While details trickle in on the troubling and tragic events involving our diplomatic missions in Cairo and Benghazi on Tuesday, one thing is certain: America remains in the cross-hairs of violent Islamist extremists.
So much for the liberalizing effects of the Arab Spring.
Unfortunately, some of the Islamist forces (including, potentially, terror groups) that were released by the fall of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi are seemingly turning on us.
It’s also likely that these attacks were staged on Sept. 11 for a reason. While not certain, the offensive film cited by the attackers may have only been a pretext for the assaults on the Cairo embassy and Benghazi consulate.
Holding the U.S. government accountable for this privately-made film is ludicrous, meaning that the assailants no doubt wanted to send threatening messages to Washington as well as to the fledgling governments in Cairo and Tripoli.
For the United States, it’s possible that one or both of the attacks were revenge for the killing of the likes of al- Qaeda leaders such as Osama bin Laden or his Libyan and Egyptian lieutenants. (Don’t forget that al-Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri is Egyptian.)
To Cairo and Tripoli, both in the formative stages of forming permanent governments, the warning is twofold: Don’t get too close to Washington, and don’t think of veering too far from the Islamist hard line.
(While the Egyptian government is headed by an acolyte of the Muslim Brotherhood, the interim government in Libya is so far relatively more moderate.)
It’s ironic we suffered this terrible event at the same time a U.S. trade delegation of some 100 businesspeople was in Egypt, looking at ways to bolster the flagging economy through enhanced trade — not to mention talks of our government forgiving $1 billion in Egyptian debt.
In Libya, the United States was critical in the NATO effort to prevent a possible humanitarian disaster in of all places Benghazi and, ultimately, the end of Gadhafi’s repressive regime last year.
We’re going to have to take a good look at our relationships with these states. As host nations, Cairo and Tripoli are required by international treaty to protect diplomatic personnel and installations resident in their countries.
The first test will be whether Egypt and Tripoli come out with strong, unequivocal statements condemning the violence against our diplomatic facilities and Americans — and committing themselves to preventing further violence against U.S. interests.
The next test will be whether — and how quickly — Egypt and Libya move to apprehend the criminals and or terrorists responsible for these acts and hold them accountable for their heinous actions.
If they aren’t willing to bring the attackers to justice, we should be willing to do so to serve as a lesson to them and others. These outrageous acts can’t stand.
Setting the ongoing tragedy in Syria aside, the fact is the Arab Spring is far from settled, more trouble is likely from radicals and terrorists and we — both at home and abroad — may be the target. Now is no time for complacency about our security.
Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.
First appeared in The Boston Herald