The Embassy Attacks In Libya And Egypt

The following are all the posts related to the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2012 attacks on US embassies in Libya and Egypt, including Romney’s despicable response. To skip to a specific day’s coverage, click here: 9/13, 9/14, 9/15, 9/16.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wed Sep 12, 2012 11:42am:

When Islamists Attack

First, the public servant whom some Libyans murdered in a city saved from mass slaughter by US-backed intervention:

Now the facts we have: in Libya four Americans have been killed by a mob, including Chris Stevens, the US ambassador, after an attack on the embassy in Cairo over an incendiary online movie trailer that is almost a parody of religious bigotry. About the film [WSJ]:

The movie, “Innocence of Muslims,” was directed and produced by an Israeli-American real-estate developer who characterized it as a political effort to call attention to the hypocrisies of Islam. It has been promoted by Terry Jones, the Florida pastor whose burning of Qurans previously sparked deadly riots around the world. …[The] film [is] about the Prophet Muhammad, portions of which in recent days have been circulating on the Internet. Contravening the Islamic prohibition of portraying the prophet, clips from the film show him not only as flesh and blood—but as a homosexual son of undetermined patrimony, who rises to advocate child slavery and extramarital sex, for himself, in the name of religion.

Max Fisher has clips. The filmmaker has called Islam a “cancer.” Here’s the New York Post’s review:

Burn this movie! Based on the 13-minute trailer posted on YouTube, the mysterious anti-Islamic hate “movie” that provoked protests should never have been made — it’s not only the most offensive but the most thoroughly inept piece of “filmmaking”’ I’ve had the misfortune to watch in 30 years of reviewing films …

On a scale of one to four stars, I’d give it a minus 10. Burn this movie.

The attempt by Christianist and radical Jewish fundamentalists to demonize Islam and Muhammed does not in any way justify the kind of violence we have seen. Peaceful protests? Sure. But murder of innocents? No context makes that in any way anything but categorically intolerable. Blake Hounshell steps back:

For me, the embassy assaults are a sobering reminder not only of the deep anger and dysfunction that plagues the broader Middle East, but of the enormous difficulty the United States has in dealing with this part of the world. The level of distrust and fury toward America is not the sort of thing you heal with a speech or two. And to make matters worse, there will always be groups that exploit things that have no connection whatsoever to U.S. government policy, like this anti-Islamic film.

Ambinder says what needs to be said:

On Twitter, the first instinct of a lot of Americans was retributive justice. But the U.S. government’s sensitivity about the mood of the violent protesters is maddening but necessary. Being aggressive would cause more unnecessary dying.

Those who use the gift of institutionally and legally-protected free speech to exploit and prey upon the vulnerability of certain people to violence ought to be shamed.

At the same time, the people who killed people; protesters, thugs, militants, whomever, are ultimately responsible for their actions. If the U.S. government is going to discourage our own idiots from provoking people, then the governments of Egypt and Libya should act to corral those within their own nations who would storm an embassy on the pretext that a film offends. Well, barely, a film. A piece of anti-Muslim bigotry that was made to make the filmmakers feel good and others feel bad. If, as an American, I feel embarrassed that so many of my fellow Americans are bigots, I would, as an Egyptian or a Libyan, be even more horrified that the majority in my country seemed unable to stop (and barely condemn) the even more deplorable violent religious extremism of a minority.

On that note, Lynch looks at the official reactions in both countries:

Details and video from the violence in Egypt here. My take on the Romney reaction incoming …

Wed Sep 12, 2012 – 11:09am:

Hewitt Award Nominee

(Hat tip: Goldblog )

Award glossary here.

Wed Sep 12, 2012 – 12:39pm:

Will Morsi Apologize?


Libyan officials have been quick to condemn the violence in their country, but Egypt’s politicians are staying silent. Marc Lynch believes Egyptian leaders are making a huge mistake:

Morsi and the Brotherhood do not seem to understand, or perhaps they simply do not care, how important their public stance is today in defining their image.   The U.S. has taken real risks by engaging with the Brotherhood, pushing for democratic change despite their likely victory in fair elections, and insisting that the Egyptian military allow the completion of the transition after Morsi’s victory.   That was necessary to have any hope of genuine democratic change in Egypt, and the right position to take.  But I suspect that many in Washington will feel that they have been repaid with Morsi’s silence after the breach of the Embassy wall which could well have resulted in the same kind of tragedy as in Benghazi.  And that will have enduring effects on the nature and extent of American support for Egypt’s transition — how much harder is it going to be to get debt relief through Congress now?  It is quite telling that Obama said nothing about Egypt in his remarks about the deaths in Benghazi.

(Photo: Egyptian protesters tear down the US flag at the US embassy in Cairo on September 11, 2012 during a demonstration against a film deemed offensive to Islam. By /AFP/Getty Images)

Wed Sep 12, 2012 – 12:57pm:

Unfit For Government


The obvious responsible thing to do when American citizens and public officials are under physical threat abroad and when the details are unknown, and events spiraling, is to stay silent. If the event happens on the day of September 11 and you are a candidate for president and have observed a political truce, all the more reason to wait to allow the facts to emerge. After all, country before party, right? American lives are at stake, yes? An easy call, no?

But that’s not what the Romney camp did. What they did was seize on a tweet issued by someone in the US Embassy before the attacks in order to indict the president for “sympathizing” with those who murdered a US ambassador after the attacks. Unfuckingbelievable. Here’s the embassy statement from earlier in the day that set off the neocons:

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.

The statement came from someone in the embassy, and was not formally issued by the State Department or the White House, both of which have subsequently disavowed the tweet for not also defending absolute freedom of speech. The facts were still murky last night. But the Romney campaign immediately tried to shoe-horn yesterday’s fog of mob violence into the “apology” rubric Romney loves so much. The Priebus tweet is disgusting. The first Romney statement is no better:

“I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with
those who waged the attacks.”

That’s untrue. The Obama administration did not issue the tweet, which was, in any case, tweeted before the attacks, not after. Today, Romney doubled down on these two obvious misstatements:

“We join together in the condemnation of attacks on the American embassies and the loss of American life and join in sympathy for these people. It’s also important for me — just as it was for the White House, last night by the way — to say that the statements were inappropriate, and in my view a disgraceful statement on the part of our administration to apologize for American values…

A brief moment of digression: the White House disowned a statement it itself did not release – but is then equally responsible for the tweet itself? The mind boggles. Then this, apparently, is an apology for American values:

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.

I’m a free speech absolutist – but I’m not an anti-religion absolutist. I think a little respect for religions we don’t share is something most Americans would think is precisely an American value. I can see why there should have been a defense of the free speech of Terry Jones in that tweet in principle – and there is: “the universal right of free speech.” Does Romney think the administration should have defended the film itself? Does Romney?

Of course, sitting in my blogging chair on the Cape, I can demand as radical a defense of blasphemy and hate speech as Romney can. But I was not inside an embassy in a foreign country as mob violence was building outside and as the US government was being conflated entirely with a bigoted anti-Muslim fanatic. And practically speaking, the embassy was trying to calm a situation, not inflame it. And diplomacy in the real world, where American lives are at stake, can necessitate such frustrating but necessary nuances. But such nuances are lost on Romney, as is, it seems, the basic notion of agency and responsibility:

The president takes responsibility not just for the words that come from his mouth but also for the words that come from his ambassadors from his administration, from his embassies, from the State Department. They clearly sent mixed messages to the world, and the statement that came from the administration, and the embassy is the administration. The statement that came from the administration was a statement which is akin to apology and I think was a severe miscalculation.

So the president of the US is directly, personally responsible for a lone tweet designed to calm a dangerous situation – and this other person’s tweet is then described as a “severe miscalculation” by the president and “akin to an apology.” Well: you try to figure the logic out. Then this outreach from his senior foreign policy spokesman, Rich Williamson:

Tuesday night, while the attacks were still ongoing, Williamson said that the governments in Egypt and Libya as well as the Obama administration bear responsibility for the deteriorating security environment that led to the attacks.

“The events in Egypt and Libya show the failure of the Egyptian and Libyan governments to uphold their obligations to keep our diplomatic missions safe and secure and the regard in which the United States is held under President Obama in these two countries,” he said. “It’s all part of a broader scheme of the president’s failure to be an effective leader for U.S. interests in the Middle East.”

