|A homemade version of the Al Qaida flag being|
raised over the US embassy in Cairo on 9/11/12.
Retrieved from breitbart.com.
A few notes on the film itself. I had the opportunity to watch a few minutes of the "trailer" of the film, which is about 15 minutes long. I watched around five minutes before turning it off because it is incredibly poorly made. It genuinely looks like something a person would have made with a cam-corder in his garage in his spare time.... drunk.... and with no taste in movies. To touch on specifics, sections were dubbed over, costumes and sets were poorly done, camera work was awful at best, and the scenes I saw were confusing and lacking in any kind of reasonable context to clue the watcher on to what was happening. I can understand how it would offend people based on content and cinematic style.
What I cannot understand is why any member of the US federal government has any business commenting on the legal, free speech of people in the US other than to say that the US will do whatever necessary to ensure those rights are protected. An article from the online publication Foreign Policy compared the distribution of this video to yelling "fire" in a crowded theater on an international scale. Although this comparison does have some merit, I must give a note of caution. Yelling "fire" in a crowded theater is not protected speech. Interestingly enough, this was noted by Supreme Court Justice Holmes in the landmark case Schenck v. United States in 1919 (the text of which you can find here). In this court case Charles Schenck had previously been charged with violating the Espionage Act of 1917 by distributing fliers to prospective draftees (for World War I) telling them not to submit to being drafted. He appealed to the Supreme Court, and they ruled against him, saying essentially that speech which causes a clear and present danger is not protected. In 1969 in Brandenburg v. Ohio this was changed and the court held that speech aimed at inciting imminent lawless action (rather than clear and present danger) was prosecutable by the government.
I do not think the US government will pursue charges against the filmmaker nor do I think legislation will be put in place to further restrict any sort of freedom of speech. That being said, I resent the fact that so many individuals and organizations have spent the majority of their commentary on this issue expressing their anger at the filmmaker. He was an idiot. Being an idiot and expressing ones self as such through a film does not even come close to giving nations upon nations an excuse to enter our sovereign territory, tear down our flags, put up the Al Qaida flag, and kill our citizens.
|Ambassador John Christopher Stevens.|
Retrieved from dailymail.co.uk
History matters because it helps us understand the present. It puts current events into context and helps us understand why things happen the way they do, why we're at the place we are, and how different decisions might affect our future. In one year the United States abandoned two embassies in the Middle East. A few years later, in 1983, we were rocked by two bombings in Beirut, Lebanon. First the US embassy was bombed in April killing 63, then a multinational forces barracks was bombed in October, killing 299 US and French servicemen, 241 of whom were American. US forces withdrew completely from Lebanon four moths after the barracks bombing, and the rest of the multinational forces withdrew two months after that.
Unfortunately these events all worked together to create a picture of a weak United States in the Middle East. We apparently did nothing to prevent the takeover of our embassy in Iran, and we gave up without a fight in Afghanistan, removing a large portion of our influence from those nations for decades. Enemies of the US sent a message and the only message we sent back was that we will allow others to walk all over us. In Lebanon the Middle East learned that the US had lost its taste for battle, and if the American death toll shoots up high enough fast enough we will withdraw as quickly as possible. Of course it's also important to note that we had no business putting troops on the ground in Lebanon in the first place. Regime changes, civil wars, and internal strife are ever-present affairs in the Middle East, and our involvement is rarely beneficial. Just because we call the most recent round of regime changes and attempted regime changes "The Arab Spring" and say it's all about democracy, freedom, and overthrowing dictators doesn't mean it's a good thing. Egypt has likely replaced one dictator with another, only the new one is Mohamed Morsi, a leading figure in the Islamic extremist organization The Muslim Brotherhood. Libya is in a state of continued violence and unrest that leaves its future very uncertain.
You might think that I am ignoring some more recent history, but that will be addressed as well. On September 11, 2001 Al Qaida launched a terrorist attack on the United States using hijacked passenger planes that destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, New York and caused extensive damage to the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia next to Washington DC. A fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania after the passengers, aware of what had happened with the other three planes, decided to rush the cabin and attempt to rest control of the plane from the terrorists.
