The White Flag and the Black Flag

The Cairo and Benghazi embassy attacks have brought foreign policy back into the election. The Democrats were enjoying a “post-convention glow,” bragging about a post-convention bounce (which has, as usual, bounced back), and were trying to talk themselves into the idea that they now have a big advantage over Republicans on foreign policy.

Well, sure, but the big advantage was that no one was talking about foreign policy or paying any attention to it, a stance that neatly aligns with the policy of the Obama administration, which is also not paying much attention to foreign policy.

But as I expected, foreign policy wasn’t an issue in this election until some sudden crisis made it an issue. And here is the sudden crisis.

It’s not just that foreign policy has intruded itself back into the election. It’s that the “War on Terror” has made a re-appearance. Some of us haven’t forgotten that al-Qaeda’s war on America began with attacks on our embassies: the bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998. And we saw what happened when no one took those attacks seriously.

Fourteen years after those bombings and eleven years after September 11, I can’t believe that our embassies in Libya and Egypt were not more secure and better defended, and I can’t believe that so much of their security was outsourced to inadequate or unmotivated locals. (There is some indication that local security in Libya gave up Ambassador Stevens’ location.)

The attack in Libya in particular is looking like an organized, planned strike by a well-armed and trained (or semi-trained) team. It was well known that al-Qaeda and other Islamist militants have a presence and following in Libya, and particularly in Benghazi. (Gaddafi encouraged young militants to volunteer to fight elsewhere, partly to keep them out of his hair.) So why weren’t we prepared for something like this?

But that is not President Obama’s biggest failure. His biggest failure is what he has done after the attacks.

The pretext for the embassy attacks was a YouTube trailer for some obscure ultra-low-budget film that presents a highly unflattering version of the life of Mohammed. As I observed in my newsletter for RealClearPolitics, “In a vibrant free society such as we enjoy here in the West, there will always be expressions of ideas that are ‘offensive’ to radical Islamists. Such films, books, cartoons, whatever are just the pretext for an attack motivated by a hatred for Western infidels in general and for Americans in particular.” The attack in Egypt was led by Mohamed al-Zawahiri, the brother of al-Qaeda co-founder Ayman al-Zawahiri, and there is evidence that the Benghazi attack was planned as revenge for our killing earlier this year of Abu Yahya al-Libi, a top al-Qaeda leader who was from Libya.

Yet from the beginning, the State Department and the administration have bought into the idea that this is just about a film. When it was clear that there was trouble brewing, our embassy in Cairo issued a statement condemning the film.

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 embassy then reiterated its support for this statement as the attacks on the embassy were ongoing.

Note that line about how criticizing Islam is an “abuse” of free speech—a view radical Islamists completely agree with.

It was for criticizing this statement, saying “It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks,” that Mitt Romney was pilloried by the mainstream media. Yet the administration has since doubled down on its sympathy for the Islamists.

In an extraordinary statement at a press conference, White House spokesman Jay Carney declared:

This is a fairly volatile situation, and it is in response not to U.S. policy, not to, obviously, the administration, not to the American people. It is in response to a video—a film—that we have judged to be reprehensive and disgusting. That in no way justifies any violent reaction to it. But this is not a case of protests directed at the United States, writ large, or at U.S. policy. This is in response to a video that is offensive to Muslims.

This is not just the administration’s rhetoric. They are acting on it. The White House flagged the clip at YouTube, in effect requesting to have it removed. Then they deployed the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, not to plan a military mission against Islamic militants in Libya, but to talk to Terry Jones, an attention-seeking Florida pastor, and ask him to stop publicizing the film.

Oh, and the police brought the film’s director in for questioning. This is not quite as bad as it sounds, since the man is on probation for bank fraud and may have violated the terms of his parole. And for all I know, this film was part of a new scheme to bilk some gullible investors. But on the other hand, the terms of his parole were intended to keep him from defrauding anyone, not to keep him from expressing his religious views, and legal action against the filmmaker is precisely what Egypt’s new Islamist president has been demanding.

