International headlines have stacked up an impressive list of horribles for the United States this week.
American embassies have been protested and attacked and an ambassador and three others were murdered. Warnings came in and were either ignored or treated as so much noise. Adequate security precautions were not taken. The president shirked most of the official briefings leading up to the eleventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
Management of the Egyptian embassy effectively sided with the mob over their protest of an obscure movie that had no real distribution or production values. The embassy in Yemen was overrun by protestors. The apparatus of the US government was used to track down and reveal the identity of the offending filmmaker, who has every reason to fear for his life. Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced his product as “disgusting and reprehensible,” saying that the government “absolutely reject[s] its content and messages.”
That hasn’t helped so far. The anti-US protests in majority Muslim countries are rising to a fever pitch. A diplomatic evacuation from Egypt may well be in the offing. We’ll get a better idea of that Friday, which this Washington Post story helpfully notes is “the traditional day of protest in the Muslim world.”
It’s wall-to-wall ugly for American diplomacy right now and the person responsible for our diplomacy is not acquitting herself well at all. Moreover, many of the initiatives that she supported — siding against Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and supporting the overthrow of Libya’s strongman Muammar Gaddafi and encouraging the protests associated with the “Arab Spring” — helped sow the seeds of protest that now batter against the embassy walls.
The fallout now does not, necessarily, mean none of those things were worth undertaking. It does mean that the US government and specifically the State Department had a very serious obligation to watch developments in Muslim countries closely and to guard American embassies at times when tensions might be running especially high… say on the anniversary of September 11.
After the disastrous 2006 midterm elections, George W. Bush decided that the US government had to change its approach to Iraq and thus Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was shown the door. Now, it is clear US diplomacy is in need of a major overhaul as well. Obama should look to his predecessor’s example and fire Hillary Clinton at the earliest opportunity.