(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2013", please click here.)
Point 1: America needs to repair its image in the Islamic world.
It’s not exactly enlightening to say that many--but not all--people in the Islamic world really, really hate America. They seem to burn our flags at the slightest provocation. One protester in Pakistan died from inhaling burning American flag smoke during the protests; how many flags does that even take?
The problem is that many Americans don’t care. Some Americans hate Muslims as much as some Muslims hate Americans, regularly referring to them as primitives, barbarians or savages (post coming on that). They put infidel stickers on their F-150’s and think that rebuilding relationships with nations we’ve alienated constitutes “apologizing” for America. And too many moderate Americans, hit hard by the financial crisis, feel like our country has bigger issues to deal with before we get to the business of fixing how the rest of the world feels about us.
We can’t control how other nations feel about America. But we can care how they feel about us and try to repair the relationship. I'd suggest that if one small, inconsequential internet video can spark protests in dozens of countries, we have a serious image problem around the world.
Point 2: For example, foreigners hate American support for dictatorships.
In December, This American Life ran a show titled “This Week”, covering stories that happened just that week. One of those stories was how Egyptian President Morsi faced protests after firing all of the country’s judges. What caught me was that the reporter talked to an author who opposed religious rule. Who did he blame for the power grab?
“In my view, the biggest betrayal that has taken place against the Egyptian people is the absolute support that the American administration has given to the Muslim Brotherhood. America is ignoring the violence that is conducted against the Egyptian people. America is completely silent and has voiced that its relationship with Egypt is strategic.”
Then she spoke with a “a religious man, young, 28 years old”. A young man from the completely opposite side of the political spectrum. Who did he blame?
“This is what the US wants; this is what Israel wants-- a regime which appears to be democratic to the people, but actually it is this defense national council which will be doing all the work...For sure President Morsi wants the interests of Egypt. However, he sees the implementation of this interest, or finding the interest, from a very narrow perspective that the United States has set for him. We do not want him to see that perspective through the United States' perspective.”
In short, don’t dictatorships, because it alienates people of all political persuasions, not just the religious fanatics.
Point 3: But not everyone hates us.
Among all the bad news, the good news was that, after Benghazi, counter-protests formed to support peace and oppose violence. This is a good sign. As I wrote above, many, but not all, people hate us in the Middle East. We should focus on building support from the people who don’t hate us.
And you know what? Some liberal Muslims support free speech too.
Point 4: What happened in Benghazi? We don’t know!
When we wrote our review of Mitt Romney’s foreign policy, the comment thread had an interesting reaction, coming down to a debate over what Obama knew, and when, and how he reacted to the attack on the consulate. My reaction at the time was simple:
“In general, I like to wait a few months for the larger, longer reports to come out. With the Osama raid, for example, a lot of the early information was dead wrong. We’ve written about this before, somewhere. It’s why we avoid breaking news stories on the blog.”
How long do you wait to discuss sensitive issues and current events?
On Violence is firmly in the wait and see camp. Hell, we write “the most intriguing event of the year” to discuss big issues we didn’t discuss before. We prefer to wait for the longer responses like the long form documentaries on PBS’s Frontline or articles in the New Yorker. The Obama administration’s main problem, in the beginning, was sending people out to talk about it; when Susan Rice did, she lost the entire forward momentum of her political career, because she spoke too soon.