The Libya attack could trigger a chain reaction
The attack against the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which the American ambassador to Tripoli, Chris Stevens, and three of his officers were killed, took place on the night of Sept. 11; in other words, on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11.
A “small and savage” group, according to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s description, carried out the attack, allegedly in response to a film released on the Internet by a film director, Sam Bacile, from Los Angeles. The film denounces Islam as a “cancer” and uses strong words against the Prophet Mohammad. Widespread protest first began in Egypt, with protesters attempting to raid the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, but the tragedy in Benghazi left all other reactions behind, with it extreme degree of violence.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s statement came on Sept. 12, almost a day after the attack in Benghazi. He vowed to exact severe punishment on the attackers. Questions linger as to why the White House responded to the attack so late, and this was brought up by Obama’s presidential rival, Mitt Romney, as well. Romney accused Obama of giving mixed signals and asked for a formal apology from Egypt, like the one Libya issued, for failing to properly protect the U.S. diplomatic mission.
The Libya attack is unfortunate for Obama in three ways.
First is the tragic incident itself. Stevens was the first U.S. diplomat to be killed on duty since Adolph Dubs in Afghanistan in 1979. Plus, he was killed in a country where the U.S. provided a lot of help to get rid of the former ruler, Moammar Gadhafi, and establish the current government.
Secondly, the attack was a violent response to a film with a message that insulted many Muslims. This may have destroyed much of the U.S. effort to build a bridge between the West and the “good Muslims.” That is why the U.S. administration was careful in its language to criticize ridiculing religious beliefs, and to isolate the apologetic Libyan government from the attack.
Third, the attack happened at a time when the U.S. is heading towards a critical presidential election on Nov. 6. Romney has not fully shown his teeth yet. But it appears that Romney will strike Obama harder in the coming days because the U.S. has become a worldwide target and because of a perceived failure to understand the true nature of the Arab Spring, if Obama fails to issue a response to the attack that would defy any such criticism from his rival.
Obama has been sending the message that he does not want to become involved in any military action, at least until the elections: That has included clear messages to France and Turkey regarding Syria and to Israel regarding Iran. But if he makes a military response to this attack, he would certainly satisfy American public opinion and continue his campaign from where he paused. If Israel then, with an argument about its own security concerns regarding Iran, were to create a fait accompli, the entire region could easily become a hell on earth. Such a step could spark a chain reaction.
Not only the U.S. but the whole “greater Middle East” is passing through dire straits.