If you’re reading this article, I’m sure you know by now that John Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans were killed by a rocket-propelled grenade on Wednesday. This horrific incident was part of a larger wave of protests over an anti-Islam video produced in the U.S. which resulted in Egyptians storming the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and tearing down the American flag, in addition to burning down the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.
There’s a lot to digest right now, and far more information will come out in the next couple of days, but here are the top three things that come to mind in light of the tragedy.
1. The reaction is far, far worse than the provocation.
Above: An NBC photo of the protests.
Yes, the video that resulted in this protest is just vile; its creators have done nothing to “enlighten” anyone. It’s sad that they have even gotten any press.
That being said, they are not responsible for the deaths of U.S. officials and the burning of U.S. property. The people who ransacked the buildings, created a hostile situation and ultimately killed the Ambassador Stevens are the true “bad guys” in this situation. Trying to compare an act of free speech to acts of violence is an appalling twisting of values, no matter how disgusting the speech is.
2. Where were the home governments?
Above: The Mogamma Building, a government building in Tahrir.
One of the basic tenants of international relations, if not the most basic tenant, is that embassies are inviolable. Though they are not as official, the same applies to consulates de facto. Just as countries expect to have their embassies respected overseas, so too are they expected to protect the offices of countries within their borders.
Neither the Egyptian nor the Libyan government is the culprit of the attacks, and both have been working with the U.S. in responding to these attacks. Yet evidence of negligence is not hard to come by.
In Egypt, very few military or state officials were at the initial protests, hence the ease with which protesters stormed the embassy grounds. In Libya, protesters showed up with AK-47s and RPGs, and went on to practically destroy the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Coming from countries that are supposed to be America's friends, this type of behavior is completely unacceptable.
Had the Libyan government done its job and protected the consulate, these deaths may have been avoided. American personnel should not have to go to work fearful because of some nut-jobs back home that make a video.
3. Maybe it's time for more security personnel.
Above: Security at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt.
I am usually not one to argue for more guns in diplomatic buildings. It generally sends the wrong message.
That being said, it’s hard to send any message when protests and worse prevent U.S. diplomatic personnel from doing their jobs. (This seems to be of concern mostly in the Middle East and North Africa region, of course.) Perhaps it is time we consider beefing up security for embassies and consulates in the area.
Doing so begins with getting better cooperation from the home governments, but also includes better physical barriers, as well as more highly trained security personnel. This means more Marines (embassy protection is an official duty of the branch) and private security forces, if needed.
President Obama has already directed embassies to increase security, but it remains to be seen how long this increase will go on and how seriously it will actually be taken in improving embassy and consulate security not just tomorrow, but next year. Embassies and the employees who work at them are the cornerstone of diplomatic relations. They deserve to be protected from those who would disrupt their activities.