12 Sep 2012

America struggles with the new global realities

Four American diplomats are dead in Benghazi. It’s the first time a US ambassador has been killed in his post since 1979.  Chris Stevens was one of the best field officers of the State Department.

He spoke fluent Arabic.  He was a friend of the Libyan revolution and he ventured beyond fortified embassy walls to spend time on the Arab street. He was both rare and indispensable at a time when America is trying to understand the new realities of the Arab Spring.

US marines have now been dispatched to defend American embassies from Rabat to Kabul.

In Cairo President Morsi is chewing his lips over the right response to the attacks and in America the crisis has become campaign yeast. More and more fingers are now pointing at al Qaeda affiliates who may have taken advantage of the mood and chaos on the streets to launch a concerted and well planned attack on the USA consulate in Benghazi.

The situation is tragic, messy, ironic and dangerous. And everyone is fumbling to find the right response. It has exposed the administration’s weakness ever since the Arab Spring shattered the flawed certainties of the region. One thing we can be pretty sure of is that under the Mubarak or Gaddafi regimes no demonstrations would ever have been allowed outside the US embassies unless the regime wanted them there.

But those days are gone and freedom is a messy business.

For his part Mitt Romney was far too eager to jump on the case and slammed Obama for apologising for America’s values of freedom of speech. He based his broadside on a statement released by the US embassy in Cairo, condemning the offending video before the attack in Benghazi had even taken place.

Later Mitt was made to eat some of his words. Once again he looked as if foreign policy is very foreign turf to him. But watch this space. The more attacks against American interests continue the less room there will be for nuance, especially in the middle of a viscous election campaign.

Romney will call Obama weak. Obama will call Romney reckless. In the meantime from Libya to Afghanistan governments are discovering what happens when the postmodern world of the internet collides with the medieval world of rank religious bigotry, both Muslim and Christian.

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3 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:


    “Freedom is a messy business”?

    Can you describe what “freedom” you mean in the Middle East?

  2. abimanu mathoorasing says:

    I wonder why did the President, through the embassy in Cairo, apologise for the alleged offending video before any projection? We see the result now that both dictators had been ousted from power to satisfy the wishes of the countries, and the irony was the West helped to achieve it to the detriment of those murdered.US is large continent which has everything ,which needs to be exploited ,instead of relying on the Arab countries for petrol. Wake up ,US,show of force is a non-starter;ask Congress to act so that US becomes self-sufficient.

    1. Matthew Tarpy says:

      gah! Why won’t this trope just die? He did no such thing (apologize) and you damn well know it. Stop lying about what went on and then we can have a serious discussion about it.

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