The US response to this was swift, deadly, and effective. Along with a coalition of other allies US forces and Afghani allies known as the Northern Alliance began Operation Enduring Freedom on October 7, 2001. By the end of the year most of the country had been taken by allied forces, and the war appeared to be mostly won. But what did we do wrong? Why is the most powerful and technologically advanced military in the world with the help of other powerful, technologically advanced militaries still having trouble pacifying Afghanistan 11 years after it started? Let's start with "pacifying." How did that work out for us in Somalia? How about Kosovo? Did you know that there is still a multinational peacekeeping force including US troops in Kosovo today? Most people don't. War and the instruments of war should not be used to try to "create peace." That is not what they are for, and that is not what they do. You cannot "win hearts and minds" of an occupied people, just like you cannot befriend a person that you are holding at gunpoint.
The US defeated Japan in World War II because the incredibly radicalized Japanese government and military willingly surrendered after seeing the destructive power of two nuclear bombs. No illusion was made about the US fighting a war against the Japanese military but not the Japanese people. No one pretended that we did what we did to restore the control of the government to the Japanese people. Our objective was to win at all costs, and so we did.
The US campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan are both similar in that they were sold to the US people and the world as somewhat humanitarian campaigns. The US was a liberator, ousting oppressive regimes and the fact that we got to make the world and the United States safer by neutralizing active security threats was just icing on the cake. But historically the nations the US has "liberated" have not been nations with which we have actually been at war. The US helped liberate France with allied forces during World War I and World War II. That is because France was an ally, previously occupied by German forces. The US did not help liberate Germany. Along with Russia and Great Britain the US defeated and captured Germany, forcibly disarmed it, and did everything necessary to force the government and military to surrender. That included bombing and shelling cities.
The point is if we go to war, we need to go to win. When we limit the definition of who our enemies are to just those few militants and militaries that have outright attacked us, we are ignoring the vast populations of support for these fighters that do us harm. The US has taken the position that a few bad apples are responsible for attacking the US embassy in Libya, while most Libyans love the US. This seems to be the same narrative they expect us to swallow for what has happened in Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, and Sudan as well. But the people who chose to be most active in exercising their feelings about the US seem to be the ones who decided to attack our sovereign territory. And it doesn't seem that any of the host governments have put much effort into stopping them. On Tuesday September 11, 2012, protesters in Egypt breached the wall of the US embassy, tore down the US flag, and put up the flag used by Al Qaida. That same day protesters and militants launched an attack on the US consulate in Libya, killing the ambassador and three other US officials. These heinous acts don't necessarily need to send us to war. But they do deserve swift, decisive action on our part. We should do the opposite of what was done at the embassy in Cairo, where the Marines had allegedly been ordered not to carry live ammunition in their firearms. Side note on that: one of the reasons the truck bomb that killed 220 Marines, 18 sailors, and three soldiers in Beirut in 1983 was successful was because the Marines there had not been allowed to carry loaded weapons, to include those manning the .50 caliber machine gun at the entrance. Why?
|A "protester" stands with his AK-47 at the US consulate in Benghazi,|
Libya on September 11, 2012 after an attack that left the US
ambassador and three other Americans dead.
Retrieved from abcnews.go.com.
It should also be noted that these events are a lot to pile on to the tumultuous condition that the Middle East is in already. Relations between Iran and Israel are incredibly strained with fears in Israel (and around the world) that Iran is close to developing a nuclear bomb. Then there's rising tension between Israel and Egypt, as the new, less secular Egyptian government seems to be forgetting the peace it has had with Egypt since their last war. Syria continues to heat up, as both Saudi Arabia and Iran are supporting opposing forces in what has become, for all practical purposes, a civil war. The violence in Syria has spread to Lebanon, which is also heating up, and let's not forget Libya, which has yet to become truly "peaceful" since the US backed overthrow of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Maybe dealing with the Middle East is always a lose-lose situation, but I honestly believe that our foreign policy in the Middle East (as well as elsewhere) could be improved greatly. Supporting overthrows of administrations should not be supported haphazardly just because we believe they might be replaced by "better" administrations. Attacks on our sovereignty should be defended against severely, and responded to aggressively. Nations, groups, or conflicts that do not threaten our own security or that of our closest allies should almost always be avoided by us (with some exceptions, of course). Our government should spend less time commenting on what is said by Americans under their right to free speech and more time pursuing those who would attack that right. These are just my opinions, but one thing is clear: our current foreign policy is failing us miserably, and it's time for a change.