My italics. These people are simply unfit for the responsibility of running the United States. The knee-jerk judgments, based on ideology not reality; the inability to back down when you have said something obviously wrong; and the attempt to argue that the president of the US actually sympathized with those who murdered his own ambassador in Benghazi: these are disqualifying instincts for someone hoping to be the president of the US. Disqualifying.

(Photo: David Calvert/Getty.)

Wed Sep 12, 2012 – 1:30pm:

Is Sam Bacile Even A Real Person?

So far very little is known about Sam Bacile, the “Israeli-American real-estate developer” behind the crude new hate-film, as Laura Rozen reports:

[T]he man who claimed to have written, produced and directed the $5 million film that reportedly sparked the protests said he blamed lax security at the US government facilities and the protesters for the deaths of the US diplomats.“I feel the security system (at the embassies) is no good,” the man who identified himself as “Sam Bacile” told the Associated Press in an interview from an undisclosed location Wednesday. “America should do something to change it.”

“Bacile, a California real estate developer who identifies himself as an Israeli Jew, said he believes the movie will help his native land by exposing Islam’s flaws to the world,” the AP report said. But it’s not clear that Bacile is who he claims. Israeli officials said they would not confirm or deny that he is an Israeli citizen, under that or other names.

And there were some hints that Bacile may be a pseudonym, possibly for someone affiliated with the Egyptian Coptic diaspora.

Sarah Posner is also going through the sketchy details about “Bacile”, who is apparently now in hiding:

Consider all the contradictions: small ones, true, like in one account he is 52 and in another he is 56. To the AP he is “a California real estate developer who identifies himself as an Israeli Jew” and to the Times of Israel he is “Jewish and familiar with the region.” And what about that bit at the end of the statement to the Times of Israel–that “even Jesus” should be “in front of the judge”? That sounds like someone who is trying to provoke more than just Muslims. A lot of things don’t add up here about the claimed identity of the filmmaker.

Wed Sep 12, 2012 – 1:39pm:

Unfit For Government, Ctd


Goldblog defends Obama against Romney’s now-conscious, repeated lies:

The “sympathy” was expressed not by someone in the administration, but by a tweeter in the besieged embassy in Cairo. The fact that the tweets were written in fear doesn’t excuse them (it does make them understandable), but it is ridiculous to blame Obama for them.

Kornacki echoes Jeffrey:

The foolishness of Romney’s reaction is glaring. Pretending that the statement from the U.S. embassy in Cairo was anything other than a completely understandable and reasonable attempt by its occupants to save their own lives borders on disgraceful. Romney’s implication that the statement was issued at the height of the attacks is also false; it was actually released earlier in the day, a preventive measure aimed at keeping the protests from turning violent.

Tomasky’s take:

Once again, the Romney pattern holds: pander to the right, issue an irresponsible statement, before Romney and his people even know whether this violence is going to spread, and prove that they will try to use even the violent deaths of four diplomats to political advantage. This isn’t an aberration. We’ve seen enough to know that this is his character.

David Sessions examines the broader Republican response:

On Fox News, Krauthammer called the embassy’s initial response “a hostage statement,” and said he would have told the protesters to “go to hell.” On the website of Commentary, Jonathan Tobin wrote, “Is it possible to learn from history? Apparently not if you are an American president determined to win the love of the Islamic world.” In an equally bellicose follow-up, Tobin called the embassy’s statement “shocking” and “craven” and complained about Obama’s “tone of moral equivalence.” In a caustic screed on Facebook, Sarah Palin called the statement “so outrageous some thought it must be satire … How’s the Arab Spring working out for us now?”

Greg Sargent wonders what Romney proposes to do:

According to Josh Rogin, the Romney campaign is going to broaden its case by linking these attacks to Obama’s “failure to assert American leadership throughout the Arab spring.” One wonders whether Romney — who has been widely criticized for failing to spell out his own foreign policies with any meaningful specificity, even as he attacks Obama as a weak appeaser on any number of fronts — will take this occasion to spell out clearly how he would handle the situation.

Adam Serwer doubts a Republican president would have handled things much differently:

Despite the persistent Republican fantasy that the United States conducts diplomacy the way that Sean Hannity used to treat Alan Colmes, it’s not clear a Republican President would have reacted differently to initial reports. In 2006, when European newspapers published cartoons denigrating Islam’s prophet Mohammed, the Bush administration similarly affirmed free speech rights but said that “We find them offensive, and we certainly understand why Muslims would find these images offensive.”

And Jonathan Capehart notices who within the GOP stepped up:

Once again, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is the statesman in a party devoid of them. “We mourn for the families of our countrymen in Benghazi, and condemn this horrific attack,” he said in a pitch-perfect statement. “Eleven years after September 11, this is a jolting reminder that freedom remains under siege by forces around the globe who relish violence over free expression, and terror over democracy — and that America and free people everywhere must remain vigilant in defense of our liberties.” Would that Romney could learn how to do that.

(Photo: A burnt house and a car are seen inside the US Embassy compound on September 12, 2012 in Benghazi, Libya following an overnight attack on the building. By Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

Wed Sep 12, 2012 – 1:53pm:

Buzzfeed rounds up incredulous bipartisan reactions to Romney’s latest blunder:

“They were just trying to score a cheap news cycle hit based on the embassy statement and now it’s just completely blown up,” said a very senior Republican foreign policy hand, who called the statement an
“utter disaster” and a “Lehman moment” — a parallel to the moment when John McCain, amid the 2008 financial crisis, failed to come across as a steady leader… “I guess we see now that it is because they’re incompetent at talking effectively about foreign policy,” said the Republican. “This is just
unbelievable — when they decide to play on it they completely bungle it.”

Djejerian notices the Romney campaign’s “desperate smallness” on foreign affairs.

Wed Sep 12, 2012 – 2:33pm:

Kristol Doubles Down

And makes an assertion that can and should be checked:

Romney is right to bring home the weakness of the Obama administration, exemplified in the disgraceful statement issued yesterday, September 11, by the American embassy in Cairo—a statement, I believe, that would have to have been cleared by the State Department.

Was it cleared by Foggy Bottom? That should be easy to find out. As I say, the notion that trying to distance the US government from a mystery-bigot’s movie, when under threat, even while backing the “universal right of free speech” in the same statement, does not seem to me to be misplaced, let alone “disgraceful”.

Update: Kristol can believe what he wants – it’s his habit to invent a reality for himself – but this seems dispositive:

The tweet was posted by a foreign service officer, CNN confirmed. Several State Department sources said that the U.S. ambassador to Egypt did not sign off on the original statement, as she was in Washington at the time.

Input from readers with diplomatic backgrounds:

I work in [a State Department office] where we deal with information security directly. (Please don’t name that office, but it just goes to show Kristol’s completely random Hail Mary on this one.) Do you know how many tweets there are from diplomatic missions? Almost all posts have a Twitter feed now, and they are most likely only cleared by public diplomacy Foreign Service Officers. That means it’s a local issue, has nothing to do with “State Department” officials in charge at home. I know for certain we do nothing of the sort, clearing them in this office.


I’m a former US Foreign Service officer and can tell you that the statement by the US Embassy in Cairo – which, frankly, seems perfectly OK to me to begin with; what’s really so offensive about it that the Obama administration has to “distance” itself from it? – almost certainly wasn’t cleared with DC, because otherwise it wouldn’t have been issued for another day or two! It would have spent that time bouncing back and forth from the Egypt desk up to the Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs and over then to Public Affairs and God knows who else getting massaged, tweaked, edited and finally OK’d. The reason embassies have Public Affairs officers is so they can handle this sort of statement on their own, though doubtless the DCM, acting as charge d’affaires in the absence of the ambassador, signed off on it.

Wed Sep 12, 2012 – 2:39pm:

Unfit For Government, Ctd

A money quote from veteran diplomat in Democratic and Republican administrations, Nicholas Burns:

I was, frankly, very disappointed and dismayed to see Gov. Romney inject politics into this very difficult situation where our embassies are under attack, where there’s been a big misunderstanding in the
Middle East, apparently, about an American film, where we’re trying to preserve the lives of our diplomats. This is no time for politics. I just think that Gov. Romney has, in a very unwise way, injected himself into a situation where he clearly doesn’t have all the facts.

