U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens traveled to Benghazi on September 11 to open an American Cultural Center. A mob of Islamic fanatics murdered Stevens, along with three other America diplomats.
This murder followed a mob attack on the U.S. embassy in Cairo. In legal terms this would be the same as an attack on New York, Portland or Lubec. International law recognizes embassies as the sovereign territory of the nation that establishes it.
It seems to follow that the U.S. would be as legally justified in deploying military force in defense of its embassies as it would be to deploy them in defense of Lubec.
In fact, our embassies already have a right to station troops for their defense, i.e., squads of Marines (although it appears that they were forbidden to carry ammo in Cairo, just empty guns). More, the host government has the primary responsibility for defending foreign diplomats. The governments of Egypt and Libya failed to meet this responsibility.
Never mind legality, a military response would be rash and pointless. So what is the appropriate response? This is question is not easily answered, but it’s obvious that the immediate response of our country’s representative in Egypt was not acceptable. His Twitter response included the following statement: “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 Cairo Embassy Twitter account continued to send out tweets defending its first reaction. One deleted tweet said, “This morning’s condemnation (issued before protests began) still stands. As does condemnation of unjustified breach of the Embassy.”
Mitt Romney condemned this statement 13 hours after it appeared. The administration repudiated it 16 hours after it appeared and blamed it on a Cairo senior public affairs officer named Larry Schwartz, who acted without proper authorization. Liberal-leaning journalists have nothing much to say about Larry, but are seething with loathing and fury at Mitt, following the lead of Barack who accuses him of going off half-cocked.
Questions are being asked about who was behind these attacks, with fingers being pointed at Al Qaeda. Leave the political and mob management questions aside; what is the appropriate response to these attacks? So far no one has proposed bombing Benghazi or Cairo (or Yemen, the most recent scene of mob action), although some congressmen propose cutting off aid.
I suggest that questions of responsibility and retaliation are less important than, finally, a clear statement of American values. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement saying that while the United States “deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, there is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.” This is not a clear statement.
Clarity demands that our government make it known that the United States has a Constitution guaranteeing the right of every citizen to express his views of Islam and its followers without restriction. If Islamic religious beliefs place women in subjugation, condemn homosexuals to death, requires a death penalty for anyone who converts to another religion and sanctions the persecution of Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Bahai minorities then, yes, we do denigrate that religion. And, no, we do not feel tolerant of intolerance even if religious beliefs condone and command it.
We “co-existed” with the Soviet Union despite its systematic persecution of Christian believers, but we never pretended it did not exist or treated it as irrelevant.
Finally, on a lesser note, we should declare that we uphold the long-standing international custom of respecting the safety and legal immunity of diplomatic representatives. Even Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany felt constrained by this custom.
It’s especially annoying to read statements that these attacks on our embassies were “unjustified.” Violations of diplomatic immunity are never justified. That’s why the New York City Police Department does not attempt to collect fines from U.N. diplomats who regularly ignore “No Parking” signs.
Professor John Frary of Farmington, Maine is a former U.S. Congress candidate and retired history professor, a Board Member of Maine Taxpayers United and an associate editor of the International Military Encyclopedia, and can be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org.