Opinion

The Middle East protesters, their motivation and President Obama’s policy

Tom Rogan Commentator

Today has brought yet more violent protests against diplomatic facilities around the world. In addition to the attacks on U.S. embassies, the German and British embassies in Sudan were also attacked. News reports suggest that the confrontations between security forces and protesters in Tunisia and Egypt have resulted in a number of casualties. Fortunately, it now appears that host nation security forces are increasingly stepping in to protect diplomatic facilities (though far from sufficiently). I have a number of observations.

1.) These protests are not about respect for Islam. The protesters are concerned with what they perceive as the growing reach of modernity into their societies. Put simply, they hate Western liberalism and they hate the United States. In my opinion, Ari Fleischer was right to argue that the protests illustrate the truth of Mitt Romney’s earlier comments in Israel, where he spoke about the importance of social values. Until a society accepts the value of free and open debate, it will face continual outpourings of violent rage. It is notable that there have been few violent protests in the Islamic democracy of Turkey. I detest anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S., but we must be willing to criticize foreign social currents which tolerate the disgusting behavior that we are currently witnessing around the world. Honest introspection is a critical tool in improving social conditions, and yet in many Islamic societies it is sadly lacking. Where moderate Islam offers comfort and honor, Salafist extremists offer destruction. This should not be a hidden understanding. That the American school in Tunisia was attacked should further illustrate the fact that some very unpleasant individuals and dynamics are engaged in these protests.

Ultimately, the leaders of these rejectionists are not people who value discussion. As Sayyid Qutb put it, “The chasm between Islam and Jahiliyyah is great, and a bridge is not to be built across it so that people on the two sides may mix with each other, but only so that the people of Jahiliyyah may come over to Islam.” This is an ideological tyranny which, devoid of moral value, resides on the imposition of fear.

2.) The Obama administration has handled this crisis badly. I don’t believe that Mitt Romney’s comments on Wednesday were well timed, but they were correct. Faced with violent extremists dedicated to intimidating the most sacred of American values — free speech — we should not be apologizing. Consider the support that our apologies give to regimes that are based on the notion that freedom is evil (like the Iranian regime). Some news reports published today suggest that the Obama administration has been exerting pressure on YouTube to remove the “Innocence of Muslims” film from its website. If this is true, it is a damning indictment of the administration. Even if this film is idiotic, free speech is non-negotiable. Further, if you understand anything about the underpinnings of Sunni Islamist extremism, you also understand that showing weakness to its ideological adherents is a catastrophic error. As I noted yesterday, the U.S. government should be focusing on reinforcing our diplomatic security, educating the Islamic world about our laws regarding free speech and simply affirming that our government had nothing to do with the video’s production or publication. We should also continue to aggressively condemn the violence as absolutely inexcusable and assert that we will take steps to bring the perpetrators to justice. We should not be equivocating or appear to be equivocating.

3.) We should warn foreign states that their access to American aid is contingent upon their effective protection of U.S. diplomatic interests.

4.) I don’t believe that the Democratic Party has enough credibility to criticize Romney for supposedly politicizing this crisis. Sadly, in recent years Democrats have accrued a weak record of foreign policy objectivity. If the Democrats (including President Obama) had had their way, Iraq would now be a black hole of sectarian bloodshed and Assad would be more powerful. It isn’t just past decisions. President Obama has decided to abandon our mission in Afghanistan for the sake of domestic political expediency. This record is anathema to the conduct of a strategic-minded, long-term foreign policy. In contrast, whatever people think of Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, his decision to “stay the course” (against huge domestic pressure) saved Iraq from the abyss while also extricating America from a truly catastrophic loss to al Qaida. Bush’s wisdom has merit still. Shortly after 9/11, the former president eloquently warned America about the objectives of individuals like those who are currently attacking our embassies.

The incumbent president should listen to Bush’s words.

Tom Rogan is an American blogger and writer currently living in London, England. He recently completed a law course and holds a BA in War Studies from King’s College London and an MSc in Middle East Politics from SOAS, London. His blog can be found at TomRoganThinks.com. Follow him on Twitter.