Is it possible to learn from history? Apparently not if you are an American president determined to win the love of the Islamic world. Over 33 years ago, Islamist rioters stormed an American embassy. U.S. sovereignty was violated and hostages were taken. The immediate response from America, though, was conciliatory–as if those who had insulted the United States could be convinced to think better of their target if those who had just been attacked made enough apologies. The result was the Iran hostage crisis that helped bring down the administration of Jimmy Carter. You might think American diplomats would have learned the lessons of Carter’s Iran debacle but judging by the statement issued today by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, perhaps that chapter of history is no longer considered required reading in the age of Obama.
Today a mob numbering in the hundreds stormed the Cairo embassy on the pretext of being upset about the alleged appearance on YouTube of a film made by Egyptian-American that is derogatory to Islam. The mob scaled the wall of the embassy, entered the courtyard and tore down and burned the U.S. flag that flew over the diplomatic enclave and raised in its place a black Islamic banner that is associated with al-Qaeda. According to the Associated Press, no embassy personnel were hurt since nearly all of them had fled the compound before the mob arrived. Egyptian riot police did not stop the rioters.
In response to this outrage, this is the statement issued by the United States in Egypt:
The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others
No mention was made to the invasion of the embassy or the insult to the symbol of the United States that is as dear to Americans than Islam is to Egyptians. Rather than making it clear that this breach of diplomatic immunity and common decency requires the apology of the Egyptian government and the punishment of those responsible, the Obama administration bowed and apologized.
Americans do respect all faiths and religious believers including Islam. But we also respect freedom of speech and that gives the person who made the offending film — a member of the Egyptian Coptic faith that has suffered bitter persecution and violence at the hands of the Muslim majority — the right to say what he likes whether the Egyptians like it or not. More to the point, it is not the business of the State Department, the Cairo Embassy or any American official to apologize for or to in any engage in the controversy over this film, let alone issue a statement that appears to rationalize a violent assault on a U.S. embassy on the 9/11 anniversary.
Ruthie Blum’s new book To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama and the “Arab Spring,” traces the eerie parallels between Carter’s Middle East blunders and those of the current administration as it has failed to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat and the Arab Spring. The fiasco in Cairo is just one more piece of evidence proving her thesis.
It should also be pointed out that Democrats have scoffed at Mitt Romney’s criticism of President Obama’s inveterate apologizing for America and claimed it was an inaccurate Republican calumny of the president. Romney, who has been taking an unjustified beating in the press on foreign and defense policy, should have something to say about this latest instance of Obama’s supine attitude toward America’s foes.
UPDATE: Subsequent developments have made it clear that the timeline for the U.S. embassy apology was not as damning as it first appeared. Further thoughts on why the problem here is bigger than one ill-considered apology can be found here.