One week ago, our embassy in Cairo, Egypt and our consulate in Benghazi, Libya were attacked by violent Muslim mobs. In Benghazi, our ambassador was killed along with three other diplomatic staff. Since then, riots have broken out across the Middle East and other parts of the world under the pretext that some almost entirely unknown movie trailer produced in the United States blasphemed the Muslim prophet Muhammad.
The Obama administration’s response to the attacks on our embassies has been both embarrassing to our nation and emboldening to the jihadi rioters.
We now know that the statement condemning the “Innocence of Muslims” movie trailer from our embassy in Cairo came out before the attacks on the embassy began, but its central theme has been repeatedly echoed by the Obama administration in one form or another.
“What happened this week in Cairo, in Benghazi, in many other parts of the region was a direct result of a heinous and offensive video that was widely disseminated that the U.S. government had nothing to do with, which we have made clear that it’s reprehensible and disgusting,” U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice said on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday. “We also have been very clear in saying that there’s no excuse for violence. We have condemned it in the strongest possible terms. We have said that there’s no excuse for violence.”
“We find the video reprehensible and disgusting,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said during a White House briefing. “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.”
While the administration has, of course, condemned the attacks on our diplomatic outposts, it has often done so in the same breath in which it condemns the crude film that has been used as a pretext for the attacks. Intentionally or unintentionally, the administration is — if not equating the two as equally disgusting — suggesting the two acts are somewhere on the same plane.
As dumb and offensive as the trailer to the “film” is, its offensiveness is not even worth mentioning when violent hoards are attacking our embassies and threatening our officials with death. In fact, it is precisely because of such violent acts that the almost entirely unknown film is not worth noting.
This is not to say that it is always wrong for the president to criticize certain exercises of free speech. To the contrary. It is, at times, appropriate for the president to criticize Muslim bigotry or anti-Semitism or racism or anti-Christian prejudice propagated in the United States or abroad. A president should never seek to use the power of his office to shut down such speech, but there is a time and a place for public condemnation.
But here’s the important part: Such condemnation should never be coerced under threat of violence or, in this case, provided in the midst of violence.
The administration has reportedly even asked YouTube to take down the offending movie trailer. In the eyes of the rioters, this makes us look weak. Not only does the administration’s move undermine our cherished right to free speech, it is essentially a capitulation to our attackers, some of whom have American blood on their hands.
The last thing President Obama should be focusing on is some idiotic movie trailer. He ought to be spending more time defending our values in the face of the violent, savage mobs.
The president and Congress should also seriously consider eliminating our over $1 billion in foreign aid to Egypt.
What is our aid gaining us there?
Some would argue that reducing or eliminating aid to Egypt would reduce or eliminate American influence in Egypt and perhaps even give the Islamist government there a pretext to withdrawal from the Camp David Accords.
But the influence our aid supposedly buys wasn’t even significant enough to get the Egyptian army protect our embassy from attack on Sept. 11, 2012. It’s not like the attack on the embassy was unforeseeable. As Middle East scholars Eric Trager and David Schenker have pointed out, the jihadi terrorist group al Gama’a al-Islamiyya had publicly announced that it planned to protest in front of the embassy on Sept. 11, so there is little excuse for why the Egyptian government didn’t plan to beef up security.
As for Egypt breaking the Camp David Accords if we cut off aid, they may do so anyway. In any case, we are constantly told that Egypt wouldn’t move toward conflict with Israel because the government and the military are rational and they know they would lose any such confrontation. I am skeptical that an Islamist Egypt wouldn’t move towards conflict with Israel, but if the regime is indeed rational, it shouldn’t matter whether we give them aid in terms of whether or not they abide by Camp David, or at least in terms of whether they will refrain from fomenting conflict with Israel. If it’s not in the regime’s interest to start a skirmish with Israel when we are giving them aid, it won’t be in their interest to do so if we cut our aid off.
Egypt has historically been a very important player in the Arab world and I am not saying we should move hastily to cut off aid. But we should get tough and make it clear that the option is being seriously considered unless the Egyptian government changes course. Among the things we ought to demand in order to continue the money flow is that Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi publicly reject his 9/11 trutherism; apologize to the United States for what happened to our embassy last Tuesday and explain why the Egyptian military did not protect it; and pledge that he will ensure that the Egyptian army protects our embassy from such attacks in the future.
I think we are headed for further disaster in Egypt (I said so at the time of the revolution) and I think that it is becoming increasingly clear — as it should have been from the start — that we will ultimately not be able to work with the Islamists in control of the government. But the ball is in their court. We are a pretty valuable relationship to have. Especially after the events of last Tuesday, Egypt should have to prove to us they are worth our support.