Commentary Magazine


Topic: embassy attacks

Pakistan Ads Show Obama’s Cluelessness

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.

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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.

Imagine for a second that you’re a Pakistani enraged by the Muhammad video, and you are on your way to a violent riot at the U.S. embassy. Is a commercial of President Obama insisting the U.S. government had nothing to do with the film going to change your mind? The ad buy assumes that the rioters will act rationally when faced with the “truth.” But why should they, when they’re not acting rationally in the first place?

Rioting and setting things on fire is not an understandable or instinctive response to being insulted. That’s not a culturally or religiously-relative point, it’s a universal point. There are millions of devout Muslims in the U.S., many of them immigrants from countries like Libya and Egypt and Pakistan, and yet the YouTube video did not drive them to violent frenzies. Similarly, there are millions of devout Muslims in Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan who didn’t join in on the rampages outside U.S. embassies.

Those who engaged in violent riots this week and last did so for one reason: because they chose to. And why did they choose to? Maybe because there’s no real cost, and a whole lot of benefit. When top U.S. officials respond to wild tantrums across the Muslim world by pleading with crackpots like Terry Jones and blocking anti-Islam YouTube videos, it creates a moral hazard on two levels. First, it rewards these violent uprisings by handing a victory to the Islamist leaders who egged them on. Second, it hands anti-Muslim fringe figures an unhealthy amount of notoriety and power.

There’s nothing wrong with the Obama administration denouncing the anti-Islam film, in the context of condemning the riots. But that’s not what this is. This is a taxpayer-sponsored ad that repudiates a YouTube clip by a private citizen, while accepting the false premise that it was responsible for the violence. The intention is to ease the riots for the moment, but the long- (and short)-term consequence could end up being the opposite.

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Admin Using Fallen Ex-SEALs For Cover?

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 Guardian reports 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.

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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 Guardian reports 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.

Former Navy SEALS, who were in Libya as private contractors, were serving in some capacity unrelated to their official titles. That’s pretty vague, but you can probably connect your own dots from there. Whatever Woods and Doherty were doing, they were not in Benghazi as State Department employees, nor were they tasked with directly protecting the ambassador or the compound.

And yet both Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice have implied they were providing embassy security for the State Department at the time of the attack. During an interview with Jake Tapper earlier this week, Rice rejected charges that the State Department hadn’t provided adequate security for the consulate, saying that “two of the four Americans who were killed were there providing security” along with “other colleagues who were doing the same with them.”

TAPPER: Why was there such a security breakdown? Why was there not better security at the compound in Benghazi? Why were there not U.S. Marines at the embassy in Tripoli?

RICE: Well, first of all, we had a substantial security presence with our personnel…

TAPPER: Not substantial enough, though, right?

RICE: … with our personnel and the consulate in Benghazi. Tragically, two of the four Americans who were killed were there providing security. That was their function. And indeed, there were many other colleagues who were doing the same with them.

It would be perfectly understandable if the administration didn’t get into the details about what Woods and Doherty were doing in Benghazi, particularly if they were there in some covert capacity. But it’s another thing for the administration to use them as cover for the State Department’s failure to provide adequate security. These men served their country with honor, and they deserve more from this administration.

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Obama Official: It Was a Terrorist Attack

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.

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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.

At the White House press briefing yesterday, Jay Carney softened his language from last week, when he had insisted the violence was prompted by the film and had nothing to do with 9/11. While he wouldn’t confirm reports of terrorism, Carney referred to the “precedent in the past where bad actors, extremists who are heavily armed…have taken advantage of and exploited situations that have developed in order to either attack westerners or western assets or Americans or American assets.”

Still, Carney maintained that there was no indication the attack was planned in advance. “Based on the information we had at the time and we have now, we do not yet have indication that it was preplanned or premeditated,” he said.

