The World Out There

Most Americans paused Tuesday, however briefly, to remember and mourn the victims of the murderous terrorist attack launched by al Qaeda against the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and other unknown targets on the same date in 2001. In Libya and Egypt, angry mobs of radical Islamists marked the occasion by laying siege to the American embassies while chanting slogans and waving flags in support of al Qaeda.

Few Americans seem to pay attention to foreign affairs, but on days like Tuesday it becomes impossible to ignore that there remains a rest of the world out there. In addition to the attacks on the embassies, which left at least one American dead and several more injured in Libya, there was also the embarrassingly public spectacle of the American and Israeli leadership quarreling over the Iranian government’s ongoing nuclear weapons programs. All of it served as a disquieting reminder that the rest of the world remains a very troublesome place, and that America apparently no longer has the means or even the will to keep it under control.

The embassy attacks were reportedly in response to a documentary film that is critical of Islam, although it is unclear what film they might be have in mind. The consensus of the press reports is that the crowd was enraged by a little-known worked called “Innocence of Muslims” which is being promoted by Terry Jones, a Florida-based pastor whose widely publicized threat to burn a Koran had previously sparked rioting in the Middle East. In any case there is nothing to be done about the offense without repealing the First Amendment and sacrificing the sacred right of free speech to an insane mob of theocratic rabble, and the embassy in Cairo did go so far as to an issue an apology to its attackers. “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,” an official statement said. “Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy.”

This was too much for Mitt Romney, who abandoned plans to refrain from criticizing the president in observance of the terror attack anniversary and issued a statement that “I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. 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.” The White House soon disavowed the embassy’s statement, replacing it with boilerplate language condemning the attacks in the “strongest terms,” but too late to change that fact our government’s first response had indeed been apologies and appeasement.

Similar instincts were on an all-too-public display in the spat between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who were unable to arrange a face-to-face meeting to discuss the Iranian nuclear weapons program. The White House helpfully explained that the president, who had spent much of the morning having a friendly radio chat with DJ Laz, “The Pimp With a Limp,” was simply too busy to accommodate the Israeli leader. There apparently will be time to roll out the red carpet for Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood-backed president of the one of the very countries that has just attacked American soil, and there seems to be room on the calendar for a sit-down with formerly funny talk show host David Letterman, but Israel and its increasingly likely war with Iran only rated a phone call.

War-weary Americans might find the lure of appeasement irresistible, hoping that it will somehow lead to peace in our time. The isolationist instinct is deeply embedded in the American psyche, but as days like Tuesday demonstrate, sooner or later the rest of the world intrudes.

– Bud Norman