Was 9-11-12 the Day America Lost its Influence in the Middle East? (Updated)
In a pair of attacks more than 650 miles apart, Islamists stormed and seized two US embassies. In Cairo, Egypt, Islamists scaled the wall, tore down and desecrated the American flag, and hoisted their own Islamic flag which reads: "There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his messenger."
In Benghazi, Libya, Islamists stormed the US consolate and nearly burned it to the ground. One American has reportedly been killed.
While Egypt has long enjoyed friendly relations with the United States, Libya and the US have been enemies since that country sponsored terrorist attacks on the West in the 1980s. Relations had thawed recently after the US helped oust strongman Muammar Gaddafi from power.
The US response to both attacks may go down as the weakest response to any international crisis in living memory.
Whether the attacks were coordinated or viral, they were supposedly centered on a movie that depicts Mohammed in an unflattering light. The attacks, then, resemble the Danish cartoon jihad of 2005, and free speech, as opposed to the embassies, is the actual target. What is at stake is whether the Western idea of pluralism and tolerance for opposing points of view will win out, or whether the Islamists get to veto the rights of others to speak their minds.
In a globally connected world, few questions are more important.
One would expect, or rather hope, that the American response to an attack against one of our core beliefs would be met with strength. Instead, the US embassy in Cairo offered a poisonous bromide of apologies and cowardice:
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
Of the desecration of the American flag, which should offend all citizens of the most powerful nation on earth, the American embassy said nothing.
Embassies on foreign soil are regarded as the sovereign territory to the countries they represent. To these twin attacks on US soil, the administration said nothing.
On the same day both of these Islamist attacks occurred, President Barack Obama did a curious thing. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will travel to the United States for a brief trip at the end of September. He requested a meeting with President Obama. The president turned him down. President Obama will probably reverse course, but the effect of today's refusal is that it will push Israel farther from the US and remind everyone in the region that we are no longer its trustworthy ally.
It isn't difficult to read into the president's lack of response to the attacks on our embassies, and his refusal to adjust his campaign schedule to meet with the leader of our strongest ally in the region, a shift in US policy. Recall that last week, his party attempted to remove language from its platform recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
President Obama may believe that his shift is nothing more than hitching US policy to the "strong horse" in the oil-rich Middle East. After the Arab Spring, that strong horse is clearly Islamism as defined by the Muslim Brotherhood. But his response, and that of the embassy in Cairo, betray weakness. No one respects weakness, and these responses may have cost America what was left of our influence in the region. Who will listen to any nation that can't even be bothered to protect its embassies or its core values?
On page 261 of his book The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama declared that if the post 9-11 political winds shifted in an ugly direction against Muslims, he would stand with them. In the Middle East on September 11, 2012, the political winds shifted heavily against the United States. And Barack Obama did not say a thing.
Update: According to the US embassy in Cairo, Islam is a wonderful religion.
Update: Romney calls Obama administration response "disgraceful."