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History > 2012 > USA > International (VI)





President Obama Addresses the UN General Assembly        Video


After a difficult decade of war,

the President says we stand at a crossroads of history

with the chance to move decisively in the direction of peace.

September 21, 2011.


YouTube > Added by whitehouse 21 September 2011
















Sudan Accuses Israel

of Airstrike on Arms Factory


October 24, 2012
The New York Times


KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan on Wednesday accused Israel of carrying out an air strike on a large arms factory in Khartoum, its capital, that killed two people, but Israel's defense and foreign ministry declined to comment.

Sudan, which analysts say is used as an arms smuggling route to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip via neighboring Egypt, has blamed Israel for such strikes in the past but Israel has always either refused to comment or said it neither admitted or denied involvement.

A huge fire broke out late on Tuesday at the Yarmouk arms factory in the south of Khartoum which was rocked by several explosions, witnesses said. Firefighters needed more than two hours to extinguish the fire at Sudan's main factory for ammunition and small arms.

"Four military planes attacked the Yarmouk plant ... We believe that Israel is behind it," Information Minister Ahmed Belal Osman told reporters, adding that the planes had appeared to approach the site from the east.

"Sudan reserves the right to strike back at Israel," he said, saying two citizens had been killed and that the plant had been partially destroyed.

The governor of Khartoum state had initially ruled out any "external" reasons for the blast but officials later showed journalists a video from the site. A huge crater could be seen next to two destroyed buildings and what appeared to be a rocket lying on the ground.

Osman said an analysis of rocket debris and other material on the ground had shown that Israel was behind the attack.

In May, Sudan's government said one person had been killed after a car exploded in the eastern city of Port Sudan. It said the explosion resembled a blast last year it had blamed on an Israeli missile strike.

Israel declined to comment on the May incident or the 2011 blast, which killed two people and neither admitted nor denied involvement in a similar incident in eastern Sudan in 2009.

The information minister declined to say whether any weapons from Yarmouk had ended up in the Gaza strip, saying that only "traditional weapons in line with international law" were being produced there.

(Reporting by Ulf Laessing and Khalid Abdelaziz;

Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem;

Writing by Edmund Blair and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

    Sudan Accuses Israel of Airstrike on Arms Factory, NYT, 24.10.2012,






Four Palestinian Militants Killed

in Israeli Airstrikes


October 24, 2012
The New York Times


JERUSALEM — Palestinian militants from Gaza fired dozens of rockets and mortar shells into southern Israel overnight and Wednesday morning, critically wounding two Thai workers in an Israeli border community, the Israeli authorities said. Four Palestinian militants in rocket-launching squads were killed in Israeli airstrikes, according to Palestinian officials.

The surge in cross-border violence came hours after a landmark visit to Gaza by the emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who pledged $400 million for projects there. It also came as a major American-Israeli joint military exercise was under way in Israel, underlining the volatility and potential for escalation in the area at a delicate time before the American elections in November and Israeli elections scheduled for January.

Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, warned on Wednesday that Israel would not be deterred from carrying out action required to restore quiet in the south.

“If a ground operation will be necessary, there will be a ground operation,” he told Israel Radio. “Nobody is eager for this but we will act, as we are required to stop this wave and to increase the effectiveness of the operation.”

The emir was the first head of state to visit the Gaza Strip since Hamas, the Islamic militant group, took full control of the coastal enclave in 2007, and the gesture was hailed by Hamas as an important breach of the political and economic blockade that has kept Gaza largely isolated.

But early on Wednesday Israel closed the Erez crossing point, the gateway for individuals and aid workers passing between Israel and Gaza, and the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing for goods, citing the danger from rocket fire. Maher Abu Sabha, the director of crossings in Hamas-run Gaza, said that a Hamas police checkpoint near Erez, at the northern end of the territory, was evacuated after an officer was injured by shells that landed there.

A medical spokesman in Gaza also said that the Israeli strikes had wounded seven people, some of them seriously. The latest round of violence appears to have started over the weekend. Both sides refrained from any actions during the hours of the emir’s visit, but on Tuesday morning, hours before his arrival in Gaza, an Israeli officer was severely wounded in a blast from an explosive device placed by Palestinian militants along the border.

The renewed violence and the temporary closure of the crossings was a stark reminder of the difficulties that Gaza has in attracting investment, and of the significance of the gesture by the emir, whose infusion of aid is earmarked for the building of two housing complexes, the rehabilitation of three main roads and for a prosthetic center, among other projects.

Gaza suffered widespread destruction during Israel’s three-week military offensive in the winter of 2008-2009, which came after years of persistent rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel. Reconstruction has been a painstaking business. Israel still imposes tight restrictions on the import to Gaza of building materials for fear that they could be used by Hamas for the manufacture of weapons or fortifications, limiting approval to projects overseen by international organizations.

All this makes it all the more curious that Hamas, which has largely abided by an informal cease-fire with Israel in recent years, is a party to the latest round of violence. Its military wing claimed responsibility on Wednesday for firing rockets into Israel “as a response to the ongoing aggression against the Palestinian people.” Hamas has been under local pressure from more radical groups in recent months and may be eager to show that it has not abandoned what it calls the resistance against Israel.

Hamas said it had fired the rockets at Israeli military bases along the Gaza border, but several of them slammed into rural villages in southern Israel, hitting a number of houses and buildings. The Israeli authorities closed schools in the area and instructed residents to remain close to protected spaces and bomb shelters.

Such cross-border exchanges have broken out sporadically over recent months and Israeli officials say that more than 600 rockets have been fired from Gaza into southern Israel this year.

But the introduction of Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket missile system, developed with financing from the United States, has allowed Israel more room for maneuver. In many cases the system has intercepted longer-range rockets from Gaza that were headed toward Israeli cities, avoiding mass casualties and the subsequent imperative for a strong Israeli response.

On Wednesday, Iron Dome intercepted seven rockets that were headed toward densely populated areas of southern Israel, according to the Israeli military.

