Commentary Magazine


Topic: embassy attack

State Dept. Contradicts Obama on Egypt

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?

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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?

So far, the White House hasn’t given a clear answer. Spokesperson Jay Carney struggled to spin Obama out of the blunder earlier today, and only ended up making matters worse:

The White House said immediately that there was no change in policy.

“The president, in diplomatic and legal terms, was speaking correctly,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “We do not have an alliance treaty with Egypt. Ally is a legal term of art. As I said, we do not have a mutual defense treaty with Egypt, like we do, for example, with our NATO allies.”

As Politico’s Byron Tau points out, that would mean other designated major non-NATO allies — including Israel — aren’t technically “allies,” at least according to Obama’s “legal term of art” definition. Complicating matters further is the fact that the term “ally” is in the title of the designation.

It’s actually pretty clear what Obama meant to say about Egypt. Obviously the Obama administration is wary about the new government, and for good reason. But the ally comment was a mistake from both a diplomatic and legal perspective. It certainly couldn’t have sent a comforting sign to other major non-NATO allies in the region, and it stepped on his campaign’s efforts to portray him as a competent leader on foreign policy.

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Brotherhood: Do as I Say, Not as I Say

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.”

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.”

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Obama Sounding Confused About Egypt

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)).

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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)).

If Egypt is not an ally, can Obama explain why the U.S. continues to support the country via military cooperation and foreign aid? And can he also explain when exactly Egypt dropped from “ally” status? As recently as March 23, White House spokesman Jay Carney referred to the country as “an important ally in the region” during a press briefing. When was the severing point? Before or after Morsi’s election?

UPDATE: Josh Rogin spoke to National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, who slammed critics for “reading way too much into” Obama’s comments, and said Egypt’s status as a Major Non-NATO Ally hasn’t been changed:

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor told The Cable Thursday that the administration is not signaling a change in that status.

“I think folks are reading way too much into this,” Vietor said. “‘Ally’ is a legal term of art. We don’t have a mutual defense treaty with Egypt like we do with our NATO allies. But as the president has said, Egypt is longstanding and close partner of the United States, and we have built on that foundation by supporting Egypt’s transition to democracy and working with the new government.”

That doesn’t exactly clarify the situation.

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Libyans Remember Ambassador Stevens

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:

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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:

During the early days of the Libyans’ fight to overthrow Moammar Gadhafi, Christopher Stevens wrangled a ride on a Greek cargo ship and sailed into the rebels’ stronghold city of Benghazi. He arrived at a time when the crackle of gunfire could be heard each night.

Stevens and his team didn’t even have a place to stay, but found space in a hotel briefly, moving out after a car bomb went off in the parking lot, according to his own account in State Magazine last year.

Stevens, whose diplomatic foothold were a couple of battered tables, was on literally on the rebels’ side while the revolution was at its most vulnerable and in danger of being crushed by Gadhafi’s troops who were moving on the city. The threat was pushed back at the last minute by the intervention of NATO planes which began bombing Gadhafi’s tanks and troops.

It’s impossible to thank the late Ambassador Stevens — and many of the other American diplomats abroad — enough for the sacrifices they make daily to try to build a better future for volatile and dangerous countries that are not even their own. Without them, much of the good that America does in the world would not be possible.

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Attack the Embassy? No Visas for You

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.

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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.

Such a sanction is reversible. The State Department could return visa services to such countries after their governments prosecute those who violated the embassy and when host countries make restitution to the United States for the attack on its property. It should be a priority to identify those criminals involved in the riots and attacks. Those who attack the embassy—and their immediate families—should be banned in perpetuity from any U.S. visa, be it for medical reasons, education, or tourism. It is shameful that no such sanction, for example, exists for Iranians involved in the hostage crisis. Under no circumstance should U.S. consular officials risk their lives to convenience countries in which mobs violate American embassies and consulates.

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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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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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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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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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