In other words, a group of terrorists may have just lucked out and come across a spontaneous U.S. embassy protest on September 11, while they were transporting mortars and rocket-propelled grenades through Libya. Not ones to let an opportunity go to waste, they decided to take advantage of the situation. See? A completely reasonable explanation.

The White House is now hastily backtracking on the previous claim that this wasn’t a terrorist attack. But they still won’t acknowledge the advance planning, because that would mean they could have potentially prevented it, but failed to do so.

At the Daily Witness, Ivan Kenneally writes:

Of course, it is infuriating to be bombarded with attempts to spin the sad events of September 11th as feckless as the precautions taken to prevent it. The cavalier abuse of the truth, besides its grinding condescension, sullies the memory of those who died for their country, men already dishonored by the lack of effort devoted to their safety, by the incompetence that compromised their lives. The Obama administration is so singularly obsessed with pursuing every avenue that leads to their own exculpation that they have sacrificed even the bare appearance of coherence, no longer make common cause with the demands of common sense. The families of those brave Americans slain have surely noticed this disrespect with sadness, and our enemies have surely noticed, too, with an emboldening.

Good points. Some may dismiss this messaging debacle as a minor concern, but what signal does our government send to the world when it responds to terrorist attack by condemning fringe anti-Islam YouTube videos and trying to get them pulled from the internet? It looks either completely clueless or completely spineless. This was an enormous blunder by the White House.

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Obama’s First Amendment Double Standard

At the White House press briefing today, Jay Carney took a break from condemning the anti-Islam video that sparked protests this week in order to criticize a French magazine for publishing a cartoon mocking Islam:

“We are aware that a French magazine published cartoons featuring a figure resembling the Prophet Muhammad. Obviously we have questions about the judgment of publishing something like this. We know that these images will be deeply offensive to many and have the potential to be inflammatory. But we’ve spoken repeatedly about the importance of upholding the freedom of expression that is enshrined in our Constitution. In other words, we don’t question the right of something like this to be published. We just question the judgment behind the decision to publish it.

Nothing Carney said is wrong; the cartoon was offensive and publishing it was poor judgment. But notice his tone. The last time the White House weighed in on a major First Amendment controversy, it was freedom of religion during the Ground Zero mosque debate. At the time, Obama struck a very different note:

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At the White House press briefing today, Jay Carney took a break from condemning the anti-Islam video that sparked protests this week in order to criticize a French magazine for publishing a cartoon mocking Islam:

“We are aware that a French magazine published cartoons featuring a figure resembling the Prophet Muhammad. Obviously we have questions about the judgment of publishing something like this. We know that these images will be deeply offensive to many and have the potential to be inflammatory. But we’ve spoken repeatedly about the importance of upholding the freedom of expression that is enshrined in our Constitution. In other words, we don’t question the right of something like this to be published. We just question the judgment behind the decision to publish it.

Nothing Carney said is wrong; the cartoon was offensive and publishing it was poor judgment. But notice his tone. The last time the White House weighed in on a major First Amendment controversy, it was freedom of religion during the Ground Zero mosque debate. At the time, Obama struck a very different note:

Let me be clear: as a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are. The writ of our Founders must endure.

Even the strongest critics of the Ground Zero mosque agreed that the imam had the right to build it; the point was that the majority of Americans considered it highly offensive. And yet Obama would only discuss the legal issue, declining to weigh in on the sensitivities.

“I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there,” Obama said at the time. “I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about. And I think it’s very important as difficult as some of these issues are that we stay focused on who we are as a people and what our values are all about.”

The left praised Obama’s supposedly brave defense of the First Amendment. Well, it’s easy to be brave when you’re lecturing Americans about the importance of religious tolerance at the site of a mass-murder carried out by religious fundamentalists. As for whether the mosque-builders should have been tolerant of the feelings of the 9/11 families — the “wisdom” of their plan apparently wasn’t for Obama to comment on. The former Constitutional law professor was simply defending the First Amendment.