The success of the Iron Dome system is also an important boost for President Obama as he seeks in his campaign to emphasize his administration’s military and security commitment to Israel. In Monday’s foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney, the Republic challenger for the presidency, Mr. Obama told how he had visited the Israeli town of Sderot, near the Gaza border, during his last campaign. Noting that the town “had experienced missiles raining down from Hamas” he said his administration had financed the Iron Dome program “to stop those missiles.”


Fares Akram contributed reporting from Gaza.

    Four Palestinian Militants Killed in Israeli Airstrikes, NYT, 24.10.2012,






In Cyberattack on Saudi Firm,

U.S. Sees Iran Firing Back


October 23, 2012
The New York Times


The hackers picked the one day of the year they knew they could inflict the most damage on the world’s most valuable company, Saudi Aramco.

On Aug. 15, more than 55,000 Saudi Aramco employees stayed home from work to prepare for one of Islam’s holiest nights of the year — Lailat al Qadr, or the Night of Power — celebrating the revelation of the Koran to Muhammad.

That morning, at 11:08, a person with privileged access to the Saudi state-owned oil company’s computers, unleashed a computer virus to initiate what is regarded as among the most destructive acts of computer sabotage on a company to date. The virus erased data on three-quarters of Aramco’s corporate PCs — documents, spreadsheets, e-mails, files — replacing all of it with an image of a burning American flag.

United States intelligence officials say the attack’s real perpetrator was Iran, although they offered no specific evidence to support that claim. But the secretary of defense, Leon E. Panetta, in a recent speech warning of the dangers of computer attacks, cited the Aramco sabotage as “a significant escalation of the cyber threat.” In the Aramco case, hackers who called themselves the “Cutting Sword of Justice” and claimed to be activists upset about Saudi policies in the Middle East took responsibility.

But their online message and the burning flag were probably red herrings, say independent computer researchers who have looked at the virus’s code.

Immediately after the attack, Aramco was forced to shut down the company’s internal corporate network, disabling employees’ e-mail and Internet access, to stop the virus from spreading.

It could have been much worse. An examination of the sabotage revealed why government officials and computer experts found the attack disturbing. Aramco’s oil production operations are segregated from the company’s internal communications network. Once executives were assured that only the internal communications network had been hit and that not a drop of oil had been spilled, they set to work replacing the hard drives of tens of thousands of its PCs and tracking down the parties responsible, according to two people close to the investigation but who were not authorized to speak publicly about it.

Aramco flew in roughly a dozen American computer security experts. By the time those specialists arrived, they already had a good handle on the virus. Within hours of the attack, researchers at Symantec, a Silicon Valley security company, began analyzing a sample of the virus.

That virus — called Shamoon after a word embedded in its code — was designed to do two things: replace the data on hard drives with an image of a burning American flag and report the addresses of infected computers — a bragging list of sorts — back to a computer inside the company’s network.

Shamoon’s code included a so-called kill switch, a timer set to attack at 11:08 a.m., the exact time that Aramco’s computers were wiped of memory. Shamoon’s creators even gave the erasing mechanism a name: Wiper.

Computer security researchers noted that the same name, Wiper, had been given to an erasing component of Flame, a computer virus that attacked Iranian oil companies and came to light in May. Iranian oil ministry officials have claimed that the Wiper software code forced them to cut Internet connections to their oil ministry, oil rigs and the Kharg Island oil terminal, a conduit for 80 percent of Iran’s oil exports.

It raised suspicions that the Aramco hacking was retaliation. The United States fired one of the first shots in the computer war and has long maintained the upper hand. The New York Times reported in June that the United States, together with Israel, was responsible for Stuxnet, the computer virus used to destroy centrifuges in an Iranian nuclear facility in 2010.

Last May, researchers discovered that Flame had been siphoning data from computers, mainly in Iran, for several years. Security researchers believe Flame and Stuxnet were written by different programmers, but commissioned by the same two nations.

If American officials are correct that Shamoon was designed by Iran, then clues in its code may have been intended to misdirect blame. Shamoon’s programmers inserted the word “Arabian Gulf” into its code. But Iranians refer to that body of water as the Persian Gulf and are very protective of the name. (This year, Iran threatened to sue Google for removing the name Persian Gulf from its online maps.)

After analyzing the software code from the Aramco attack, security experts say that the event involved a company insider, or insiders, with privileged access to Aramco’s network. The virus could have been carried on a USB memory stick that was inserted into a PC.

Aramco’s attackers posted blocks of I.P. addresses of thousands of Aramco PCs online as proof of the attack. Researchers say that only an Aramco employee or contractor with access to the company’s internal network would have been able to grab that list from a disconnected computer inside Aramco’s network and put it online.

Neither researchers nor officials have disclosed the names of the attackers involved. Saudi Aramco said in a statement that it was inappropriate to comment amid an investigation. The company further stated that it does not comment on rumor or speculation.

American intelligence officials blame Iran for a similar, subsequent attack on RasGas, the Qatari natural gas giant, two weeks after the Aramco attack. They also believe Iran engineered computer attacks that intermittently took America’s largest banks offline in September, and last week disrupted the online banking Web sites of Capital One and BB&T.

Multiple requests for comment from Iran’s interests office in Washington and to Iran’s mission to the United Nations in New York brought no response.

The finger-pointing demonstrates the growing concern in the United States among government officials and private industry that other countries have the technology and skill to initiate attacks. “The Iranians were faster in developing an attack capability and bolder in using it than we had expected,” said James A. Lewis, a former diplomat and cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Both sides are going through a dance to figure out how much they want to turn this into a fight.”

More than two months after the Aramco attack, the company continues to deal with the aftermath. Still, this month employees were not able to gain access to their corporate e-mail and internal network for several days. Until the company’s executives decide its systems are secure, employees can no longer access Aramco’s internal network remotely.

