is seeking on state-of-the-art submarines rather than its shattered economy. Both the treaty violation and the purchase of weaponry that has no conceivable use except against Israel clearly make the prospect of another Israeli-Egyptian war more likely, which ought to be reason enough to object: Of all the times Israel has tried ceding land for peace, the deal with Egypt is the only case in which it actually worked, so if the peace with Egypt goes, even doves like Israeli cabinet minister Dan Meridor have warned that Israelis will never sign another land-for-peace deal.
When President Obama said during an interview that “we” don’t consider Egypt an ally, apparently that “we” didn’t include his own State Department. After being pressed by a reporter, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland confirmed today that, yes, technically Egypt is still a U.S. ally (via Politico):
That’s all the State Department can really say, given the fact that Egypt is classified as a major non-NATO ally, which makes it eligible to receive certain types of military assistance and other benefits. Which begs the question — what exactly was Obama getting at when he said otherwise?
President Obama’s comments on Egypt conform to Michael Kinsley’s famous definition of a gaffe: when a politician inadvertently tells the truth. In an interview with Telemundo, Obama said:
I don’t think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy. They’re a new government that is trying to find its way. They were democratically elected. I think that we are going to have to see how they respond to this incident.”
As Alana notes, the administration immediately tried to walk back the president’s comment, with an NSC spokesman saying, “I think folks are reading way too much into this.” Hardly. When the president publicly questions whether a country like Egypt, which has been the second-largest recipient of American aid since the 1970s, is still an ally, it suggests that profound changes are afoot. As Obama suggested, it is still unclear where the new government led by Mohamed Morsi will end up–as an ally, an enemy or (more likely) somewhere in between, as a North African version of Pakistan.
The Washington Free Beacon reports that Anne Patterson, the U.S. Ambassador to Cairo, forbade U.S. Marines guarding the embassy from carrying live ammo. Ambassadors might be kings (or queens) of the compound, but her pronouncement was nothing short of professional incompetence.
Forget about the Obama administration reverting to the pre-9/11 era. Patterson set the clock back to pre-1983. After all, it was during that year that Ronald Reagan, in perhaps one of the greatest mistakes of his presidency, ordered U.S. Marines into Beirut as peacekeepers. The Marines guarding their barracks, however, were not authorized to carry live ammunition. Had the guards been carrying loaded weapons, they might have shot the suicide truck bomber who rushed the gates, setting off an explosion which killed 241 American servicemen.
Yesterday I flagged a USA Today report that this week’s Cairo embassy protest was actually announced on Aug. 30 by an Egyptian terrorist group calling for the release of Omar Abdel Rahman (aka the “blind sheik”). Today, CNN reports that the Libya attack also appeared to be orchestrated in advance, by a pro-al-Qaeda group called the “Imprisoned Omar Abdel Rahman Brigades,” which, as its name suggests, also follows the Egyptian blind sheik (h/t Heritage):
A pro-al Qaeda group responsible for a previous armed assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is the chief suspect in Tuesday’s attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya, sources tracking militant Islamist groups in eastern Libya say.
They also note that the attack immediately followed a call from al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri for revenge for the death in June of Abu Yahya al-Libi, a senior Libyan member of the terror group.
The group suspected to be behind the assault — the Imprisoned Omar Abdul Rahman Brigades — first surfaced in May when it claimed responsibility for an attack on the International Red Cross office in Benghazi. The following month the group claimed responsibility for detonating an explosive device outside the U.S. Consulate and later released a video of that attack.
Even before President Morsi’s accession to power in Egypt, many journalists, diplomats, and former officials traveled to Cairo to engage with the Muslim Brotherhood. In the forthcoming issue of COMMENTARY, I’ll talk a lot more about how so many Western officials came to see the Brotherhood as a partner rather than pariah. I won’t spoil that article, but not surprisingly, one theme is that the Brotherhood sometimes says one thing in Arabic and quite another in English.
The protests and riots in Egypt over the last couple days have provided a priceless example. While the Muslim Brotherhood’s twitter account in English said they were “relieved none of @USembassycairo staff was hurt,” their Arabic language tweets were praising and inciting the protestors. According to Al Ahram:
This reconciliatory tweet, however, was posted while the Brotherhood’s Arabic-language Twitter account and its official website were both praising the protests — staged against a US-made film judged defamatory towards Islam — and calling for a million man march on Friday. One Arabic language article on the Brotherhood’s site sported the headline ‘Egyptians rise to defend the Prophet’. Noting the contradiction, the US Embassy in Cairo tweeted a tart response from its own account: “Thanks. By the way, have you checked out your own Arabic feeds? I hope you know we read those too.”
In an interview with Telemundo, President Obama said that he did not consider Egypt an ally or an enemy. He may want to confirm that with the State Department, which still appears to have Egypt designated as a major non-NATO ally (MMNA). That designation gives it special status under the Foreign Assistance Act and the Arms Export Control Act:
The following countries have been designated as major non-NATO allies: Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, and Republic of Korea. Taiwan shall be treated as though it were designated a major non-NATO ally (as defined in section 644(q) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2403(q)).
As the United States mourns the horrific murders of four Americans at the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, it’s also important to remember that the violent thugs who stormed the embassy do not represent all Libyans. Yesterday, a crowd of Libyans hit the streets to protest the attack, waving signs in broken English that read “Sorry People of America this is not the [b]ehavior of our [I]slam and pro[phe]t,” and “Chris Stevens Was a Friend to All Libyans.”
Stevens, 52, had devoted himself to helping liberate the country he died in. ABC News reports on his daring entrance into Libya during the first days of the civil war:
Americans may think about U.S. embassies in terms of diplomats meeting with foreign officials and negotiating on items of U.S. national interest, but for most locals, the embassy and its attached consulate is just the place one needs to go to get a visa. Whereas most Europeans and some other nationals can get visa requirements waived, the process throughout the Middle East is onerous, involving interviews and background checks and can take weeks.
If locals attack the U.S. embassy, one response should be easy: Closing the consulates. There is no reason why U.S. diplomats should put themselves at risk for the convenience of nationals whose governments refuse to abide by their commitment to protect diplomats and diplomatic property. This does not by any means ban Egyptians, Yemenis, or Libyans from receiving American visas, but like their Iranian counterparts, it would force them to travel to a neighboring country—sometimes repeatedly—to undertake the visa application and interview process. Let Libyans travel to Tunis or Egyptians and Yemenis to Jeddah. If they can’t afford the trip, too bad.