What happened to Obama’s constitutional devotion since then? In the face of the recent protests, the White House isn’t defending the First Amendment right now so much as apologizing for it.

“As I said yesterday, it can be difficult to see in some countries why the U.S. can’t simply eliminate this expression,” Jay Carney said ruefully last week. “But as you know…it’s one of our fundamental principles.”

Instead of enlightening us about the importance of our founding rights and values, the White House scrambled to ask YouTube to remove the offensive video last week. And the Obama administration has been more than willing to weigh in on the poor “judgment” behind the anti-Islam film and cartoons. It’s not so much what the White House is saying that’s noteworthy, it’s the dramatic shift in tone.

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White House: Maybe Embassy Attack Was Planned After All

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.

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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.

Libya is “still a very volatile place [where] there are vast numbers of weapons, and certainly a number of violent groups in the country,” he told reporters at his daily briefing.

“There is an abundance of weapons, including heavy weapons, and there are certainly groups that carry those weapons and look to take advantage of those circumstances—as there are around the region and the world,” Carney said. He did not say whether such groups might be linked to international extremist networks like al-Qaida.

You didn’t have to be briefed by Leon Panetta last week to see that Benghazi carried hallmarks of a planned attack. And while the video may have been used as a distraction, it stretches credulity to think it was a coincidence that the assault took place on the anniversary of September 11.

As more information comes out about the attack, the Obama administration will be put in an increasingly uncomfortable position. For one, it will have to explain the lack of security at the U.S. embassy, and around the ambassador. Second, it will have to explain why it spent days playing into the hands of terrorists by repeatedly condemning the video and trying to get it pulled from YouTube. Third, it will have to explain why it mistook an apparent terrorist attack for a spontaneous protest.

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Re: WH Asks YouTube to Pull Anti-Islam Video

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.

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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.

But the White House’s effort to persuade YouTube to censor itself has a larger significance. Prof. Anthea Butler’s “Sam Bacile deserves arrest” op-ed in USA Today last week is already notorious. (From the balanced world of academia, where tenure is a license to pontificate and deadlines are overrated, I look forward to the publication of Prof. Butler’s The Gospel According to Sarah: How Sarah Palin and the Tea Party are Galvanizing the Religious Right, forthcoming — according to UPenn — from The New Press in Spring 2012.) But over on the Volokh Conspiracy, Eugene Volokh points out that it’s not just professors of religious studies who are eager to start arresting people and banning speech.

On Opinio Juris, Prof. Peter Spiro of Temple, a leading scholar of international law, is making the argument that we need to get with the program and recognize that Europe is right: hate speech can and should be banned. True, in the U.S., that tiresome First Amendment would seem to prevent this, but Prof. Spiro, like Harold Koh, now the legal adviser to the State Department, has an answer: treaties — and, more broadly, recognition of an “international consensus” — will (and should) be used to create “an international norm against hate speech [that would] supply a basis for prohibiting it, the First Amendment notwithstanding. . .  Deploying international law as an interpretive tool reflects a defensive strategy, . . . [that] may mask what is, in fact, a partial displacement of constitutional hegemony.”

The problem with the White House’s efforts is not just that they are wrong in principle and feeble in practice. It’s not just that it has handed all the agenda-defining power to Islamist radicals, and refused to recognize that the video is an act of political judo against the U.S., and a pretext for violence, not its cause, in the Middle East. It’s not even just that it plays into the Organization of the Islamic Conference’s seemingly lost campaign for U.N. action against the “defamation of religion,” which the Obama administration rightly opposed.

The problem is that Prof. Spiro has generously spelled out the progressive game plan: use the international consensus, and the occasional foreign outrage, against the U.S.’s exceptional tradition of free speech (and other forms of U.S. exceptionalism, such as Second Amendment rights) to persuade U.S. authorities to define and use legal means to restrict those rights. And that is exactly what the White House is trying to do.