The attack, intelligence officials say, was a wake-up call. “It proved you don’t have to be sophisticated to do a lot of damage,” said Richard A. Clarke, the former counterterrorism official at the National Security Council. “There are lots of targets in the U.S. where they could do the same thing. The attacks were intended to say: ‘If you mess with us, you can expect retaliation.’ ”

    In Cyberattack on Saudi Firm, U.S. Sees Iran Firing Back, NYT, 23.10.2012,






Working With the Muslim Brotherhood


October 22, 2012
The New York Times


CAIRO — Perhaps the most radical change in U.S. foreign policy under President Obama has occurred here in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood, long shunned as a collection of dangerous Islamist extremists, is now the de facto object of American support.

Not only that: Ultraconservative Salafist politicians, who make the Brotherhood seem like moderate pragmatists, are now regular visitors to the U.S. Embassy and, on the theory that it is better to have them inside the tent than out, they are able to visit the United States to learn how things work in the land of Jeffersonian democracy.

Of course, the new American thinking goes, agreement will never be possible with these Salafis on women’s rights, for example, but this does not mean that they cannot have a mutually beneficial relationship with the West or evolve. Every Salafi in Parliament is one less potential jihadist.

The turnabout is dramatic. The United States consistently supported former President Hosni Mubarak, whose campaign against the Brotherhood was relentless. Prison for Brotherhood leaders was de rigueur. The Brotherhood occupied the space in American strategic thinking now taken by the Salafis — radical Islamists — with the difference that they were ostracized.

President Mohamed Morsi — who was of course imprisoned under Mubarak and was elected as Egypt’s first civilian leader in June — has ousted top generals with whom Washington and Israel were comfortable and installed his own men. The new chief of staff, Gen. Sedky Sobhi, while studying in the United States in 2005, wrote that American policy makers had shown a “fundamental lack of understanding and communication” with the Arab world. Some $1.5 billion in mainly military U.S. aid has continued to flow through this upheaval to Egypt.

Any prediction in Egypt today is hazardous. The nation at the heart of Arab society is in turbulent flux. As Tarek Shoeb, an Egyptian-American, put it to me: “There are a bunch of different streams, but it is not yet clear which one is the river.”

Still, I would argue that the United States has made the right choice; that this new policy of engagement with even extreme currents of political Islam in the Middle East is salutary; that the model should be extended; and that indeed the Obama administration had little choice. To keep doing the same thing when it does not work is one definition of madness.

What is the alternative to supporting Morsi and the Brotherhood and urging them to be inclusive in the new Egypt? Well, the United States could cut them off and hope they fail — but I can think of no surer way to guarantee radicalization and aggravate the very tendencies the West wants to avoid as a poverty-stricken Egypt goes into an economic tailspin. The same would be true of any attempt to install the armed forces again, with the difference that there would also be bloodshed.

The United States tried Middle Eastern repression in the name of stability for decades: What it got was terrorism-breeding societies of frustrated Arabs under tyrants. (Mohammed Atta came from Cairo.) The Brotherhood narrowly won a free and fair election. If they fail, throw them out next time. That’s democracy.

It is time to overcome the “fundamental lack of understanding and communication” of which General Sobhi wrote. That can only happen through working with the real forces of Arab societies rather than “Green Zone” fantasies.

Mitt Romney thinks Obama has been “passive” with the Islamists; aid could be slashed. But when aid is cut off, and American attention turns elsewhere, and future generals start getting their training in Saudi Arabia rather than Kansas, we know the result: Pakistan. That is not where the United States wants Egypt to end up. Turkey is a far better, if imperfect, model, and it is to Turkey and its governing Justice and Development Party that the Brotherhood is looking.

Morsi, who studied in California and breaks into English when impatient with his interpreters, has reached out to the United States from early in the transition — with trade requests, investment plans, vows to root out corruption, pleas to help get tourism back, and of course requests that aid be maintained. Even with little strategic alternative, America has leverage. It should be used to prod Morsi out of his Brotherhood roots toward the middle where the new Egypt must be forged. He appears ready to compromise.

America’s radical policy turnabout in Cairo poses an important question: Why is this engagement with political Islam, even in Salafist form, confined to Egypt? If Washington has discovered by engaging that the long reviled Brotherhood, or at least large swathes of it, may have evolved into centrist pragmatists, what other such discoveries may be made through dialogue rather than confrontation?

It is foolish for the United States to oppose reconciliation between the main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, when the spectrum of opinion there may be no greater than Egypt’s Brotherhood-Salafist front with which the United States now talks.

In Egypt, where almost 25 percent of Arabs live, the United States has at last begun to deal with the Arab world as it really is. Such taboo-breaking offers the only way forward — for Egypt and for Israel-Palestine.

    Working With the Muslim Brotherhood, NYT, 22.10.2012,






Blast in Beirut Is Seen as an Extension of Syria’s War


October 19, 2012
The New York Times


BEIRUT, Lebanon — A powerful bomb devastated a Christian neighborhood of this capital city of Lebanon on Friday, killing an intelligence official long viewed as an enemy by neighboring Syria and unnerving a nation as Syria’s sectarian-fueled civil war spills beyond its borders and threatens to engulf the region.

The blast, which sheared the faces off buildings, killed at least eight people, wounded 80 and transformed a quiet tree-lined street into a scene reminiscent of Lebanon’s long civil war, threatened to worsen sectarian tensions. By nightfall, black smoke from burning tires ignited by angry men choked the streets of a few neighborhoods in the city, which has struggled to preserve a peace between its many sects, including Sunni, Shiite, Christian and Druse.

Within hours of the attack, the Lebanese authorities announced that the dead included the intelligence chief of the country’s internal security service, Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, instantly spurring accusations that the Syrian government had assassinated him for recently uncovering what the authorities said was a Syrian plot to provoke unrest in Lebanon.

“They wanted to get him, and they got him,” said Paul Salem, a regional analyst with the Carnegie Middle East Center.

But if the attack was targeted, the blast was most certainly not. The force of the explosion left elderly residents fleeing their wrecked homes in bloodied pajamas and spewed charred metal as far as two blocks. Residents rushed to help each other amid the debris, burning car wreckage and a macabre scene of victims in blood-soaked shirts.

