- - Wednesday, September 19, 2012


While anti-U.S. riots swept through more than 20 countries in the Muslim world and beyond, the Obama administration appeared to struggle with a coherent response.

President Obama noted that there was “no excuse” for the violence that claimed the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens in Benghazi, Libya, and ordered two Navy destroyers to Libya’s coastline.

Yet the Obama administration directed most of the blame for this chaos at “Innocence of Muslims,” an amateur film that insulted Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. Calling the film “reprehensible and disgusting” — far stronger terms than those used to describe the killing of Americans in Libya — the White House even tried to pressure Google into removing it from YouTube.

Our ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, had the daunting task of clarifying Team Obama’s incoherent position on the major Sunday TV shows, though she only made matters worse by insisting repeatedly that the violence was “spontaneous” and directly caused by the film. Never mind that attackers showed up on Sept. 11 outside our Benghazi consulate with rocket launchers and grenades while other violent mobs stormed our embassies across the region. Mrs. Rice’s assertions strain the imagination and seem more like something that would come from the Land of Oz, with pleas for us to ignore the man behind the curtain.

It’s almost as if the administration doesn’t really understand the mindset and tactics of radical Islam, the force clearly behind this latest wave of anti-U.S. attacks. It seems that it’s working on the wrong problem.

Perhaps Mr. Obama should learn from the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — not about finding ways to give detainees constitutional rights but rather to gain insights into what makes them tick and to gain better understanding of the threats they and like-minded enemies pose to America.

After all, we have a treasure trove of information from 780 past and present detainees, including detailed records from thousands of hours in military commission and administrative hearings — in their own words. Today, 167 remain, and they are not shy about sharing their views.

From personally witnessing hundreds of court appearances over four years for a dozen detainees — including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his four co-defendants in the Sept. 11 case, plus reading transcripts of administrative hearings for hundreds of others, I offer some observations the White House might find useful as it weighs our next moves:

Radical Islamists — those who desire to harm Westerners — understand and respect strength, not weakness. Apologies don’t help us but rather invite the next attack.

Cultures and tribal elements that sanction “honor killings” of their own daughters and sisters for slights, real or imaginary, like those found in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan, don’t need much of an excuse for unspeakable violence.

Our enemies always look for excuses to attack us. This tasteless film, ironically made by an Egyptian Coptic Christian living in California named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, but pretending to be an Israeli-American named Sam Bacile, is simply a pretext for the latest round of anti-U.S. rage, not the cause.

Anti-U.S. sentiment in Muslim-majority countries is common, caused mostly by extreme jealousy of our success, power and lifestyles as depicted by Hollywood, contrasted with widespread dysfunction in their societies, including lack of economic opportunity and social mobility. For men, this means not marrying or starting families without jobs. Hard feelings are particularly acute in places like Egypt and Iraq, home to peoples who consider themselves descendants of the “cradle of civilization.” Now many feel humiliated by what they see as “infant nations.” Interestingly, a Pew Global Attitudes poll taken in Egypt in 2010 found just 17 percent of Egyptians viewed the U.S. favorably — compared to a 20 percent favorable rating for al Qaeda.

U.S. support to Israel is cited frequently as a root cause of America-bashing. Israeli defeats of Arab coalitions that tried to wipe Israel off the map in 1948, 1967 and 1973 all failed miserably — and those losses still sting. Though Israel’s ongoing conflict with Palestinians only directly impacts about 2 percent of Arabs, regional rulers and media fan the flames to distract from their own problems.

Incredibly, the Obama administration has helped foster legitimacy for radical Islam by siding with its opposition movements against U.S.-allied governments via the Arab Spring. The Muslim Brotherhood, recognized internationally for decades as a terrorist group and outlawed, now rules Egypt. Islamists also hold considerable sway in Libya, Tunisia and Yemen. These were predictable outcomes.

Instead of getting tough with regimes that could not, or would not, fulfill their solemn duties to protect our embassies, as well as those responsible for the murders in Libya, the White House is groveling about something completely beyond our control — unless we want to change the Constitution and ban the First Amendment. Even then, it wouldn’t be enough.

It seems we’ve returned to days of American weakness like those under Jimmy Carter’s leadership, when Iranians sacked our embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. It was only once Ronald Reagan was sworn in that those hostages were released.

Coincidentally, 1979 was the year that Ambassador Adolph Dubs was killed in Afghanistan — the last U.S. ambassador killed in the line of duty before Christopher Stevens. Let’s hope we never see a repeat.

J.D. Gordon is a retired Navy commander who served as a Pentagon spokesman in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2005-2009.

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