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Carney: Anti-Islam Video Completely to Blame for ‘Unrest’

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.”

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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.”

And it continued on like that for the rest of the briefing:

“The unrest around the region has been in response to the video.”

“What we have seen is unrest around the region in response to a video that Muslims find offensive.”

“We are working to ensure that our diplomatic personnel and our diplomatic facilities are secure as we deal with the response to this video, which we believe is offensive and disgusting.”

“The cause of the unrest was a video. And that continues today, as you know, as we anticipated. And it may continue for some time.”

“The reason why there’s unrest is because of the film. This is in response to the film… this is not a film that the United States government had anything to do with. We reject its message and its contents we find it both reprehensible.”

“My point was simply that we are responding to and coping with and dealing with…unrest brought about by this offensive video.”

“The unrest we’ve seen is a reaction to a film with which the U.S. government has had no involvement, which we’ve denounced as offensive. As I said yesterday, it can be difficult to see in some countries why the U.S. can’t simply eliminate this expression…but as you know…it’s one of our fundamental principles.”

“We find the video reprehensible and disgusting…This video has nothing to do, has nothing to do with the American government. It has nothing to do with who we are or what we believe.”

Even if the video fueled the protests, how did a low-budget Youtube film that nobody had heard of before last week get dubbed into Arabic and distributed around Muslim countries? The answer is fanatical Islamist leaders who used the film to incite outrage on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

And if you believe the video was the sole drive behind the protests, then why were U.S. flags replaced with the flags of al-Qaeda? Why were terrorists groups reportedly involved in organizing the protests weeks in advance — before the film even came to light?

The Obama administration does not want to talk about terrorism, because it wants to pretend it defeated terrorism by killing Osama bin Laden. They don’t want to mention al-Qaeda, unless of course it’s in the context of a drone our military dropped on one of its leaders. But as the embassy attacks illustrate, the Islamic terror threat has not disappeared. It hasn’t been vanquished by the lofty speeches of a Nobel Peace Prize-winning president, or eradicated by his policy of covert assassinations. The fact that the White House hasn’t seemed to grasp this is what made today’s briefing so tone-deaf, and so startling.

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Did U.S. Know About Embassy Attack Threat in Advance?

The Independent reports 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.

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The Independent reports 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.

Whether or not the Obama administration was aware of the threat, it seems more likely by the day that these attacks were planned in advance. The simultaneous embassy breaches in Cairo and Benghazi, the fact that both were reportedly instigated by terrorist groups, the precision of the mortar attacks in Benghazi, and the militants’ apparent knowledge of the embassy safehouse all point to advance planning.

Captain Fathi al-Obeidi, commander of a special operations force for the February 17 brigade, who responded to the attack that night, said it appeared to be a two-pronged operation that was plotted beforehand.

“I don’t know how they found the place to carry out the attack. It was planned, the accuracy with which the mortars hit us was too good for any ordinary revolutionaries,” Obeidi told the Independent. “It began to rain down on us, about six mortars fell directly on the path to the villa.”

Another indication that these weren’t just instances of spontaneous mob violence: sensitive documents were reportedly stolen from the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, which is something that you would expect from a terrorist cell, but not a crowd of rampaging religious zealots. The Independent reports:

The US administration is now facing a crisis in Libya. Sensitive documents have gone missing from the consulate in Benghazi and the supposedly secret location of the “safe house” in the city, where the staff had retreated, came under sustained mortar attack. Other such refuges across the country are no longer deemed “safe”.

Some of the missing papers from the consulate are said to list names of Libyans who are working with Americans, putting them potentially at risk from extremist groups, while some of the other documents are said to relate to oil contracts.

At Powerline, John Hinderaker calls for a Congressional investigation. That certainly seems necessary. In the best case, this was a devastating security bungle by the State Department. In the worst case, the U.S. government failed to respond to red flags of a looming terrorist attack.

