Yesterday’s tragic and hainous attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya have refocused the spotlight on 11 years of endless war against radical Islam. The attack was preceded by the storming of the US Embassy in Egypt the day before. The attacks were apparently motivated by an anti-Muslim film that has been promoted by the Koran burning pastor Terry Jones. Predictably from interventionists all across the political spectrum, there have been calls for a military response and the phrase “act of war” has been flying around the Internet all day. Meanwhile, the Libyan government has promised to bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice. While there is absolutely nothing that can justify the attacks in Egypt and Libya, we as Americans often forget that not everyone else around the world shares our liberal, tolerant values.
The concepts of freedom of religion and free speech are mostly unheard of in Egypt and Libya. Both nations’ governments may claim to respect both, but they are restricted in practice. Egypt has a blasphemy law that is often used to crack down on religious minorities for example. Libya, since the fall of Gaddafi, has enacted its own restrictions on freedom of speech and religion. Both nations are functioning democracies on paper and both have just recently had free and fair elections. However, neither nation is a liberal democracy that respects the rights of minorities. Unfortunately, since both nations are democracies, we have to conclue that the hostility to tolerance and liberty is pervasive among the population.
The fact of the matter is, liberal democracy, tolerance, and liberty itself are not the historical norm. Most states in history were and are authoritarian and/or totalitarian to a degree. Nor are most people around the world secular minded like Americans and most Westerners are. Most people around the world are very devout and fervent about their religious beliefs and yes, they often to do not treat non-believers too well. Finally, most people around the world just do not understand the concept of “live and let live”, which is a basic fundamental tenet of a free society. The question is, how can American foreign policy recogonize and deal with this reality?
US foreign policy should be based solely on advancing the national interests of the United States. It should not be about spreading our vision of democracy to people who have no concept of it. The illegal adventure in Libya last year was a massive foreign policy blunder. It helped promote the rise of radical Islam in North Africa, it demonstrated to the world that any agreement with the United States on nuclear non-proliferation was not worth paper it was printed on (remember, Gaddafi made a deal to end his nuclear program in exchange for not being attacked by the US), and it also ensured that Russia and China will never cooperate again with the US at the UN. Most importantly, there was no vital US national security interest that was served by the removal of Gaddafi from power. We saw the results of this misguided Wilsonianism yesterday.
US foreign policy should also based on defending our values as a nation such free speech and liberty when they are threatened, as they were by these mobs. Any calls to prosecute or censor Terry Jones for his film should be resisted, because even the most disgusting among us have the right to speak freely. Finally, we must demand that the Libyan government follow through on its promises to bring these murderers to justice.
We are going to continue to have these clashes in the Middle East because ultimately our liberal values clash with their traditional Islamic values. It’s just the way it is. It would be best for everyone involved for us to diminish our involvement with that part of the world and just let them stew in their own barbarism.