Wed Sep 12, 2012 – 2:44pm:

Because he can lie and then repeat it without flinching:

First, the embassy in Cairo–not the White House, not Foggy Bottom, but the embassy–released its statement denouncing (not by name) the makers of the inflammatory film about Mohammed. That was around noon local time Tuesday.

Then the attacks happened.

Then, last night, came Romney’s statement criticizing the Obama administration for its allegedly “disgraceful… first response” being “to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

But: the attack hadn’t happened! That first embassy statement was apparently issued because word was circulating about possible violence, and the embassy was trying to quell it.

Then the Obama administration distanced itself from the original embassy statement, and then Romney issued last night’s statement.

So here’s Romney now, at 10:18 am, now that he must surely know this chronology, still defending his statement from last night and criticizing Obama for defending the attackers.

Wed Sep 12, 2012 – 3:05m:

Is Sam Bacile Even A Real Person? Ctd

Goldblog, trying to learn more about the mysterious “Sam Bacile”, finds one of his wingnut associates:

Steve Klein, a self-described militant Christian activist in Riverside, California (whose actual business, he said, is in selling “hard-to-place home insurance”), who has been described in multiple media accounts as a consultant to the film.

No, Sam Bacile is not a real name, or possibly even a single person, and not Jewish:

Klein told me that Bacile, the producer of the film, is not Israeli, and most likely not Jewish, as has been reported, and that the name is, in fact, a pseudonym. He said he did not know “Bacile”‘s real name. He said Bacile contacted him because he leads anti-Islam protests outside of mosques and schools, and because, he said, he is a Vietnam veteran and an expert on uncovering al Qaeda cells in California. “After 9/11 I went out to look for terror cells in California and found them, piece of cake. Sam found out about me. The Middle East Christian and Jewish communities trust me.”

He said the man who identified himself as Bacile asked him to help make the anti-Muhammad film. When I asked him to describe Bacile, he said: “I don’t know that much about him. I met him, I spoke to him for an hour. He’s not Israeli, no. I can tell you this for sure, the State of Israel is not involved, Terry Jones (the radical Christian Quran-burning pastor) is not involved. His name is a pseudonym. All these Middle Eastern folks I work with have pseudonyms. I doubt he’s Jewish. I would suspect this is a disinformation campaign.”

I asked him who he thought Sam Bacile was. He said that there are about 15 people associated with the making of the film, “Nobody is anything but an active American citizen. They’re from Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, they’re some that are from Egypt. Some are Copts but the vast majority are Evangelical.”

Wed Sep 12, 2012 – 3:17pm:

Unfit For Government, Ctd

Larison weighs in on Romney’s recklessness:

As a practical matter, this episode shows how useless Romney’s main foreign policy theme has been. According to Romney, Obama “apologizes for” America, and Romney won’t. He tried to shoehorn the embassy attacks into this frame, and it didn’t work for at least two reasons. First, Obama didn’t respond to the attacks by apologizing for anything or sympathizing with the attackers, as Romney’s original statement charged, so it was blatantly false. Romney’s position that the U.S. should never “apologize for” American values is almost beside the point. Would this have made any difference to the people assaulting the embassy in Cairo or the consulate in Benghazi? Would the attacks not have happened if Romney had been conducting his own brand of thoroughly unapologetic activist foreign policy? It seems unlikely.

Romney might have legitimately questioned the security arrangements for the consulate, for example, or he could have made the fair observation that Libya’s new government is very weak and Libya as a whole has serious security problems, but that wouldn’t have translated into the easy and satisfying point-scoring that Romney seems to prefer. It wouldn’t have fit his ready-made scheme of Obama-as-Carter, but it would have spared him of most of the ridicule he’s receiving now. Now instead of portraying Obama as Carter, he has presented himself as the bumbling McCain figure of 2012.

Chait further unpacks Romney’s blunder:

The miscalculation at work here is that Romney believed his “Apology Tour” method would neatly fit the events at hand — take an event that sort of vaguely resembled an Obama apology to Muslims who don’t like us, twist it around, and call it a day. But Romney had grown accustomed to spinning fantasies cobbled together from months-old Obama speeches and nurtured into legend by extensive repetition and exaggeration in the conservative subculture. What he failed to realize from the outset was that the embassy attack was an immediate, high-profile event that he could not hope to rewrite so brazenly. Forced to confront the yawning chasm between reality and the fantasy he had wallowed in so long, Romney was exposed and, justifiably, discredited.

Wed Sep 12, 2012 – 4:02pm:

Quote For The Day

“I can’t ever imagine if the Prime Minister of Israel asked to meet with me, I can’t imagine ever saying no,” – Mitt Romney.

It’s a lovely complement to the following Romney campaign statement noted by Greg Djerejian:

As reported in the New York Times, after the latest fracas between Obama and Netanyahu, a Romney advisor states:

“Mr. Romney had no immediate comment about Mr. Netanyahu’s challenge to Mr. Obama, and one of his informal advisers on the Middle East said, ‘It’s probably better at this point to let Netanyahu make the point because it’s more powerful that way.'” The adviser said he was not authorized to speak on the record.” [my emphasis]

So let’s get this straight. First, no one is willing to comment on the record. Second, they double down on this cowardly posture by stating it is better to let a foreign leader beat up the United States’ current sitting President than the campaign itself. Quite classy. A few decades back, this would have been unthinkable. Forget about politics stopping at the water’s edge, this is an opposition party openly siding
with a foreign leader’s world view on one of the leading geopolitical issues of the day.

Yep. And what’s new about that? If Romney is elected, US foreign policy in the Middle East will be outsourced to the Likud.

Wed Sep 12, 2012 – 4:43pm:

Was The Libyan Attack Planned?

The NYT provides reason to think so:

The protesters in Cairo appeared to be a genuinely spontaneous unarmed mob angered by an anti-Islam video said to have been produced in the United States. By contrast, it appeared the attackers in Benghazi were armed with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. Intelligence reports are inconclusive at this point, officials said, but indications suggest the possibility that an organized group had either been waiting for an opportunity to exploit like the protests over the video or perhaps even generated the protests as a cover for their attack.

Max Fisher rounds up other analysis:

Who actually pulled off the Libya attack, anyway? The “chief suspect” is an obscure extremist Islamist group called “the Imprisoned Omar Abdul Rahman Brigades,” according to CNN, citing U.S. intelligence. The Libyan group, which has surfaced only this year, appears to support al-Qaeda, but it’s not clear if there are any direct operational links. Earlier reports cited Ansar al-Sharia, a loose network of Libyan extremists. The Libyan ambassador to the U.S. blamed former fighters for Muammar Qaddafi’s staunchly anti-Islamist regime.

Wed Sep 12, 2012 – 5:22pm:

Will Morsi Apologize? Ctd

This isn’t a good sign:

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi asked the Egyptian embassy in Washington to take legal action in the United States against makers of a film attacking the Muslim Prophet Mohammad, the official state news agency said on Wednesday.

Frum puts this action in context:

It’s important to understand that Morsi is concerned with Egyptian, not American, laws. Morsi is taking a page from the 1979 Khomeini playbook, fabricating an international incident to mobilize religious passions as a weapon for his political grouping against more secular blocs in Egyptian society – the Egyptian military very much included.

Wed Sep 12, 2012 – 5:48pm:

The Embassy Attacks In Libya And Egypt: A Dish Thread

This post just alerted readers to the thread page you are currently reading.

Wed Sep 12, 2012 – 6:12pm:

Here Come The Salafis

Though it’s not yet clear exactly who perpetrated the deadly attack in Libya, Christian Caryl notes a similarity between the anti-film protests in Libya and Egypt:

The rioters in both cases come from the region’s burgeoning Salafi movement, and the Salafis have been in the headlines a lot lately. In Libya, over the past few months, they’ve been challenging the recently elected government by demolishing ancient Sufi shrines, which they deem to be insufficiently Islamic. In Tunisia, they’ve been attacking businesses that sell alcohol and instigating nasty social media campaigns about the country’s female competitors in the Olympics. In Syria’s civil war, there are increasing reports that the opposition’s wealthy Gulf financiers have been channeling cash to Salafi groups, whose strict interpretation of Islam is considered close to the puritanical Wahhabism of the Saudis and others. Lately Salafi groups have been gaining fresh prominence in parts of the Islamic world — from Mali to Lebanon, from Kashmir to Russia’s North Caucasus.

