Eruptions of violence this week at U.S. diplomatic installations in the Libya and Egypt present the latest foreign-policy challenges for President Barack Obama, who must now respond in the face of internecine power struggles in the Middle East and a reproachful political opponent at home.
On a day America was mourning those lost on Sept. 11, 2001, radical Muslims claimed four new victims of terrorism in riots at the U.S Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, and the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Among those killed was Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, who worked with the rebels even before the downfall of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddifi.
The assailants were either incensed by a video produced by an Israeli American that ridicules the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, or they used the video as an excuse to riot. With relatively moderate regimes taking hold in both countries following Arab Spring uprisings, hardliners have been fomenting dissent.
All of which makes for difficult diplomatic maneuvering. Obama’s initial steps, however, were characteristically measured and appropriate. He ordered increased security in the region, pledged to bring the killers to justice and reaffirmed U.S. bonds with Libya.
This calm, firm approach was reminiscent of Obama’s patience during the rebel uprising in Libya.
In contrast, neither diplomacy nor tact was demonstrated by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who broke his own Sept. 11 embargo Tuesday night to criticize the president’s handling of the still-developing situation. A denunciation of the Muhammad video issued by the Cairo embassy as the uprising unfolded, he declared, was “akin to an apology.” He later accused Obama of “apologiz(ing) for American values.”
The president eventually responded, saying Romney has “a tendency to shoot first and aim later.” Politics aside, though, Obama’s foreign policy, in Libya and elsewhere, has been largely on target.