Incredibly, there is a domestic chorus of support for such suppression of speech. In USA Today, Anthea Butler presents the case for imprisoning the filmmaker.

The “free speech” in Bacile’s film is not about expressing a personal opinion about Islam. It denigrates the religion by depicting the faith’s founder in several ludicrous and historically inaccurate scenes to incite and inflame viewers.

This could be dismissed as the ranting of a lone individual, if not for the fact that Butler met with a chorus of agreement when she said the same thing on MSNBC.

Over at MSNBC, a riot of consensus broke out when contributors Mike Barnicle and Donny Deutsch as well as University of Pennsylvania professor Anthea Butler all agreed that the people behind the video should be indicted as accessories to murder. “Good morning,” declared Butler, “How soon is Sam Bacile [the alleged creator of the film] going to be in jail folks? I need him to go now.”

Barnicle set his sights on Terry Jones, the pastor who wanted to burn the Koran a while back and who was allegedly involved in the video as well. “Given this supposed minister’s role in last year’s riots in Afghanistan, where people died, and given his apparent or his alleged role in this film, where…at least one American, perhaps the American ambassador, is dead, it might be time for the Department of Justice to start viewing his role as an accessory before or after the fact.”

Deutsch helpfully added: “I was thinking the same thing, yeah.”

You can see why I never refer to these creatures as “liberals.” The old-fashioned liberals used to believe in freedom of speech, especially when it came to religion. Yet it is becoming clear that the Obama administration doesn’t contain any liberals, either. They are acting as if the real problem here is that a filmmaker has offended Muslims, and their first priority is to suppress the film.

And what has been the response? Anti-American attacks have spread across the world. The Daily Mail provides a collection of images, as well as map showing the sheer scope of the riots and protests.

The signature image of these attacks is the black flag flying over an American embassy. The flag, a black field with white Arabic text reading “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet,” is often called the “al-Qaeda flag” but it is used by radical Islamist groups of all stripes. Apparently, it was the original flag used during the early Muslim conquests, so it is favored by those who want to return to “pure” Islam, particularly in its militant form.

Iraq War veteran David French describes what it was like when the black flags were flown by Shiite insurgents in Southern Iraq.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw the black flags. It was April 2008, and I was in a three-vehicle convoy driving through the city of Balad Ruz on our main supply route. I’d been on the route many times before and had seen only the hustle and bustle of a small Arab city. But this time was different. The streets were empty—with little traffic and almost no pedestrians—and the black flags were flying. Everywhere.

We knew what that meant. In our region, at least, Muqtada al-Sadr’s truce was over. I made it back to our base without incident, but the demonstrations and attacks came fast and furious.

He then describes what we did about it.

With EFPs on our supply route, firefights raging to our north, and demonstrations roiling area towns, our entire effort in Diyala Province hung in the balance. But the response was focused and decisive. Fox Troop continued its battle with al-Qaeda in the north while our Grim Troop rolled in full force straight into the heart of Balad Ruz and in a bold daylight operation captured the leader of the Shiite insurgency and his entire “security detail” without firing a shot. Almost immediately, the black flags came down, the EFPs disappeared, and our supply routes re-opened. Our fight with al-Qaeda continued, but the Shiite “uprising” was over….

I’ll repeat this point as long as it needs to be said—strength wins and weakness kills. The local population didn’t love Sadr’s militia so much as they wanted to be on the winning side. Had we pulled back or hesitated in the slightest, our little corner of the war could have turned out very differently.

But that was a different administration. Under this administration, the black flags don’t fly over some dusty little Middle Eastern town. They fly over our embassies—in Cairo, in Benghazi, in Tunisia, in Yemen.

The pattern is clear. As America raises the white flag, Muslims raise the black flag.

Hold that in your mind as the symbol of this administration’s foreign policy.


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