Caryl goes on to explore some of the debate over what kind of influence they might play, cautioning that not all Salafis are created militant.

Wed Sep 12, 2012 – 6:30pm:

Face Of The Day


U.S. President Barack Obama, standing with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, makes a statement about the death of U.S. ambassador-to-Libya J. Christopher Stevens on September 12, 2012. Stevens and three other embassy employees were killed when the embassy in Benghazi was attacked by a mob potentially angered by an American-made video mocking Islam’s founding prophet. By Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

This AP photo of a smiling Romney as he left his podium today is a close second.

Wed Sep 12, 2012 – 6:44pm:

Unfit For Government, Ctd

Fallows feels that Romney has failed a key test:

[W]hen faced with a 3 a.m. test, he reacted immediately, rather than having the instinct to wait. And after he waited, he mistook this as a moment for partisanship rather than for at least the appearance of statesmanlike national unity. The irony, of course, is that resisting the partisan impulse today would have been the greatest possible boost to his horse-race prospects two months from now.

How Ezra Klein understands Romney’s rash statements:

Romney’s comments were, to be sure, unusually noxious and indecent. But this is also what happens when campaigns get desperate. Like a gambler who’s already lost too much, they begin taking risks in the hope of making it all back. And then, more often than not, they pay the price.

Frum blames “the dangerously distorting effect of disrespect for one’s political opponents”:

Inside Team Romney, and among Romney’s donors and core supporters, it may be taken absolutely for granted that Barack Obama is a weak-willed appeaser of radical Islam, a cringing apologizer for America who does not love the country the way “we” do. So why not say it loud, especially when you think you’ve just caught his administration doing it again? And then you discover the mistake only after the statement has departed the outbox.

And Pareene rounds up Romney apologists:

After a period of practically bipartisan disgust with Romney, the right is finally lining up behind him. A whole set of (frequently contradictory) defenses are already being mustered: that Romney was totally right, that Romney was unfortunately careless with his timing but essentially correct in his criticism, that Romney is the victim of a liberal media conspiracy, that the Democrats are actually the ones politicizing the tragedy and demanding that no one criticize the president during a crisis, etc.

Wed Sep 12, 2012 – 7:27pm:

Is The Muhammad Movie Even A Real Movie?

Rosie Gray created an (unembeddable) video highlighting the heavy dubbing of the trailer. She theorizes that the “anti-Muslim ‘movie’ that served as the spark or pretext for a wave of violent unrest Egypt and Libya may not be a movie at all”:

[N]early all of the names in the movie’s “trailer” are overdubbed. The video is a compilation of the most clumsily overdubbed moments from what is in reality an incoherent, haphazardly-edited set of scenes. Among the overdubbed words is “Mohammed,” suggesting that the footage was taken from a film about something else entirely. The footage also suggests multiple video sources — there are obvious and jarring discrepancies among actors and locations.

Wed Sep 12, 2012 – 9:46pm:

Unfree Speech Abroad

Daniel McCarthy explains how it makes events like those in Egypt and Libya possible:

[T]here is no such thing as worldwide free speech. It’s not simply that few countries other than the U.S. have constitutional speech protections as broad as those of our First Amendment. What’s more important is that few people in the developing world separate tolerated expressions of hatred from official endorsement of such views.

Indeed, while Americans think of free speech as something that protects everyone from censorious government, elsewhere peoples not infrequently demand that their governments limit speech. American diplomats must communicate with peoples and governments which not only recognize nothing like our First Amendment rights, but which see such rights as extreme and destabilizing — and with good reason. We in the U.S. may think that attitude barbaric and beyond the pale of civilized discourse, but diplomats addressing the public or officials of a foreign country have no choice but to deal with that reality, like it or not.

An Egyptian reader passes along the above Twitter pic of a sign that reads in Arabic, “We condemn insulting the Prophet, but not with terrorism”.

Wed Sep 12, 2012 – 8:07pm:

Malkin Award Nominee

“It’s like the judge telling the woman who got raped, ‘You asked for it because of the way you dressed.’ OK? That’s the same thing. ‘Well America, you should be the ones to apologize, you should have known this would happen, you should have done — what I don’t know — but it’s your fault that it happened.’ You know, for a member of our State Department to put out a statement like that, it had to be cleared by somebody. They don’t just do that in the spur of the moment,” – Republican Senator Jon Kyl.

Wed Sep 12, 2012 – 8:58pm:

The Outrage Cycle


Mohamed El Dashan dreams of a more reasonable response to anti-Islam speech from the West:

Is the film insulting? Yeah, sure. But the best reaction would have been to ignore it completely. There is no virtue in displaying lethal outrage (as in Benghazi) whenever anyone throws a feeble punch at Islam and Muslims. Doing so is only a display of weakness, a fear that our religion cannot withstand even the silliest of skits. This idea is insulting in itself. Bring on the insults, I say — bring on the hatred, the mockery, the piques, the spitballs. The amateur films, the Danish cartoons, the Geert Wilders, and the like. There is little harm than can befall Islam as a faith. It has withstood, over the past fourteen centuries, infinitely worse attacks, yet it has neither weakened nor vanished.

Dan Murphy acknowledges the cycle:

In some ways, [the aftermath of the Danish Muhammad cartoon] was the beginning of an era of manufactured outrage, with a group of fringe hate-mongers in the West developing a symbiotic relationship with radical clerics across the East. The Westerners deliberately cause offense by describing Islam as a fundamentally violent religion, and all too often mobs in Muslim-majority states oblige by engaging in violence.

Murphy reports that the protest and attacks in Egypt were sparked by a religious TV station there:

Jones and Mr. Bacile cannot be blamed for the violence and death of the ambassador. That blame goes to the perpetrators. Who whipped them up? Ground zero for bringing attention to the movie in Egypt appears to be Al-Nas TV, a religious channel owned by Saudi Arabian businessman Mansour bin Kadsa. A TV show presented by anti-Christian, anti-Semitic host Khaled Abdullah before the violence showed what he said were clips from the film, which he insisted was being produced by the United States and Coptic (Egyptian) Christians.

A reminder of the real victims in this whole saga:


(Bottom photo: Libyan civilians help an unconscious man, identified by eyewitnesses as US ambassador-to-Libya Chris Stevens, at the US consulate compound in Benghazi in the early hours of September 12, 2012, following an overnight attack on the building. Stevens and three of his colleagues were killed in an attack on the US consulate in the eastern Libyan city by Islamists outraged over an amateur American-made Internet video mocking Islam, less than six months after being appointed to his post. By STR/AFP/Getty Images.

Top photo: The outer wall of the United States Embassy in Egypt covered in graffiti, the morning after it was vandalised by protesters during a demonstration on Septmeber 12, 2012 in central Cairo, Egypt. By Ed Giles/Getty Images.)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thu Sep 13, 2012 – 11:15am:

The Man Romney Used


Sean Smith, one of the Americans murdered in Benghazi was a huge force in the online multiplayer game EVE Online. He was on Jabber when the attack happened. His last words there, one reader tells us, were “FUCK”, “GUNFIRE”. This is an obituary from his “alliance leader”. A reader writes:

I am a player in EVE Online, part of the coalition where Sean (aka Vile Rat) was such an important player. Here’s an excerpt of the coalition’s jabber announcement channel (which on a normal day is mostly filled up by fleet operation announcements), after his death was made public:

(11:08:36 PM) My people, we have been dealt a grevious blow tonight, as people and as players. I, and all of us who knew Sean, are still reeling. And yet, to my horror, already Vile Rat’s death has become a machination in Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. I do not speak of politics often because American politics do not matter in an international game of internet spaceships. But this sickens me, and Vile Rat would not have wanted to become a tool for the Romney campaign. Just this morning, he said this in Illum regarding the RNC:

(12:41:07 PM) kismeteer: vile_rat: Was there anyone in that group that you even partially respected?
(12:41:14 PM) vile_rat: on the republican side?
(12:41:17 PM) kismeteer: yeah
(12:41:20 PM) vile_rat: nope. not a one.

And now we see this: “I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi,” Romney said in the statement. “It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

My fury is boundless. Our friend should not be used in this way. We have only so many ways to make our voices heard, but if enough of us shout loudly enough we can – as we have seen – force the media to notice. Retweet this. ALL OF YOU. I will not have Sean’s memory desecrated by American presidential politics.