It was the first large-scale bombing in the country since 2008 and was the most provocative violence here linked to the Syrian conflict since it began 19 months ago.

The attack struck a heavy blow to a security service that had asserted Lebanon’s fragile sovereignty by claiming to catch Syria red-handed in a plan to destabilize its neighbor, which Syria has long dominated. It threatened to inflame sectarian tensions by eliminating General Hassan, a Sunni Muslim known for his close ties to fellow Sunni politicians who support the Syrian uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. General Hassan was viewed by Syrian opposition activists as an ally and protector.

Imad Salamey, a political science professor at Lebanese American University, blamed Mr. Assad’s government and said that the attack seemed intended to show that Syria has the ability to destabilize Lebanon and threaten to embroil the region in chaos.

The Syrian government issued a statement condemning the bombing, quoting the information minister, Omran al-Zoubi, as saying, “These sort of terrorist, cowardly attacks are unjustifiable wherever they occur.”

The attack harked back to the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a longtime foe of Mr. Assad’s, in a car bombing in 2005. Syria was widely blamed, and protests in the aftermath of that killing forced Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, a major blow to its regional influence. But a series of bombings targeting politicians, journalists and security officials followed, shaking Lebanon and sending the message that Syria’s power still reached deep into its neighbor.

The size and location of the bomb on Friday awakened a general feeling of dread that the Syrian conflict, which has already depressed Lebanon’s economy and sent thousands of Syrian refugees into the country, was coming home to Lebanese civilians, and could set off tit-for-tat killings and reprisals that could spiral out of control.

The blast seemed to accelerate a pattern already established, as the Syrian civil war increasingly draws in the region, crossing the borders of its many neighbors. Recently, a mortar blast from Syria killed civilians in southern Turkey, prompting the Turkish military to respond with artillery strikes into Syria for several days. Jordan has struggled to absorb as many as 180,000 refugees.

Shells have exploded in the disputed Golan Heights region occupied by Israel. Iran has been accused of sending weapons and advisers into Syria to help Mr. Assad. Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon have been killed in Syria and sent home for burial. Saudi Arabia and Turkey have provided weapons and cash to the rebels trying to oust Mr. Assad, and rebels have taken control of border crossings between Syria and Iraq.

In Beirut, there were efforts to tamp down animosities, and keep the peace. Not far behind the ambulances, politicians arrived at the scene of the blast. They urged Lebanese citizens to resist being drawn into the conflict — but also pointed fingers at Syria and its Lebanese allies in sharp language that seemed as likely to induce anger as to warn against it.

“For the first time, we feel that it is the regular Lebanese citizen who is being targeted in this explosion and, maybe, this is the beginning of what Syrian authorities have promised us in the past,” said Nadim Gemayel, a member of Parliament from the Christian Phalange movement that is part of Lebanon’s opposition March 14 bloc. “The Syrian regime had talked about burning everything in their path.”

As news spread of the bombing, the streets of Beirut’s largely Christian Ashrafiyeh district were initially calm. People walked dogs and escorted children home from school. But they also gathered in small groups warily discussing the bombing and clutched cellphones to share news. Outside a damaged grocery stood Sandra Abrass, a filmmaker and former Red Cross worker, frustrated that she was not allowed to help on the scene because her skimpy yellow flats were no protection against broken glass, and said she was in pain first for the wounded and then for Lebanon.

“You don’t feel safe any more,” she said. After growing up during the 1975-1991 civil war, she said, she was no longer used to the idea that bombs could go off at any moment, and feared that there would be more bombings and reprisals.

“They cannot let us live happily,” she said.

General Hassan came to prominence as a security chief for the assassinated former prime minister, Mr. Hariri. Early on, he was a suspect in that killing, but later helped build a circumstantial case, based on phone records, that a team from Hezbollah, the militant Lebanese Shiite organization aligned with Syria, had coordinated the Hariri attack and was at the scene of the murder. Hezbollah, which has since become an important member of Lebanon’s government, claims the records were fabricated.

Another security official, Wissam al-Eid, who helped compile the phone records, was killed in a car bombing in 2008, part of a series of assassinations of political figures, journalists and investigators.

More recently, in August, General Hassan shocked Lebanon by arresting a prominent pro-Syrian politician, Michel Samaha, on charges of importing explosives in a bid to set off bombs and wreak sectarian havoc as part of a Syrian-led plot. It was a surprising move in a country where state institutions have rarely had the power to take on political figures, especially those backed by foreign powers or Lebanese militias.

In a brief interview on Friday, the chief of the Internal Security Forces, Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, said, “Wissam al-Hassan was targeted because of Samaha’s case.”

The Internal Security Forces have often been seen as allied with Sunni anti-Syrian factions. But Mr. Salem of Carnegie said that General Hassan did not pursue only his friends’ political enemies; he was also credited with disrupting numerous networks of Israeli spies.

Mr. Salem said that General Hassan and his investigators were “one of the bright spots that saw the Syrian influence apparently ebb,” demonstrating that “the Lebanese state was beginning to develop capacities, they could arrest Samaha, they were doing things that a sovereign state does.”

While some anti-Syrian politicians suggested that the bombing was intended to distract from allegations that Hezbollah is fighting on the Syrian government’s side, they stopped short of accusing the party of involvement in the bombing. Several analysts said Hezbollah was unlikely to carry out such an attack, which would threaten its political standing inside Lebanon.

In the bombed neighborhood in Ashrafiyeh district on Friday, Civil Defense officers picked pieces of flesh off a security fence and put them into plastic supermarket bags.

In an upstairs apartment nearby, Lily Nameh, 73, said she had been taking a nap with her husband, Ghaleb. “I thought it was an earthquake,” she said. “Suddenly everything was falling on us.” Her husband said, “It felt like a plane landed on the building.”

On Friday nights, areas of central Beirut are usually crowded with cars and pedestrians heading out to party. But after the bombing, the usual Friday night traffic jams never materialized, and watering holes that usually send excess crowds onto the sidewalks in neighborhoods known for night life sat quiet and forlorn.