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The Unanswered Questions on Libya Attack

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.

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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 decision to deploy some extra Marines to Yemen and Libya, among other places, is a good one but that’s only a temporary fix since, contrary to myth, Marines are seldom the main security force at a diplomatic installation and they seldom if ever provide personal security to the “principals,” such as Ambassadors. The Marine presence is important but in most cases symbolic since the bulk of exterior security is normally provided by local contractors and local security forces and personal security details for the ambassador and other senior figures are provided by diplomatic security agents and foreign contractors. Those are the areas that need examination, including examining the possibility that Libyan jihadists may have infiltrated either the consulate’s guard force or the local security establishment. Washington needs to figure out why the Benghazi security setup was so flawed and fix the shortcomings ASAP

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Future of U.S.-Egypt Relations Not So Clear

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.

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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 events of the past few days show just how hard it is to determine the future course of Egyptian policy: Morsi did not grant enough police protection to the U.S. embassy to prevent demonstrators from getting inside the grounds and he was halting and late in condemning the attack. His hesitancy stands in contrast to the prompt, full-throated condemnations from Libyan leaders–who are genuinely pro-American–of the attack which killed our ambassador in Benghazi. Morsi has been a little tougher in his language and actions today but only after a telephone conversation with Obama that had to be uncomfortable for both of them.

Like most politicians, Morsi appears to be triangulating between competing demands–in this case the demands of the U.S., which holds Egypt’s purse strings, and the demands of hard-line Salafists and Muslim Brothers. Morsi’s own views are unclear, perhaps conveniently cloaked for the time being. To make matters more complicated, it is unclear to what extent Morsi controls his own security forces even after having replaced many of the senior generals. There is even a conspiracy theory floating around that the security men might be tacitly cooperating with the Salafists to embarrass Morsi.

To understand how complicated and uncertain the situation is, it helps to recall Iran in 1979. After the shah was toppled, there was a power struggle between Islamists and secularists for control of the government. Radical students stormed the US Embassy and took its personnel hostage primarily to embarrass the moderates and force a crisis with the “Great Satan” that would allow the extremists around Ayatollah Khomeini to consolidate power. Something similar could be occurring in Egypt today. The U.S. must use what leverage it has–at this point, primarily financial–to shape the conduct of Egypt, but we must be aware that attacks on our embassy are primarily a manifestation of a local power struggle whose outcome we cannot dictate.

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Why Aren’t Marines Carrying Live Ammo?

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.

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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.

Nor should we dismiss the attack on the embassy as simply a protest that got out of hand, but which was fortunately diffused without the loss of life. Remember: The November 4, 1979 hostage seizure in Iran was actually the second assault on the U.S. embassy in Tehran. On February 14, radicals stormed the embassy much like they did in Cairo, in an incident now long since forgotten. Had Carter upped the defense of the embassy then, Iranian revolutionaries might not have triumphed the second time around. Alas, it seems that Obama’s team, like Carter’s before it, refuses to learn from experience and so condemns Americans to make the same mistakes repeatedly.

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Libya Attack Pre-Planned By Terror Group?

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.

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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.

Yesterday it appeared that Islamist leaders had seized on the low-budget anti-Islam film “The Innocence of Muslims” in order to gin up outrage and attract more people to the protests. But the purpose of the film may have been even more sinister than that, according to U.S. and Libyan sources who spoke to CNN. The protest over the film may have been conceived as a diversion, so that militants could launch an attack on U.S. officials being evacuated from the embassy in Libya:

Noman Benotman, once a leading member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and now based at the Quilliam Foundation in London told CNN, “An attack like this would likely have required preparation. This would not seem to be merely a protest which escalated.” …

“According to our sources, the attack against the consulate had two waves. The first attack led to U.S. officials being evacuated from the consulate by Libyan security forces, only for the second wave to be launched against U.S. officials after they were kept in a secure location.”