Update from a reader:

It was a bit weird to load your blog this morning and see my friend’s face on it. I’ve known Sean for close to 15 years now, and the fact that his death is international news doesn’t make any less sad, but it does make it very strange. I don’t have much of anything to add to what your other reader sent you, but there is an attempt to raise money for his family, and you can do so here.

(Photos from Eve Online and Facebook, via Russell Jones)

Thu Sep 13, 2012 – 11:40am:

Quotes For The Day

“This is the time for us as a nation and a people to stand united,’ – Ronald Reagan, Republican candidate, after president Carter’s botched mission to save US hostages.

“I unequivocally support the president of the United States — no ifs, ands or buts — and it certainly is not a time to try to go one-up politically. He made a difficult, courageous decision,” – George H.W. Bush, a candidate at the same time.

And people tell me the GOP hasn’t changed.

Thu Sep 13, 2012 – 12:33pm:

What Actually Just Happened In Libya?


Ackerman has a useful rundown:

It was not a simple mob that attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on Tuesday, killing four Americans. Benghazi was the scene of a pitched battle, one in which unknown Libyan assailants besieged American diplomats with small-arms fire for over four hours, repelling several attempts by U.S. personnel to regain control of it.

Nor was what happened in Benghazi a simple story of Americans assaulted by the Libyans they helped to liberate from Moammar Gadhafi last year, American officials say. Libyan security forces and a sympathetic local militia helped the Americans to suppress the attack and get the diplomats inside to safety.

That account is the first official telling of Tuesday’s events. It’s preliminary, as much of what has been initially reported in the media on Wednesday has proven incorrect. And it was provided to reporters late Wednesday afternoon by Obama administration officials who would not speak for the record.

Continued here. Another take on the same lines here:

This is Libya’s extreme right.

And, while much is still uncertain, Tuesday’s attack appears to have been their attempt to escalate a strategy they have employed ever since the Libyan revolution overthrew Colonel Qaddafi’s dictatorship. They see in these days, in which the new Libya and its young institutions are still fragile, an opportunity to grab power. They want to exploit the impatient resentments of young people in particular in order to disrupt progress and the development of democratic institutions.

A good rule when trying to absorb breaking news like this is to wait. That applies to bloggers as well as presidential candidates. J.D. Tuccille asks why Ambassador Stevens wasn’t better protected:

By contrast to the Benghazi compound, the U.S. embassy in Cairo, which also came under attack with a better outcome, is described as a “fortress-like U.S. mission.” Granted, the U.S. embassy to Libya is in Tripoli and the Benghazi consulate is a lesser facility, but Libya strikes me as the sort of place where any American presence should be “fortress-like.”

Juan Cole adds:

Why in the world [Stevens] was in an insecure minor consulate in a provincial city on September 11 is a mystery to me.

(Photo: An armchair and parasol float in the swimming pool of the US consulate in Benghazi on September 13, 2012, following an attack on the building late on September 11 in which the US ambassador to Libya and three other US nationals were killed. By Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images)

Thu Sep 13, 2012 – 12:57pm:

Now Yemen

Today, anti-film protesters attacked the US embassy in Yemen as well:

The protesters breached the usually tight security around the embassy and reached the compound grounds but did not enter the main building housing the offices. Once inside the compound, they brought down the US flag, burned it and replaced it with a black banner bearing Islam’s declaration of faith: “There is no God but Allah.” Before storming the grounds, demonstrators removed the embassy’s sign on the outer wall, set tires ablaze and pelted the compound with rocks.

Yemeni security forces who rushed to the scene fired in the air and used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators and were eventually able to drive them out of the compound. It was not immediately clear whether anyone was inside the embassy at the time of the attack.

Buzzfeed compiles “19 frightening photos”. Unlike his Egyptian counterpart, Yemen’s president apologizes to the US and calls for an investigation.

Wed Sep 13, 2012 – 12:44pm:

Is Sam Bacile Even A Real Person? Ctd

John Herman tracks down the latest on the apparent Keyser Soze of blasphemous film. There is reason to believe that “Sam Bacile” is an alias for one Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a Coptic Christian:

In [Jimmy] Israel’s telling, it was Sam Bacile — a man he met a number of times, and who insisted that was his real name — who turned the film into a piece of religious incitement. “Sam portrayed [Muhammed] as being a sex addict and killing people left and right and having henchmen kill people and so forth,” he says, “I don’t know about Muhammed at all.” The reason for his initial participation was money: “It was really just for hire, I’m not a wealthy man.”

In my discussion with Israel, which ended when his phone apparently died, he provided a bizarre sketch of Sam Bacile, who it seems very likely is, in fact, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. (While Israel said he had never met anyone by that name, the name Bacile gave to Israel for the SAG registration was Abnob Nakoula Basseley, and Israel describes him as about the same age as that given in the AP report.)

The actors had no idea what they were filming. The whole thing is like a plot from a Mel Brooks movie. Many readers have made this point:

Say Sam Bacile out loud. From the first time I saw it I thought it sounds like “some imbecile.” My guess is that it’s a made-up name like Ben Dover, Amanda Huggenkiss, etc.

Thu Sep 13, 2012 – 2:28pm:

Noah Shachtman reports that the man behind “Sam Bacile” is a serial fraudster:

He went by many names, the man who helped produce “The Innocence of Muslims,” the inflammatory video now roiling the Middle East: Matthew Nekola; Ahmed Hamdy; Amal Nada; Daniel K. Caresman; Kritbag Difrat; Sobhi Bushra; Robert Bacily; Nicola Bacily; Thomas J. Tanas; Erwin Salameh; Mark Basseley Youssef; Yousseff M. Basseley; Malid Ahlawi; even P.J. Tobacco.

But his real name — the one he used when he was sent to prison for bank fraud —  was Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. His habit of adopting other identities earned him a 21-month sentence in federal prison. During 2008 and 2009, court documents reviewed by Danger Room show (.pdf) that Nakoula again and again opened bank accounts with fake names and stolen social security numbers. Then Nakoula would deposit bogus checks into the new accounts and withdraw money before the checks bounced. The scheme worked for more than a year, until he was indicted in June of 2009. Eventually, he was ordered to stay off of the internet unless he got his probation officer’s permission, and pay a $794,700 fine.

Thu Sep 13, 2012 – 1:10pm:

Why Romney Became The Story

The right has decided – surprise! – that the whole Romney mess over Libya and Egypt is a function entirely of media bias. Eric Erickson complains that “the media wanted to focus on Mitt Romney” yesterday. Scott Galupo makes the obvious point:

The media focused on Mitt Romney yesterday because Mitt Romney asked them to. If he had merely issued a formal statement expressing outrage at the mobs in Cairo and Benghazi, the media would have focused on the aspects of this ongoing story that Erickson finds so interesting — effectively, as Daniel Larison observed via Twitter, it would have done Romney’s work for him.

Fred Kaplan spells out what Romney should have done:

Imagine if Romney had called President Obama, asked how he could be of assistance in this time of crisis, offered to appear at his side at a press conference to demonstrate that, when American lives are at risk, politics stop at the water’s edge—and then had his staff put out the word that he’d done these things, which would have made him look noble and might have made Obama look like the petty one if he’d waved away these offers.
But none of this is in Romney. He imagined a chink in Obama’s armor, an opening for a political assault on the president’s strength and leadership, and so he dashed to the barricades without a moment of reflection, a nod to propriety, or a smidgen of good strategy.

Romney has all the affect of a traditional, patriotic, mild-mannered Republican, like Reagan or the first Bush. But he isn’t. He’s just Cheney with better hair and even fewer scruples.

Thu Sep 13, 2012 – 1:59pm:

Quote For The Day III

“[Romney’s] bluster is a coward’s idea of how a brave man acts: Never hesitate,
never apologize. When you’re wrong, say it again, only louder,” – Mark Kleiman.

Thu Sep 13, 2012 – 2:44pm:

“Bushism Without The Money”


I’d prefer “Cheneyism on the cheap” myself. But here’s Beinart:

Bush’s foreign policy, especially in his first term, consisted of a hyper-aggressive, hyper-expensive effort to use the 9/11 attacks to extend American dominance of the greater Middle East without much serious thinking about whether such an effort could succeed. Romney can’t continue that effort because Americans are sick of it and the federal coffers are empty. What’s left is bluster and apple pie. Romney rarely discusses how long he wants to continue the war in Afghanistan, for instance, but he constantly attacks Obama for apologizing too much and not believing in America.