Reporting was contributed by Hwaida Saad, Hania Mourtada

and Josh Wood from Beirut, and Christine Hauser

and Rick Gladstone from New York.

    Blast in Beirut Is Seen as an Extension of Syria’s War, NYT, 19.10.2012,






Shariah’s Limits


October 18, 2012
The New York Times


CAIRO — If Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood is the world’s most important experiment in how Islam and democratic modernity can be reconciled, then the country’s constitution, now in its last phase of drafting, is the crux of that test.

Close to 25 percent of Arabs live in Egypt. Elections come and go; constitutions much less so. This is critical.

There are ominous signs. The process, which should be as inclusive and transparent as possible, has been a stop-go fiasco from the moment Hosni Mubarak was ousted 20 months ago. The current 100-member constituent assembly is the replacement for an earlier one disbanded by court order; the parliament that appointed it has itself been disbanded. The military long tried to orchestrate the proceedings before conceding defeat, outmaneuvered by Islamists who now outnumber liberals among the drafters. Many women and most Coptic Christians form alarmed constituencies of the new Egypt.

Some liberals, who have formed a new party called Al Dostour, or “The Constitution,” believe a complete makeover is essential given the flaws. Egyptians, exhausted by the post-Mubarak rollercoaster, are often too weary to pay attention. You hear people say they are sick to the point they cannot even look at the news. Suspicion is rife.

“The Islamists dominate and they want not only an Islamic Egypt but a Caliphate,” Manal El-Tibi, a human rights activist, fumed to me. She quit the constituent assembly last month, convinced that a process that began with the quest for consensus has become hopelessly skewed. “I was in the kitchen and I saw all the dirty details.”

Her concerns, like those of many other women, center on what is now article 68 (previously article 36). This says, “The state shall take all measures to establish the equality of women and men in the areas of political, cultural, economic and social life, as well as all other areas, insofar as this does not conflict with the rulings of Islamic Shariah.”

The last clause amounts to saying, “We commit to equality between the sexes except when we don’t.” It should be dropped.

The phrase “rulings of Islamic Shariah,” offers no wiggle room. It contradicts the provision elsewhere in the draft constitution that, “All citizens are equal before the law, equal in their rights and public duties, there shall be no discrimination between them on grounds of sex.”

It makes nonsense of the Muslim Brotherhood’s own electoral platform that committed to a state “based on the principle of citizenship, where all citizens enjoy equal rights.” It opens the door to a push to lower the marriage age (currently 18), decriminalize female genital mutilation, enshrine discriminatory inheritance and condone domestic violence. Some Salafi sheiks have argued for marriage at the onset of puberty.

“The Salafis are obsessed with this article, but of course their worldview is different from the Brotherhood, who are pragmatists with a conservative base and want at least the appearance of a buy-in from liberals,” Heba Morayef, who works for Human Rights Watch in Egypt, said.

This is an important distinction. El-Tibi’s rage makes sense in the context of the ultraconservative Salafis, but depends on a caricature of the much larger Brotherhood, whose quest for middle ground is real. Leading liberals including Amr Moussa, the former secretary general of the Arab League, and Ayman Nour remain on the constituent assembly, convinced that compromise is still possible.

Signs of such compromise are evident. Article 2 of the draft mirrors the 1971 constitution and says that “principles of Shariah are the main source of legislation.” (The existence of this framing clause is an additional reason to drop article 68, which uses the much more limiting wording of “rulings of Shariah.”) The critical question raised by Article 2 is: which body adjudicates those “principles”? An earlier draft said the sole authority should be the clerics of Al-Azhar, the country’s supreme Islamic institution — an idea with the potential to set Egypt on an Iranian course. But the latest says merely that Al-Azhar should be “consulted,” a wording that should leave adjudication to lay courts.

The story of the last 20 months in Egypt has been one of back-and-forth. No single authority, not even the military, has been able to impose its will. It is critical now that the Brotherhood, and President Mohamed Morsi, show a spirit of compromise that alone can enshrine a constitution respecting the women and men of Egypt, the rule of law, an independent judiciary and principles of non-discrimination. If the constitution does not reflect the unity of secular and Islamic forces in Egypt that toppled Mubarak, it will only invite violence.

A court could still disband the constituent assembly; that would please some liberals. But starting over may not be the best option. The perfect can be the enemy of the good. Further delay in establishing the legal framework of the new Egypt will undermine confidence and set back parliamentary elections. Morsi has the authority to re-engineer the committee in an impasse.

“If the Brotherhood does not side now with common sense and modern-day values we will have complete chaos,” Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel prize laureate who has rejected the whole process, told me.


You can follow Roger Cohen on Twitter or join him on Facebook.

    Shariah’s Limits, NYT, 18.10.2012,






Suspect in Libya Attack, in Plain Sight, Scoffs at U.S.


October 18, 2012
The New York Times


BENGHAZI, Libya — Witnesses and the authorities have called Ahmed Abu Khattala one of the ringleaders of the Sept. 11 attack on the American diplomatic mission here. But just days after President Obama reasserted his vow to bring those responsible to justice, Mr. Abu Khattala spent two leisurely hours on Thursday evening at a crowded luxury hotel, sipping mango juice on a patio and scoffing at the threats coming from the American and Libyan governments.

Libya’s fledgling national army is a “national chicken,” Mr. Abu Khattala said, using an Arabic rhyme. Asked who should take responsibility for apprehending the mission’s attackers, he smirked at the idea that the weak Libyan government could possibly do it. And he accused the leaders of the United States of “playing with the emotions of the American people” and “using the consulate attack just to gather votes for their elections.”

Mr. Abu Khattala’s defiance — no authority has even questioned him about the attack, he said, and he has no plans to go into hiding — offered insight into the shadowy landscape of the self-formed militias that have come to constitute the only source of social order in Libya since the fall of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

A few, like the militia group Ansar al-Shariah that is linked to Mr. Abu Khattala and that officials in Washington and Tripoli agree was behind the attack, have embraced an extremist ideology hostile to the West and nursed ambitions to extend it over Libya. But also troubling to the United States is the evident tolerance shown by other militias allied with the government, which have so far declined to take any action against suspects in the Benghazi attack.

