Anyone who believes White House spokesman Jay Carney when he told the world that the violent protests in Cairo and Ben¬ghazi and elsewhere were a “response not to United States policy, and not obviously the administration or the American people,” but were “in response to a video, a film we have judged to be reprehensible and disgusting” is truly not observing the details of the events. Carney then repeated his point: “This is not a case of protests directed at the United States at large or at U.S. policy, but in response to a video (The Innocence of Muslims) that is offensive to Muslims.”
Al Qaeda is claiming credit and encouraging additional attacks on US diplomats. It was the Al Qaeda flag that was raised over the US embassy in Cairo. Do demonstrators against a video carry rocket propelled grenade launchers and employ mortars? The Benghazi demonstrators are reported to have consisted of 400 armed terrorists.
There are numerous reports that the US was aware that the Cairo demonstration was coming and yet the Marines who guard the embassy were not issued ammunition and so up went the Al Qaeda flag while the stars and stripes were desecrated.
In short, Carney’s comments lie outside the range of believable spin, even by this administration’s standards. Such weak responses and the associated apologies send the message to our enemies that if you kill our diplomats or besiege our embassies the first move the American government will make is to apologize. Such apologies are a sign of weakness, not strength. Many are calling for the US to suspend its aid to Egypt and encourage tourists not to visit there. This would send a message to the Muslim Brotherhood, but how would it react? Is the US prepared for the reaction?
What’s next? Where does it go from here? Those that believe Carney suggest that “this too shall pass.” Unfortunately, that’s probably not credible. It’s very likely that the events of this week will be the beginning of a period in which violent protests against the US will become far more commonplace. There are five reasons why this is probably not true:
1. There is a fundamental value disagreement between the basic right of free speech and the sanctity of the Muslim religion. This disagreement is fueled by the explosion in communications technology and the resulting dissemination of information that may not be true.
2. The US often has to make difficult decisions when its interests and values clash. Fanatical Muslims do not have to struggle with such internal clashes—they stand ready to exploit an opportunity while the US finds it difficult to respond to incidents like the Innocence of Muslims conflagration.
3. The emergence of nascent democracies in Arab Spring states has thrown an added complication into the mix. Newly elected governments need to remain popular to appeal for votes and remain in office, and the easiest way to do this is to step aside and let popular demonstrations against the US proceed unabated. And yet Egyptian President Morsi will still visit the White House.
4. The apparent rift between Israel and the Obama administration is a clear sign to Iran, Al Qaeda and others that US is unwilling to support its allies in the region. One must wonder whether this will result in violence in places like Jordan?
5. The announced strategy shift to the Pacific is seen to create a power vacuum in the Muslim world—another sign of weakness.
The above make incidents such as the current one even more likely to break out, as offensive material is both ubiquitous and a permanent feature of American culture. Al Qaeda will stand ready to exploit such opportunities to paint the US as a paper tiger.
While the anger triggered by Innocence of Muslims is sure to abate at some point in the near future, the riots taking place are not blips on the radar screen nor are they all caused by this video. American diplomats won’t be breathing a sigh of relief anytime soon. Our weakness will be exploited going forward.