If Libya and Egypt Want to Keep Receiving US Aid, A Simple Apology Will Not Cut It

Virulent identity politics are swirling across post-revolutionary North Africa, as seen on full display in Libya and Egypt. Some reports now point to a pro-Al Qaeda group or other extremist elements as responsible for the attack in Libya, planned in advance and unrelated to the anti-Islam video. The protesters in Libya may have been acting separately. There are still many unknown details.

But the idea that a derogatory and clownish internet video justifies mob violence or murder can only be described as barbaric.

The U.S. government should make crystal clear to its Libyan and Egyptian counterparts that if they wish to have any relationship, let alone a functional relationship, with the United States in the future, we expect the perpetrators of these acts to be brought to justice swiftly and for sufficient measures to be undertaken to ensure they cannot be repeated. Apologies are not enough.

For its part, the United States needs to figure out what went wrong in terms of operational security, and how the U.S. ambassador to Libya was killed and the Cairo embassy overrun. The past 10 years have blurred the line between warfighters and diplomats, but this experience is a reminder that the two are still distinct.

Finally, although their rights to free speech are sacrosanct and must be defended by all means possible, the filmmakers ought to consider the dangerous game that they are playing. The filmmaker’s statement to the Wall Street Journal that he raised $5 million from 100 Jewish donors to make the film threatens to fuel hatred, and a consultant to the film’s admission that “we went into this knowing this was probably going to happen” are both cold comfort to the deceased’s families and reminders that possession of a right is not an argument for the prudence of every possible exercise of that right.

The United States is a free society in which free speech is respected, but not every American enjoys every exercise of that right. The work of Andres Serrano and Robert Mapplethorpe infuriated and offended millions of Americans, but the right to free speech was protected and survived. One hopes that this standard can be reached by the citizens and governments of Libya and Egypt soon.

 This article originally appeared on the Cato Institute's Cato@Liberty blog.

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Justin Logan

Justin Logan is the director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute. He is an expert on U.S. grand strategy, international relations theory, and American foreign policy. His current research focuses on the shifting balance of power in Asia — specifically with regard to China — and the formation of U.S. grand strategy under unipolarity. He has authored numerous policy studies and articles on topics including international relations theory, U.S. China policy, U.S. Russia policy, stabilization and reconstruction operations, and the policy approaches to a nuclear Iran. His articles have appeared in Foreign Policy, the National Interest, the Harvard International Review, Orbis, the Foreign Service Journal, National Review, the American Conservative, Reason, Politico, the American Prospect, the Chicago Sun-Times and other publications. He has made regular appearances on a variety of broadcast media including the BBC, MSNBC, Fox News, Voice of America, and others. Logan holds a master's degree in international relations from the University of Chicago and a bachelor's degree in international relations from American University. He lives in Washington, DC.

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