Although Mr. Abu Khattala said he was not a member of Al Qaeda, he declared he would be proud to be associated with Al Qaeda’s puritanical zeal for Islamic law. And he said that the United States had its own foreign policy to blame for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “Why is the United States always trying to impose its ideology on everyone else?” he asked. “Why is it always trying to use force to implement its agendas?”

Owing in part to the inability of either the Libyans or the Americans to mount a serious investigation, American dissections of the assault on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi have become muddled in a political debate over the identities and motivations of the attackers. Some Republicans have charged that the Obama administration initially sought to obscure a possible connection to Al Qaeda in order to protect its claim to have brought the group to its knees.

Mr. Abu Khattala, 41, wearing a red fez and sandals, added his own spin. Contradicting the accounts of many witnesses and the most recent account of the Obama administration, he contended that the attack had grown out of a peaceful protest against a video made in the United States that mocked the Prophet Muhammad and Islam.

He also said that guards inside the compound — Libyan or American, he was not sure — had shot first at the demonstrators, provoking them. And he asserted, without providing evidence, that the attackers had found weapons, including explosives and guns mounted with silencers, inside the American compound.

Although Mr. Abu Khattala’s exact role remains unclear, witnesses have said they saw him directing other fighters that night. Libyan officials have singled him out, and officials in Washington say they are examining his role.

But Mr. Abu Khattala insisted that he had not been part of the aggression at the American compound. He said he had arrived just as the gunfire was beginning to crackle and had sought to break up a traffic jam around the demonstration. After fleeing for a time, he said, he entered the compound at the end of the battle because he was asked to help try to rescue four Libyan guards working for the Americans who were trapped inside. Although the attackers had set fire to the main building, Mr. Abu Khattala said he had not noticed anything burning.

At the same time, he expressed a notable absence of remorse over the assault, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including J. Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador. “I did not know him,” he said.

He pointedly declined to condemn the idea that the demolition of a diplomatic mission was an appropriate response to such a video. “From a religious point of view, it is hard to say whether it is good or bad,” he said.

In Washington, a Republican member of the House committee investigating the attack scoffed at Mr. Abu Khattala’s account. “It just sounds fishy to say you are on the scene and not participating,” said Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican. “It was pitch black at 9:40 at night.”

Mr. Abu Khattala contended that the United States had ulterior motives for helping Libyans during their revolution, and he asserted that it was already meddling in Libya’s planned constitution, even though the recently elected Parliament had not yet begun to discuss it.

He also said he opposed democracy as contrary to Islamic law, and he called those who supported secular constitutions “apostates,” using the terminology Islamist radicals apply to fellow Muslims who are said to disqualify themselves from the faith by collaborating with corrupt governments.

He argued that Islamists like those in the Muslim Brotherhood who embraced elections committed a “mix up” of Western and Islamic systems. And he acknowledged that his opposition to elections had been a point of dispute between his followers and the other Libyan militia leaders, most of whom had protected and celebrated the vote.

Still, he said, “we have a very good relationship” with the leaders of Benghazi’s largest militias — which constitute the only security force for the government — from their days fighting together on the front lines of the revolt against Colonel Qaddafi. He even pointedly named two senior leaders of those big brigades, whom he said he had seen outside the mission on the night of the attack.

Witnesses, Benghazi residents and Western news reports, including those in The New York Times, have described Mr. Abu Khattala as a leader of Ansar al-Shariah, whose trucks and fighters were seen attacking the mission. Mr. Abu Khattala praised the group’s members as “good people with good goals, which are trying to implement Islamic law,” and he insisted their network of popular support was vastly underestimated by other brigade leaders who said the group had fewer than 200 fighters.

“It is bigger than a brigade,” he said. “It is a movement.”

Mr. Abu Khattala said he was close to the group but was not an official part of it. Instead, he said, he was still the commander of an Islamist brigade, Abu Obaida ibn al-Jarrah. Some of its members joined Ansar al-Shariah, but Mr. Abu Khattala said that even though his brigade had disbanded he could still call it together. “If the individuals are there, the brigade is there,” he said.

During the revolt, the brigade was accused of killing a top general who had defected to the rebels, Abdul Fattah Younes. Mr. Abu Khatalla acknowledged that the general had died in the brigade headquarters, but declined to discuss it further.

Almost all Libyans are Muslims, alcohol is banned, polygamy is legal, almost every woman wears an Islamic head-covering. But all of that still fell short, he said, of true Islamic law.


Suliman Ali Zway contributed reporting from Tripoli, Libya,

and Michael S. Schmidt from Washington.

    Suspect in Libya Attack, in Plain Sight, Scoffs at U.S., NYT, 18.10.2012,






Rebel Arms Flow Is Said to Benefit Jihadists in Syria


October 14, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad are going to hard-line Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups that the West wants to bolster, according to American officials and Middle Eastern diplomats.

That conclusion, of which President Obama and other senior officials are aware from classified assessments of the Syrian conflict that has now claimed more than 25,000 lives, casts into doubt whether the White House’s strategy of minimal and indirect intervention in the Syrian conflict is accomplishing its intended purpose of helping a democratic-minded opposition topple an oppressive government, or is instead sowing the seeds of future insurgencies hostile to the United States.

“The opposition groups that are receiving the most of the lethal aid are exactly the ones we don’t want to have it,” said one American official familiar with the outlines of those findings, commenting on an operation that in American eyes has increasingly gone awry.

The United States is not sending arms directly to the Syrian opposition. Instead, it is providing intelligence and other support for shipments of secondhand light weapons like rifles and grenades into Syria, mainly orchestrated from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The reports indicate that the shipments organized from Qatar, in particular, are largely going to hard-line Islamists.

