Violent extremists stormed America’s embassy in Libya yesterday, killing four innocent people, including our ambassador, Chris Stevens. Killing diplomats is one of the most provocative acts of war, and this is the first time in decades that an American ambassador has been killed. What emboldened our enemies enough to commit this evil act?
When a lawless mob of Islamist extremists used reports about a film that is insulting to Islam as an excuse to overrun the American Embassy in Cairo, our government issued a statement condemning … the film. While the protesters were sitting brazenly on the Embassy walls, openly mocking Obama (chanting, “Take a picture, Obama; we are all Osama”), did the American government condemn the lack of host government protection or the violation of our sovereign territory? No — they apologized that the film “hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.”
This pusillanimous reaction symbolizes the Obama administration’s failure; it also marked the path toward the murder of Chris Stevens.
When extremists in Libya saw their brethren in Cairo successfully humiliate America, and pay no price for it, they knew it was open season on Americans. They followed suit, but were more violent, and did not stop at replacing and desecrating the flag. Obama’s reaction to the killing echoed the statement from Embassy Cairo: he condemned the killing, but was more specific in his condemnation of the people who made the film. His soft answer will jeopardize the lives and safety of our other diplomats everywhere in the world.
And what was our president doing yesterday afternoon while this was unfolding? A radio interview with a Miami DJ known as “The Pimp with the Limp.” When asked how he was doing, our commander-in-chief answered, “Blessed and highly favored.” He said how honored he was to be on the show: “You’ve got Pitbull and Flo Rida and all these guys just beating a path to your door.” That is how he chose to spend September 11, and what he did while our Embassy was occupied.
People who govern most countries in the world understand that leadership requires respect. We should have earned the love and gratitude of most nations, but no wise leader expects to receive it, or bases foreign policy upon it. A wise leader knows that the world stage includes actors who understand only respect, or fear. Obama is not that leader.
Statements that condemn free expression rather than actual violence are more evidence to the world’s worst actors that our president does not respect our country or our rights. For every wild extremist offended by an utterly tasteless and offensive film, a dozen more people in these countries look to America as a beacon of hope, expressly because we allow free expression. They too are offended by the film, but they recognize that the same free market of ideas that produces that trash also allows the greatest innovations and ideals in human history. They need us to stand against the forces of ignorance and stimulus-response politics that they see in their countries, not to capitulate to them. Among the ironies I witnessed during my Middle East service was a protest in Jordan against U.S. policy toward the Palestinians, after which nearly 40 percent of the protesters lined up at the American Embassy to apply for visas.
They understand freedom; what they don’t understand is our failure to defend it.
Barack Obama began his presidency by touring the world, apologizing for America. He ignored the winds of change when they blew most fiercely in Iran, and stood by while government thugs ruthlessly shut down democracy protests. But when those winds blew through the capital of one of our greatest allies in the region, he metaphorically pushed Hosni Mubarak out the window, into the storm. He “led from behind” while Libyans rebelled against Gadhafi, waiting while our natural allies among the rebels were slaughtered; waiting until Islamist forces stepped up to provide the arms and ammunition we refused to supply.
He refuses to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. In an attempt to defuse critics of his inaction, he has jeopardized intelligence operations by leaking confirmation of U.S. involvement in successful covert actions to slow down Iran’s nuclear engineering.
In Syria, while Obama dithered, he presented Americans with a false dilemma between doing nothing, and sending in troops on the ground. Other nations and forces defied America’s incomprehensible universal arms embargo, and supplied weapons to their allies. Subsequently, their allies are dominating the battles, while our allies have bandages and radios.
Foreign leaders study our political news and understand our electoral cycles. They know that a Romney administration, like the Reagan administration after Jimmy Carter, will bring a more robust defense of American interests. They are jockeying for leadership and power before the new sheriff comes to town.
Soft answers to provocations have produced a climate in which America is neither feared nor respected, nor even loved. Protesters feel safe scaling Embassy walls, and host governments allow it with impunity. If soft answers to the provocation in Cairo led to four innocent deaths in Libya, what will come of the soft answer to those deaths? Who will protect the rest of our diplomats — or our citizens, or our interests — when our president is more worried about soothing hurt feelings and bantering with a DJ than about American security and lives?
We need a leader who values our history, our freedoms, our leadership of the world; who will defend our interests without embarrassment or apology. Barack Obama has shown — again — he is not that leader.
Bart Marcois was a career Foreign Service Officer, serving in four Middle Eastern countries. He was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy for International Affairs.