Which is why it would be the worst combination ever – diplomacy designed for the Fox News audience and a military follow-through that would permanently cripple the US’s already-precarious fiscal standing. John Judis rejects the Frum idea that Romney is all talk:

Some cynics argue that you should ignore what a presidential candidate says about foreign policy. But this analysis makes a rule out of exceptions. Over the last four decades, presidents have generally attempted to do what they said they would. It is only when they have encountered impediments that they have changed course. Bill Clinton promised to emphasize geoeconomics over geo-politics and did so until he was brought up short by Japan’s resistance to trade pressures and by the outbreak of genocide in the Balkans. George W. Bush vowed to conduct his foreign policy with “humility” and to oppose “nation-building,” but he was confounded by the September 11 attacks.

Joyner’s view:

The Romney campaign’s foreign policy approach ultimately suffers the same basic flaw as its domestic policy approach: in trying to be all things to all people, it ultimately satisfies no one. Those of us in the increasingly marginalized Realist foreign policy camp are left clinging to the hope that the appointment of seasoned hands like Bob Zoellich to the team signals that Romney will be the serious pragmatist that he was as governor of Massachusetts. But the empty saber rattling and cozing up to Netanyahu and John Bolton are attempts to satisfy the neoconservative wing that Mitt’s one of them.
The net result is that no one really knows what a Romney foreign policy would look like. Increasingly, I’m not sure that even Romney knows.

(Photo: Former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton speaks to Tagg Romney during the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on August 28, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. By Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.)

Thu Sep 13, 2012 – 3:08pm:

Is Egypt An Ally?

Obama says Egypt is neither an ally nor an enemy:

Richard Engel reacts to Obama’s statement:

For the last forty years, the United States has had two main allies in the Middle East — Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the other ally in the Middle East being Israel.  For the President to come out and say, well, he’s not exactly sure if Egypt is an ally any more but it’s not an enemy, that is a significant change in the perspective of Washington toward this country, the biggest country in the Arab world.  It makes one wonder, well, was it worth it?  Was it worth supporting the Arab Spring, supporting the demonstrations here in Tahrir Square, when now in Tahrir Square there are clashes going on behind me right in front of the US embassy?

The administration later tried to walk back the comment. Meanwhile, Frum questions US strategy regarding Egypt:

The central test of the engage-political-Islamists policy is post-Mubarak Egypt. Nobody remembers now, but after Mubarak’s fall there was much debate whether the Muslim Brotherhood should be allowed to participate in Egypt’s new political system. It is hardly illiberal to ban a party that aims at the overthrow of a liberal state. West Germany banned neo-Nazi parties after 1945; the post-1989 Czech Republic forbade former communist officials to hold government jobs – and both democracies are stronger for it. In the end, the Muslim Brotherhood escaped the ban by promising not to run a candidate for president, a promise it promptly broke.

Through it all, the Obama administration pressed for engagement, inclusion and acceptance, provided only that the Muslim Brotherhood complied with the rules of the political system. It did – and here we are.

Joshua Tucker tries to get inside Morsi’s head:

He’s trying to win support from his own constituency while trying (somewhat) not to completely infuriate the US and Egyptian military. Yet, there’s another constituency that Mursi must not ignore: the very citizens outside his constituency who gave him the opportunity to lead. Many in Egypt see the US role in the future of Egypt as absolutely critical to the development of that country. Despite a strong current of anti-Americanism — only 19% of Egyptians have a positive opinion of the US – many in Egypt, especially those that stand to benefit from greater links to globalization, are worried that weaker ties between the US and Egypt could result in further deterioration of existing economic conditions. That’s why when asked about future relations between Egypt and the US—55% of Egyptians would like relations to stay the same as before Mubarak’s overthrow (35%) or grow even stronger than that (20%).

Thu Sep 13, 2012 – 8:42pm:

The “Apology Tour” Lie

Kerry Howley dismantles it:

Here is a Sean-Hannity-endorsed highlight reel of Obama apologizing in which, you will notice, Obama never apologizes. He makes what we might call “admissions” that the government of the United States has made mistakes. What these mistakes consist of remains mysterious, because Obama declines to give the kind of specifics that would provide such an admission any rhetorical force. “The United States,” he says, “is still working through some of our own darker periods in our history.” This counts, in some quarters, as an apology, but it’s a statement even the people most worked up about “apologizing for America” would probably agree with, should it come from someone else. Perhaps the reel is better termed, “things Sean Hannity finds galling when they come out of Barack Obama’s mouth.” I take it to be the case, in watching these clips, that it’s hard to find footage of Obama actually saying he is sorry.

Thu Sep 13, 2012 – 10:12pm:

Tyrone Woods, Glen Doherty RIP

Secretary of State Clinton on the other fatalities from yesterday:

Tyrone’s friends and colleagues called him “Rone,” and they relied on his
courage and skill, honed over two decades as a Navy SEAL. In uniform, he served
multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2010, he protected American
diplomatic personnel in dangerous posts from Central America to the Middle East.
He had the hands of a healer as well as the arm of a warrior, earning
distinction as a registered nurse and certified paramedic. All our hearts go out
to Tyrone’s wife Dorothy and his three sons, Tyrone Jr., Hunter, and Kai, who
was born just a few months ago.

We also grieve for Glen Doherty, called Bub, and his family: his father
Bernard, his mother Barbara, his brother Gregory, and his sister Kathleen. Glen
was also a former Navy SEAL and an experienced paramedic. And he put his life on
the line many times, protecting Americans in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other
hotspots. In the end, he died the way he lived – with selfless honor and
unstinting valor.

Just as a counterpoint, one reason I am not and never have been a Republican:

Friday, September 14, 2012

Fri Sep 14, 2012 – 11:31am:

Romney Is No Reagan

A reader writes:

Your quoting of two then-future presidents regarding the Iran hostage crisis got me thinking even more about the horrific events of the past couple days. Candidates Reagan and Bush were responding to an event that Jimmy Carter had an actual hand in deciding.  Carter was the one who made the call to attempt to rescue the hostages.  By doing so Carter is accountable for what happened.  And yet Reagan and Bush stood firmly behind their president and did not criticize the decision that he made.

Fast forward to 2012.  The Republican presidential candidate chooses to attack the Obama administration for a statement that upon reflection looks like a balanced respectful approach to a situation that President Obama had nothing at all to do with.

This was not the President’s personal decision.  This was a decision by a mid-level embassy employee at a completely different embassy than the one that would later be attacked with horrific consequences.  Mitt Romney’s attack (and the smirk, which I hope gets aired nonstop over the next several days) and the comments of his cheerleaders in the Republican party not only prove that this is not my father’s Republican party, but that ever since Clinton won election in 1992, the big tent has been hijacked entirely by the reactionary element of the GOP.  Mitt Romney and those who classlessly have been backing his attack are not only not fit to be leaders of this nation, they are not fit to maintain any public soapbox at all.

Fri Sep 14, 2012 – 11:45am:

Romney Is No Bush Either

Can you imagine Mitt Romney saying about Islam what George W. Bush did in the very wake of 9/11? Or any leading Republican at this point?

Fri Sep 14, 2012 – 12:15pm:

How, Exactly, Would Romney Handle The Arab Spring?

Alex Altman suggests that Romney could win the Middle East debate:

If the Arab spring turns into an “Arab winter,” as Romney put it, and tumult spreads across the region, a backlash could certainly build against Obama’s handling of the uprising, leaving Romney to profit politically.

Greg Scoblete objects:

Undoubtedly, the administration has slipped up in its handling of the Arab Spring; it’s a momentous, historic event that caught the U.S. largely off guard. But this leads to the absurd assumption implicit in the criticism of the administration: that the U.S. federal government can deftly finesse the direction of Middle East politics in the 21st century. Particularly for those who profess a love of “limited government” it seems rather farcical to claim that the same incompetent government that can’t be trusted to balance the budget can reach across the ocean and create a Middle East more to its liking.

