The turning point

Reuters

On the back of the burning of the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the killing of staff connect to it, demonstrators gathered in Libya on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012, to condemn the killers and voice condolences for U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three embassy staff who were killed in an attack on the Benghazi consulate and a safe house refuge, stormed by Islamist gunmen blaming America for a film they said insulted the Prophet Mohammad.

The attacks on the American embassy in Cairo and the American consulate in Benghazi mark a turning point in the Arab Spring and will likely mark a change in American policy toward the region regardless of President Obama’s desires.

"Subsidizing a Muslim Brotherhood government enables the Egyptian leadership to shirk responsibility for its actions and its incitement." -Michael RubinWithin American consciousness, the attacks bring back memories of 1979, when the American ambassador to Afghanistan was killed and the American embassy in Tehran was seized by radical students. While Obama may apologize for the provocation and reaffirm that Americans bear no ill-will toward Islam, the mood in Congress will blame the perpetrators. Sometimes free speech insults, but that should never justify violence against diplomats.

The Arab Spring has left Egypt deeply in debt; since Mubarak’s ouster, Egypt has lost almost two-thirds of its hard currency reserves. It cannot afford to continue subsidizing bread and salaries for a bloated state sector without international aid. Even if President Obama wishes to provide assistance to Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi, Congress will likely have little attitude to subsidize a government guilty of an outrage against the U.S. embassy. The Libyan government has apologized for events in Benghazi; the Egyptian government has not apologized unequivocally. No one should consider Egypt too big to fail. Subsidizing a Muslim Brotherhood government enables the Egyptian leadership to shirk responsibility for its actions and its incitement.

The White House and State Department should also reconsider their attitude toward the tiny Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar. Throughout the Arab spring uprising in Egypt and the military campaign in Libya, the United States preferred to work through Qatar, an oil-rich state and home to the Middle East headquarters of the Pentagon’s Central Command.  The problem with Qatar, however, is it has its own agenda. In both Egypt and Libya, Qatari money funded the most radical factions, including in all likelihood those responsible for the death of American diplomats in Libya.

At this juncture, it is essential to demonstrate strength. The United States should retaliate against every single Egyptian who breached the American embassy, and should kill every Libyan involved in the death of Americans. Should Obama take a conciliatory approach, it could signal open season on American embassies worldwide.

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