WASHINGTON — “This time, the imbeciles have won.”
That was the assessment of French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy in his remembrance of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. And he wasn’t just whistling “Freres Jacques.”
BHL was referring to the fact that Stevens was a great friend of Libya and of the Muslim/Arab world generally. The imbeciles killed perhaps their bravest advocate in the Western world. And, they killed him (perhaps in part) because of the actions of another imbecile in the U.S. One lowlife creates an anti-Islam film that looks like a blend of “Blair Witch Project” and “Keystone Terrorists,” and the unhappy Muslim world goes ballistic. I emphasize the word “unhappy” because it is no more accurate to condemn the Muslim world for the atrocities of a relative few than it is to indict America because one lowbrow decides to upload a lousy flick that nobody otherwise would watch or even know about. Hey, demonstrators: Anybody can make a movie. It doesn’t mean anything. And by the way, anybody can burn a Quran. Or a Bible. Or smear feces on a crucifix. Or … ad infinitum. We tolerate rudeness because the alternative — state-enforced politeness — leads to the guillotine.
Unfortunately, even we seem to have lost sight of the nature and causes of these incidents, which have less to do with reasons than with excuses. The demonstrations and attacks more likely are a function of post-revolutionary jockeying among the groups competing for power than they are about American anything. The storming of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on the anniversary of 9/11 may have been a planned attack, possibly orchestrated by al-Qaida and possibly nothing to do with the movie.
The extent of our role, alas, has been exaggerated by our own actions. At least two notable missteps should be reminders about the importance of getting it right. For handy reference, check the parenting manual: Do not indulge tantrums.
First, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo issued what amounted to an apology to the mobs for any hurt feelings they may have suffered because of the film in question. If you intend to watch it, be sure to take necessary IQ-lowering measures. It is so ridiculous and poorly made, no movie-going American could watch long without succumbing to laughter or … coma. But then, the America-hating, unhappy Muslim mob isn’t familiar with “Rotten Tomatoes” or even Siskel and Ebert. They watch a homemade movie trailer on their computer and see a nation of haters. How does one deal with this kind of senseless rabidity?
Apparently, not through any civilized response such as, “Gosh, sorry about that awful film. We don’t really believe that.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the film “disgusting and reprehensible.” Of course it is, but so what? Besides, I don’t think they’re listening. Here on Planet Earth, where being goofy isn’t a head-severing offense, one reaches without strain the following observation: The film was idiotic and not worth the attention of our president or secretary of state. The response has made clear that an apology doesn’t work, which is why both the White House and the State Department initially distanced themselves from the embassy’s statement.
This is most certainly why Mitt Romney decided to enter the fray, for which he has been variously pilloried and heralded. Put me in the pillory column. His comments condemning President Obama’s “apologist” foreign policy were premature, inappropriate and too politically motivated to be effective either as proper criticism or as a campaign maneuver.
Attempting to clarify, Romney’s foreign policy adviser, Rich Williamson, subsequently asserted that events would have been different under a President Romney. Perhaps, but might we use the same powers of extrapolation to infer that 9/11 wouldn’t have occurred if George W. Bush hadn’t been president? Obama critics have long held that his post-exceptionalist, lead-from-behind model only invites contempt in the Middle East. Since no policy thus far seems to have been very effective, we’ll have to rely on history for more information. On principle, meanwhile, Romney would have been better advised to keep his own counsel pending clarity — always the wiser course. What we clearly must not convey to the Muslim world is that either a random, Quran-burning zealot or an anti-Muhammad filmmaker is remotely relevant to our foreign policy. By apologizing — and later by Romney’s commenting — we made events more of an American problem than they were, as The Washington Post’s David Ignatius recently noted. And we lent unnecessary gravity and impetus to the conduct of imbeciles.
Obviously, they don’t need any help.
Kathleen Parker’s syndicated column appears regularly in the Tribune-Herald. Her email address is email@example.com.