It’s more evidence of Republican incoherence: the government can’t be trusted to intervene in Texas because it is too far away and incompetent. But Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya? Why don’t we control them directly from Washington? Larison piles on:

The most common criticism of the Obama administration’s response to these uprisings has been that it has been “too slow” to lend support to protesters. That has been one of the frequent charges from the Romney campaign and from other leading Republican hawks. However, if these uprisings are gradually leading to a so-called “Arab winter,” a reluctance to back protest movements won’t be perceived as a liability. Despite their best efforts to have things both ways, Republicans cannot coherently attack Obama for being insufficiently supportive of protests and overly supportive of majoritarian Islamist movements.

But they’ll try anything.

Fri Sep 14, 2012 – 1:00pm:

The Protests Spread

Anti-film protests were held today in Sudan, Iraq, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Tunisia, Lebanon, Pakistan, Israel, Jordan, Qatar, India and Kashmir, while protests continue in Egypt and Yemen. Many of the demonstrations followed Friday prayers, though they widely varied in size. The Guardian is live-blogging. From CNN:

One of the worst riots took place in Sudan, where a thousands converged on the German Embassy and set it on fire, a journalist on the scene said. Some managed to get inside and pull down a German flag before police with tear gas forced the crowd to retreat.

In Egypt, a running battle between police and protesters in Cairo continued into its fourth day. And Afghanistan saw its first demonstrations Friday, despite the government’s attempts to block the online video from sparking riots. Aware that protests were planned for Friday — the Muslim holy day — the United States beefed up security at its embassies and consulates across the Middle East.

Al Arabiya reports about the scene in Tunisia:

Police fired tear gas and warning shots as more than 1,000 stone-throwing protesters gathered on Friday outside the U.S. embassy in a Tunis suburb to denounce [the film], an AFP journalist reported. A thick black plume of smoke was seen rising from the car park of the embassy, with a policeman telling AFP that some demonstrators had thrown petrol bombs. The security forces intervened when hardline Salafis among the demonstrators outside the U.S. mission started hurling rocks, the journalist said. … Protesters also set fire to the American School in Tunis, a Reuters reporter said. The school was closed on Friday.

This was the scene in Tahrir Square, where the Muslim Brotherhood had first backed, then tried to cancel, today’s protests:

Fri Sep 14, 2012 – 1:08pm:

Romney’s Theory Of “Provocative Weakness”

Ambinder deciphers it:

[I]t is worth taking a brief tour through the Museum of Provocative Weakness. That phrase is a favorite of Ambassador John Bolton, who said on August 28 that Romney “doesn’t believe strength is provocative, he believes that American weakness is provocative.” It has been used many times by Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. After the decision had been made to invade Iraq, Rumsfeld told ABC News that it didn’t really matter if a war enrages Arab populations in the Middle East. “All I can say is if history has taught anything, it’s that weakness is provocative. It entices people into doing things that they otherwise would not do.” When Rumsfeld was fired by President Bush three years later, he used his final turn at the podium to say that “it is not only clear that weakness is provocative, but [that] the perception of weakness on our part can be provocative.”

This phrase is the beating heart of Mitt Romney’s world view. You can see it in his books. You can hear it whenever he condemns President Obama for his “apology tour.” In practice, this means that whenever America has a choice about whether to demonstrate its will to power, it ought to exercise it. Anything else would telegraph weakness, a lack of resolve, that tips the balance of power in the world away from the good guys.

In business, I can see the logic of this. But in diplomacy and foreign policy? Romney doesn’t understand that restraint can also be a form of strength; that exercizing power incompetently can weaken a country’s power; that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars deeply wounded America in human and fiscal terms, with minimal long term gains (and almost certainly net losses) to offset these massive losses.

I can see why a decade and a half ago, you could hold these views. I was not as far out as Romney is, but after the triumph in the Cold War, cockiness got the better of me. But I cannot see how you can maintain this worldview after the Bush-Cheney debacle. But that is what we are learning about Mitt Romney: his foreign policy mind hasn’t changed since the 1970s. The last decade changed nothing. His foreign policy adventures as a candidate – from alienating our closest ally, the UK, to ceding US Middle East policy to the far right in Israel, to his latest implosion on the embassies in Libya and Egypt – renders him as reckless a choice in dealing with abroad as George W. Bush.

His obtuseness is dangerous. It is a gift to America’s enemies and a threat to our friends.

Fri Sep 14, 2012 – 1:40pm:

The Best Of Bad Options In Egypt

Frum argued yesterday that the Obama administration was wrong to engage the Muslim Brotherhood. Millman asks the question I would: what’s your alternative?

I’m skeptical, personally, that the Egyptian military could have banned the Muslim Brotherhood without facing widespread civil opposition, and possibly worse. When Frum says some in the Obama Administration thought it was “preferable to live with [the Islamists] than to do what was necessary to resist them” that “what was necessary” could well have included supporting an outright military coup, and subsequent large-scale repressive violence. Meanwhile, the actual partial coup that took place has left military and civilian authorities jockeying for legitimacy, which is part of the background to provocations like the attack on the American embassy.

Drum is on the same page:

Conservatives too often assume that American power can accomplish anything we set our minds to. But it’s not so. Sometimes there just aren’t any good options, and the best path forward is to ride out the storm and refrain from doing anything foolish. It’s not very satisfying at a gut level, but nine times out of ten it’s the best you can do.

Fri Sep 14, 2012 – 2:42pm:


Truly amazing on the video condemned by the Cairo embassy:

I think the whole film is a terrible idea.  I think him making it,
promoting it showing it is disrespectful to people of other faiths.  I
don’t think that should happen.  I think people should have the common
courtesy and judgment– the good judgment– not to be– not to offend other
peoples’ faiths.  It’s a very bad thing, I think, this guy’s doing.

Why is that not as “disgraceful” as the original embassy statement? By his own logic? Or is there no logic here at all? Just shameless say-anythingism to get some kind of news cycle coup. And then lying afterwards.

Fri Sep 14, 2012 – 2:59pm:

Why Are The Egyptians Still Protesting?


Peter Hessler reports from Cairo:

[T]he events at the U.S. Embassy seem to reflect the general deterioration of security around the country, especially with regard to diplomatic missions. Since the revolution, four embassies have been breached by protestors: Israel, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. These protests often begin because of some distant event—Myanmar, for example, was targeted because of the government’s treatment of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority—and demonstrators have learned that the Egyptian authorities are reluctant to use force. This is especially true now that the Muslim Brotherhood is in power, trying to establish themselves as the first democratically elected government in decades. “The problem with the current government is that there is a huge fear of hurting the protestors, especially if [the government] is defending foreigners,” the foreign diplomat told me. “It’s a very populist regime.” She continued, “That’s one of the after-effects of the revolution. They have the right to make these protests, and they know that the security forces won’t do anything.”

A diplomat Hessler talks to sees the anti-Islamic Muhammad film as an excuse for the protests rather than their cause. Kevin Drum agrees.

(Photo: An Egyptian protester throws a rock toward riot police during clashes near the United States Embassy and Tahrir Square on September 14, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt. Over two hundred people have been injured in clashes between protesters and security forces. By Ed Giles/Getty Images)

Fri Sep 14, 2012 – 5:10pm:

Is Egypt An Ally? Ctd

Juan Cole weighs in on the ally debate:

Egypt is among about 14 countries designated at “major non-NATO allies” by US presidents. This status recognizes that they do joint military exercises with the US, and gives them special access to advanced US weaponry. However, some of them are not allies in the precise legal sense. That is, there is no obligation of mutual defense. A true ally, as with NATO states, is one that the allied country is pledged to defend from attack. Still, US officials typically have referred to Egypt as an ally, and the State Department made clear that it continues to do so.

So Obama was technically correct that Egypt is not an ally in the sense that Britain or even Turkey is. But unlike what some media outlets wrote, this statement was no gaffe. Rather, Obama was playing hardball with Morsi, trying to impress upon him that the status of ‘major non-NATO ally’ is not automatic now that the Muslim Brotherhood is in control. It will have to be re-earned, at least from Obama’s point of view. And the lack of response on the embassy attack is not consistent with ally status. Non-NATO ally status is bestowed by a stroke of the presidential pen, so Obama could take it away.

Cole also details how he believes Morsi and his administration have finally caved to US pressure by publicly denouncing the attacks:

Obama has enough assets in his contest with Morsi to influence the Egypt situation– loan reduction, civilian and military aid, and the danger that a US State Department travel warning could devastate Egypt’s tourist industry, which is worth billions a year. Even Obama’s willingness to play a politics of reputation with Morsi’s Egypt seems to have had some effect. [Obama’s ally comment] wasn’t a ‘gaffe.’