The assessment of the arms flows comes at a crucial time for Mr. Obama, in the closing weeks of the election campaign with two debates looming that will focus on his foreign policy record. But it also calls into question the Syria strategy laid out by Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger.

In a speech at the Virginia Military Institute last Monday, Mr. Romney said he would ensure that rebel groups “who share our values” would “obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters and fighter jets.” That suggests he would approve the transfer of weapons like antiaircraft and antitank systems that are much more potent than any the United States has been willing to put into rebel hands so far, precisely because American officials cannot be certain who will ultimately be using them.

But Mr. Romney stopped short of saying that he would have the United States provide those arms directly, and his aides said he would instead rely on Arab allies to do it. That would leave him, like Mr. Obama, with little direct control over the distribution of the arms.

American officials have been trying to understand why hard-line Islamists have received the lion’s share of the arms shipped to the Syrian opposition through the shadowy pipeline with roots in Qatar, and, to a lesser degree, Saudi Arabia. The officials, voicing frustration, say there is no central clearinghouse for the shipments, and no effective way of vetting the groups that ultimately receive them.

Those problems were central concerns for the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, David H. Petraeus, when he traveled secretly to Turkey last month, officials said.

The C.I.A. has not commented on Mr. Petraeus’s trip, made to a region he knows well from his days as the Army general in charge of Central Command, which is responsible for all American military operations in the Middle East. Officials of countries in the region say that Mr. Petraeus has been deeply involved in trying to steer the supply effort, though American officials dispute that assertion.

One Middle Eastern diplomat who has dealt extensively with the C.I.A. on the issue said that Mr. Petraeus’s goal was to oversee the process of “vetting, and then shaping, an opposition that the U.S. thinks it can work with.” According to American and Arab officials, the C.I.A. has sent officers to Turkey to help direct the aid, but the agency has been hampered by a lack of good intelligence about many rebel figures and factions.

Another Middle Eastern diplomat whose government has supported the Syrian rebels said his country’s political leadership was discouraged by the lack of organization and the ineffectiveness of the disjointed Syrian opposition movement, and had raised its concerns with American officials. The diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing delicate intelligence issues, said the various rebel groups had failed to assemble a clear military plan, lacked a coherent blueprint for governing Syria afterward if the Assad government fell, and quarreled too often among themselves, undercutting their military and political effectiveness.

“We haven’t seen anyone step up to take a leadership role for what happens after Assad,” the diplomat said. “There’s not much of anything that’s encouraging. We should have lowered our expectations.”

The disorganization is strengthening the hand of Islamic extremist groups in Syria, some with ties or affiliations with Al Qaeda, he said: “The longer this goes on, the more likely those groups will gain strength.”

American officials worry that, should Mr. Assad be ousted, Syria could erupt afterward into a new conflict over control of the country, in which the more hard-line Islamic groups would be the best armed. That depends on what happens in the arms bazaar that has been feeding the rebel groups. In several towns along the Turkey-Syria border, rebel commanders can be found seeking weapons and meeting with shadowy intermediaries, in a chaotic atmosphere where the true identities and affiliations of any party can be extremely difficult to ascertain.

Late last month in the Turkish border town of Antakya, at least two men who had recently been in Syria said they had seen Islamist rebels buying weapons in large quantities and then burying them in caches, to be used after the collapse of the Assad government. But it was impossible to verify these accounts, and other rebels derided the reports as wildly implausible.

Moreover, the rebels often adapt their language and appearance in ways they hope will appeal to those distributing weapons. For instance, many rebels have grown the long, scraggly beards favored by hard-line Salafi Muslims after hearing that Qatar was more inclined to give weapons to Islamists.

The Saudis and Qataris are themselves relying on intermediaries — some of them Lebanese — who have struggled to make sense of the complex affiliations of the rebels they deal with.

“We’re trying to improve the process,” said one Arab official involved in the effort to provide small arms to the rebels. “It is a very complex situation in Syria, but we are learning.”


Robert F. Worth and Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.

    Rebel Arms Flow Is Said to Benefit Jihadists in Syria, NYT, 14.10.2012,






White House Appoints Veteran Retired Diplomat

to Serve as Senior Envoy in Libya


October 11, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Obama administration said on Thursday that it had recalled a veteran diplomat, Laurence Pope, who retired from the Foreign Service 12 years ago, to serve as the senior American envoy in Libya.

Mr. Pope has been appointed as the chargé d’affaires, and arrived in Tripoli, Libya’s capital, on Thursday. His appointment comes one month after the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens in an attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi. The White House has yet to nominate a new ambassador, and Mr. Pope will be the top ranking American diplomat in Libya until that post is filled.

“It was very clear that we needed to get a senior leader to Libya on an urgent basis in advance of the White House having an opportunity to nominate a permanent successor for Chris,” a State Department official said, referring to Mr. Stevens. The move, the official said, would send a signal that the United States was still committed to a strong relationship with Libya.

With the presidential election approaching, the White House was not expected to rush to nominate a new ambassador, a move that would lead to confirmation hearings that might re-energize an already politicized debate over the United States mission in Libya and the security of American personnel there.

The decision to recall Mr. Pope from retirement also reflects the fact that there is a shortage of senior Arabists in the State Department. In 31 years as a diplomat, Mr. Pope served as the ambassador to Chad and as the political adviser to Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, the head of the Central Command, the American military headquarters that oversees operations in the Middle East.

General Zinni, who is now retired from the military, said Thursday that Mr. Pope is fluent in Arabic, knows the Middle East and Africa well, and is “extremely respected out there by the leadership.”

Mr. Pope, 67, is known not only for his diplomatic career but also for how it ended.

In a move that provoked the ire of Congressional conservatives, General Zinni voiced his skepticism in 2000 about legislation that called for aiding the Iraqi opposition in its quest to topple Iraq’s president, Saddam Hussein. The general warned that encouraging Ahmad Chalabi and other members of the Iraqi opposition to take military action against the Iraqi leader would lead to a “Bay of Goats,” a play on the disastrous invasion attempt by Cuban exiles in 1961.