That analysis is supported by U.S. sources who say the attack on the consulate is believed to have been pre-planned. The sources say the attackers used the protest as a diversion to launch the attack, although the sources could not say if the attackers instigated the protest or merely took advantage of it.

If true, the implications may be far more serious than initially thought. It could mean that this wasn’t a spontaneous act of mob violence, but a pre-conceived terrorist attack on a U.S. embassy, on the eleventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

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Shut Up, They Explained: Romney’s Day

In the New York Post today, I write about the astonishing spectacle of the mainstream media and the foreign-policy establishment waxing wroth at Mitt Romney for daring to describe the statement from the Cairo embassy expressing sympathy for the expression of offense by Egyptian radicals at the gates as having been issued by “the Obama administration.” It was, in fact, its “first response,” as the statement opened with the words “the Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.”

This was, the enraged managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine said on Twitter last night, a “disgusting response, and most sane people have rightly condemned it.” (italics added)

Foreign Policy‘s man—half-shrink, half Savonarola—was crystallizing the general attitude being expressed all day yesterday on Twitter, on chat shows, in blog posts, and in articles. That attitude hardened, deepened, and became conventional wisdom literally before our eyes. It was not just that Romney had erred in making a statement too hastily, before the facts were in; it was not just that Romney had behaved in a politically opportunistic fashion; it was not just that Romney had sought political advantage on 9/11 when he and Obama had supposedly promised not to do politics (a useful corrective to this fantasy can be found here by Steve Hayes); it was not just that it was illegitimate for Romney to criticize Obama in the midst of a foreign crisis; it was that the very view he was expressing was itself illegitimate.

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In the New York Post today, I write about the astonishing spectacle of the mainstream media and the foreign-policy establishment waxing wroth at Mitt Romney for daring to describe the statement from the Cairo embassy expressing sympathy for the expression of offense by Egyptian radicals at the gates as having been issued by “the Obama administration.” It was, in fact, its “first response,” as the statement opened with the words “the Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.”

This was, the enraged managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine said on Twitter last night, a “disgusting response, and most sane people have rightly condemned it.” (italics added)

Foreign Policy‘s man—half-shrink, half Savonarola—was crystallizing the general attitude being expressed all day yesterday on Twitter, on chat shows, in blog posts, and in articles. That attitude hardened, deepened, and became conventional wisdom literally before our eyes. It was not just that Romney had erred in making a statement too hastily, before the facts were in; it was not just that Romney had behaved in a politically opportunistic fashion; it was not just that Romney had sought political advantage on 9/11 when he and Obama had supposedly promised not to do politics (a useful corrective to this fantasy can be found here by Steve Hayes); it was not just that it was illegitimate for Romney to criticize Obama in the midst of a foreign crisis; it was that the very view he was expressing was itself illegitimate.

It was, in other words, illegitimate to say that the official statement released by Obama’s mission to Egypt was not to be taken as an expression of the view of the Obama administration, especially since it was echoed in later tweets and in a statement by Hillary Clinton. The line yesterday was that since the statement had been disavowed, Romney had been dishonest by “doubling down” on his view in a press conference. But that disavowal was political, not ideological. It is the gospel of the foreign-policy establishment that the rages of Islamic radicals are to be understood and the views of anti-Islamic radicals are to be apologized for by people who are not responsible for them and a nation that did not disseminate them and therefore are neither responsible for nor the appropriate deliverers of an apology. And the Obama administration represents the distillation of the current foreign-policy establishment view.

Romney can be criticized for attacking it. Romney can be criticized for what he said, for his wording, for his ideas. He can be faulted for his timing—although such criticism is really only about style and political smarts, not substance. But the onslaught yesterday wasn’t about that. What Mark Halperin calls “the gang of 500″—the world of conventional opinion—was saying one thing and one thing only to Mitt Romney, and that was: You are not to speak.

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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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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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