Fri Sep 14, 2012 – 8:05pm:

Is Sam Bacile Even A Real Person? Ctd

Noah Shachtman takes us ever further down the rabbit hole with the world’s least favorite filmmaker, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula:

In August of 1991, he was convicted on two counts of selling watered-down gasoline. And then came the arrest for PCP manufacturing in 1997. ….
According to The Daily Beast, Nakoula and Abraham weren’t just attempting to make PCP. The news site claims that the pair were arrested for trying to mass-produce methamphetamine. Nakoula was arrested on March 27, 1997, according to the Beast, with $45,000 in hundreds and twenties in a paper lunch bag on the seat beside him.

Leah Nelson has more on the other fanatics behind the film:

For years, [film consultant Steve] Klein has been cultivating relationships with Middle
Eastern Christians in California – in particular, Joseph Nasralla, a
California Coptic Christian who spoke at an anti-Muslim rally hosted by
hate group leaders Pam Geller and Robert Spencer on Sept. 11, 2010. Now, Nasralla has been identified as president and CEO of Media for Christ, a California nonprofit that allegedly produced “The Innocence of Muslims.” … The Vietnam veteran, who says Muslims have “no choice but to hunt
Jews and Christians down, torture us and murder us,” has been pushing
Coptic Christians to join his anti-Muslim crusade for years. A hard-line
Christian nationalist who conducts paramilitary trainings with
Christian groups across the country, he believes that Copts have a
divine destiny to “save” America from the twin evils of secularism and

Fri Sep 14, 2012 – 8:32pm:

Face Of The Day

Palestinian protesters are reflected on the helmet of an Israeli border policeman during a demonstration against a film mocking Islam after the Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s old city on September 14, 2012. Palestinians protested against an amateur anti-Muslim film with thousands gathering in the Gaza Strip and hundreds in Jerusalem where they clashed with Israeli police. By Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sat Sep 15, 2012 – 2:27pm:

Beyond The Campaign, The Country

I rarely do this, but here is the thirty minute ceremony at Andrews Airforce Base when four American public servants were brought home after being killed by a Salafist mob in Libya. Clinton speaks at the 7-minute mark. She has shone throughout this tragedy and tension, as Dan Klaidman reports in a must-read:

Through it all, Hillary Clinton was a source of strength for her wounded department, employees say. She moved back and forth between public appearances and private internal diplomacy, showing her trademark combination of resolve, empathy, and hyper-competence. She began at State, looking drawn but determined, calling the events in Benghazi “an attack that should shock the conscience of people of all faiths around the world.” Later that morning she stood by President Obama at the White House, looking alternately stoic and stricken. Then the president and his secretary of state traveled to Foggy Bottom where they met with shocked employees. Those who saw Clinton in action this week say it was
in the more private, intimate moments where she was at her best.

I never, ever, ever thought I’d say this: but Hillary Clinton’s composure and competence and humility over the past four years as secretary of state make me want to see her president one day.

Sat Sep 15, 2012 – 3:30pm:

Desperation, The Ad Strategy, Ctd

Karl Rove’s Super PAC American Crossroads is the first out with an ad trying to use the embassy attacks to hit Obama, issuing the laughably hypocritical charge that Obama didn’t suspend campaigning after Ambassador Stevens was killed. The web ad also goes kitchen-sink to try and suggest the president is somehow negligent regarding US foreign policy (the size/scope of the ad is unknown):

By the way the “Obama skips briefings” charge comes from everyone’s favorite torture-monger, Marc Thiessen, and is of course, BS. Previous shamelessness from Rove’s ad-makers here.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sun Sep 16, 2012 – 6:58pm:

Is Netanyahu Trying To Blow Up The Election?

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He is now actively involved in the Republican campaign to get a war against Iran – preferably before the election in order to scramble a race that Obama now looks as if he could win. He is pulling a Cheney, equating Salafist Sunni mobs in Libya with the Shiite dictatorship in Iran:

“Iran is guided by a leadership with an unbelievable fanaticism. It’s the same fanaticism that you see storming your embassies today. Do you want these fanatics to have nuclear weapons?”

He is making Santorum’s argument that the entire regime in Iran sees itself and its entire country as a suicide bomber, eager to destroy itself in order to annihilate the Jewish state. Does he provide an historical example of such suicidal tendencies for the nation as a whole? No. Because there is no precedent. No precedent in Mao’s China in its most radical era. No precedent in the Soviet Union under Stalin. No precedent even in North Korea, run by total loonies. The obvious answer, if you believe in just war theory, is to ratchet up non-military pressure to get real, effective inspection of Iran’s nuclear facilities while protecting its absolute right to pursue peaceful nuclear power. Another obvious answer, if you think non-proliferation is the key to world peace (which I don’t) is to get Israel to give up its nuclear weaponry – so that the entire region is nuke-free.

There is no just war theory on earth that can justify a pre-emptive strike against nuclear facilities which have not been used to produce a weapon in a country whose Supreme Leader has explicitly called a “sin” to deploy.

As for a radical regime in terms of international relations, which country in the Middle East has launched more wars than any other since its creation, has occupied territory it has then sought to ethnically re-balance, has killed civilians outside its borders in the thousands, has developed a nuclear capacity outside of international non-proliferation treaties, has physically attacked both Iraq and Syria to destroy their nuclear programs, and is now threatening war against Iran, a war that could convulse the entire world into a new clash of civilizations?

Israel is the answer. I have no doubt that this new incident of anti-American Salafist violence in the Middle East is now being used by prime minister Netanyahu to concoct a casus belli with which to scramble global events and get rid of Obama – and his continuing threat to Israel’s illegal expansionism.

When the prime minister of an ally is openly backing one political party in the US elections in order to plunge this country into a war whose consequences are unknowable and potentially catastrophic is a new low. If it is allowed to succeed, if Romney were to win and hand over US foreign policy in the Middle East to Netanyahu and Israel’s growing religious far right, then we will be back to the Bush era without even a veneer of sympathy for Arab democratic convulsions. Above, Netanyahu calls those, like me, who favor containment, stupid. We are not as stupid as you think we are, Mr Netanyahu.

Sun Sep 16, 2012 – 9:05pm:

George W. Bush And Apology

Obama has never apologized for America, merely at times acknowledged its mistakes (like torturing prisoners against clear prohibitions in domestic and international law) alongside its strengths (like being one of the the most stable and benign democracies in history). I don’t see this acknowledgment of fallibility and error over time as some kind of craven weakness, but actually the kind of strength that a successful, self-confident democracy can deploy when necessary. Democracies can admit when they have screwed up; dictatorships cannot. I regard that as a strength. Romney for some reason regards it as a weakness.

But even George W. Bush differed from Romney on this. And so it was that after some US troops were found using the Koran for target practice, George W. Bush apologized to the prime minister of Iraq:

“He apologized for that in the sense that he said that we take it very seriously,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said. “We are concerned about the reaction. We wanted them to know that the
president knew that this was wrong.”

Bush apologized for Japanese-American internment (sorry, Michelle Malkin):


Here he is in Africa on the legacy of slavery:

“Human beings delivered, sorted, weighed, branded with marks of
commercial enterprises and loaded as cargo on a voyage without return,”
Mr. Bush said. “One of the largest migrations in history was also one of
the greatest crimes of history.” The president recited a litany
of Africans and African Americans who made contributions to American
society, from the arts to politics: abolitionist Frederick Douglass,
slave-poet Phillis Wheatley and Martin Luther King Jr.

“The stolen sons and daughters of Africa helped to awaken the conscience of America,” he said. Mr. Bush did not apologize for slavery but noted Americans throughout history “clearly saw this sin and called it by name.”

Here is the statement that Mitt Romney called “disgraceful”, issued before a mob attacked the Benghazi consulate:

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.

The only thing we learned last week is that Romney and Netanyahu know they are losing this race so far and are desperate to use anything to turn it into a polarizing, global religious conflict where they think they can win. That’s why Romney did this week what no president should ever do: see a brushfire of anti-Americanism and pour some more gasoline on it. And why Netanyahu is standing by with a few more barrels if necessary.