Americans shocked by attacks on diplomats
Updated: 2012-09-14 08:23
By Chen Weihua in New York (China Daily)
The attacks on US diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, and Cairo, Egypt, on the 11th anniversary of the Sept 11 attacks have shocked Americans.
While initial reports linked the attacks - which killed US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other US diplomatic personnel - to the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims, many Americans are wondering why people in the countries they helped during the "Arab Spring" have turned against them.
Ed Husain, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, believes al-Qaida sympathizers and al-Qaida foot soldiers are behind the attacks.
"I don't think we should look for al-Qaida membership cards because they don't necessarily offer membership cards but al-Qaida offers compelling narratives, and these are people who respond to those narratives," Husain said on Wednesday.
"There is a mindset in a large part of the Arab world that America is at war with Islam and Muslims," he said, adding that the narrative led to the Sept 11 attacks.
Husain suggests that the US should not retreat from the region but continue to be involved and engage with governments there to help steer a course to advance US interests in the region as well as the interests of those governments.
Husain said the Arab Spring is still in motion. While acknowledging the aspirations of liberal local youth for transparent government, a better economy and a tie with the West, he pointed out that there have been many negative results of the Arab Spring, such as the weakening of women's rights, minority rights and religious freedom, and the rise of radicalism.
Though many believe anti-Americanism is deep-seated in the Arab world, Charles Kupchan, a professor of international affairs at Georgetown University and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told China Daily on Wednesday that he was struck by the relative absence of anti-American sentiment associated with the Arab Spring. "It is primarily militants who seek to do harm to US interests," he said.
Kupchan, author of How Enemies Become Friends, said the political transformation of the Middle East is still in its early stages. "Not until there are stable governments in the region can the process of deepening ties with the United States move ahead. For now, the US is correct to stand by the forces of reform and liberalization, and in general let events in the region take their course."
But he said developments in Libya should be a lesson in caution about getting deeply involved in Syria. "The attack demonstrates that even successful interventions can produce adverse knock-on effects."
Many in the US hoped that Libya would be a good case study, showing that a transition can lead to a more open and prosperous society.
Isobel Coleman, another senior fellow at the council, warned that the attacks could be the start of a more violent trend in Libya, but added that she remains hopeful.
The huge number of weapons flowing into Libyan society has been regarded as a major destabilizing factor since the toppling of Muammar Gadhafi 11 months ago. Sectarian violence has made headlines frequently.
Joseph Blady, a former program officer for the Undersecretary of Defense, criticized US policy in the Middle East, saying that after 60 years of direct involvement in the region, the US still cannot separate its friends from its enemies.
He blamed US overdependence on military power for its problems in the Middle East and the rest of the world.
"The United States is blessed, but simultaneously cursed, by possessing the most powerful military in world history," Blady wrote on the Huffington Post on Wednesday. "The quality of our military has obviated the need for cogent thought about US foreign policy Don't bother to understand the other guy if we don't like what's going on, we can just kill the other guys," he said.
Blady believes both US President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are victims of this approach.
But some differences clearly exist. Romney took the opportunity on Wednesday to attack Obama. "I think it is a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values," he said, referring to a statement issued earlier by the US embassy in Cairo condemning efforts to offend believers of all religions, implying the release of the anti-Islam film.
Obama did not wait to fight back. "We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack," the president said.