When the Clinton administration later nominated Mr. Pope to serve as ambassador to Kuwait, his years advising General Zinni became an issue for Senator Jesse Helms, the North Carolina Republican who was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Pope noted in a blunt article he later wrote titled “Advice and Contempt.”

Mr. Pope recalled in the article that he had been confronted by an aide on the committee, Danielle Pletka, who argued that he must either have agreed with General Zinni about the inadvisability of arming the Iraqi opposition or was an ineffective adviser. “In the latter case,” he recalled, “there was a chance of salvaging the nomination if I would provide the committee with written evidence of my opposition to Zinni’s position.”

“As Faustian bargains go, this one wasn’t hard to resist,” Mr. Pope wrote. “I told her that I would testify about my own views until the cows come home, but I wouldn’t talk about my advice to General Zinni.”

After being told by committee staff members that the panel would not support his nomination, he wrote, he decided to retire from the Foreign Service in 2000.

Ms. Pletka, who is now vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative policy research group, dismissed the episode. “I have very little recollection of Mr. Pope,” she said Thursday. “It must have been his choice to leave the Foreign Service.”

Mr. Pope’s new job does not require Senate confirmation.

    White House Appoints Veteran Retired Diplomat to Serve as Senior Envoy in Libya, NYT, 11.10.2012,






Rebels Say West’s Inaction

Is Pushing Syrians to Extremism


October 5, 2012
The New York Times


SAMAS, Syria — Majed al-Muhammad, the commander of a Syrian antigovernment fighting group, slammed his hand on his desk. “Doesn’t America have satellites?” he asked, almost shouting. “Can’t it see what is happening?”

A retired Syrian Army medic, Mr. Muhammad had reached the rank of sergeant major in the military he now fights against. He said he had never been a member of a party, and loathed jihadists and terrorists.

But he offered a warning to the West now commonly heard among fighters seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad: The Syrian people are being radicalized by a combination of a grinding conflict and their belief that they have been abandoned by a watching world.

If the West continues to turn its back on Syria’s suffering, he said, Syrians will turn their backs in return, and this may imperil Western interests and security at one of the crossroads of the Middle East.

This is a theme that has resonated in recent days, not just in Syria, but in Turkey, where the government fired artillery shells into northern Syria this week after a Syrian mortar round hit a Turkish town and killed five civilians. In Turkey, there is a growing sense of frustration shared by the Syrian rebels that the West, the United States in particular, called for Mr. Assad to leave power, only to sit quietly on the sidelines as the crisis transformed into a bloody civil war.

“We are now at a very critical juncture,” wrote Melih Asik in the Turkish newspaper Milliyet. “We are not only facing Syria, but Iran, Iraq, Russia and China behind it as well. Behind us, we have nothing but the provocative stance and empty promises of the U.S.”

Across northern Syria, in areas that rebels have wrested from government control, such sentiments have become an angry and routine element of the public discourse. Wearied by violence, heading into another winter of fighting, and enraged by what they see as the inaction and hypocrisy of powerful nations, frontline leaders of the rebellion say that the West risks losing a potential ally in the Middle East if the Assad government should fall.

The corollary is frequently sounded, too: The West may be gaining enemies where it might have found friends. As anger grows, armed groups opposed to the United States may grow in numbers and stature, too.

“The United Nations and international community are making a big mistake,” said Ghassan Abdul Wahib, 43, a truck driver and now a leader in Kafr Takharim, a village in the north. “By letting this be a long war, they are dragging Syria toward radicalism, and they will suffer from this for a long time.”

The origins of these sentiments are typically the same: a widely held view that Washington and European capitals are more interested in maintaining the flow of oil from Libya and Iraq, or in protecting Israel, than in Syria and its people’s suffering. The view is supported, Syrians opposed to Mr. Assad say, by the West’s stubborn refusal to provide weapons to the rebels, or to protect civilians and aid the rebels with a no-fly zone.

The contrast with the West’s military assistance and vocal political support to the uprising last year in Libya is frequently drawn.

The donations of nonlethal aid to the Syrian opposition by Washington are often called small-scale, to the extent that none of the half-dozen fighting groups visited by journalists for The New York Times, or the many commanders interviewed in Turkey, claimed to have seen, much less received, American aid.

“We haven’t received anything from the outside,” said Thayar, a member of the ad hoc governing body in Kafr Takharim known as the revolutionary council. (He asked that his last name be withheld to protect him and his family from retaliation.) “We read in the media that we are receiving things. But we haven’t seen it. We only received speeches from the West.”

Other men echoed this sentiment, and accused the United States and Europe of playing a double game, in effect of conspiring with the Kremlin to ensure that no nation has to act against the Assad government or on the rebels’ or civilians’ behalf.

In this view, the Kremlin’s insistence that it will not support further action against Syria is regarded as convenient for the White House, which, many commanders and fighters said, issues statements supporting the uprising and condemning the Assad government knowing it will not have to back up words with deeds. Russia has provided weapons and diplomatic support to the Assad government and blocked action by the United Nations Security Council.

Mr. Wahib, the leader in Kafr Takharim, dismissed the discussions in the United Nations as a choreographed show. “The whole world is now trying to destroy Syria,” he said. “The international community knows that Assad is dead, but they want war so it destroys Syria and puts us back 100 years. In this way, Israel will be safe.”

“The United Nations,” he added, “is a partner in destroying Syria.”

Like many activists and fighters, he had a derisive view of what had once been hailed in Western capitals as an achievement by NATO — the military intervention in Libya last year, which Western leaders have said protected civilians and which enabled disorganized rebels to defeat their country’s conventional military.

That campaign was not perfect. NATO killed and wounded many civilians whom it has refused to acknowledge or help. As the war dragged on, many armed groups formed, casting the country’s long-term security in doubt and, after the attack last month on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, jeopardizing Western engagement, too.

But Syrians opposed to Mr. Assad still crave Western military assistance, even if it would only be a no-fly zone to ground the Syrian Air Force, whose aircraft have been attacking cities and towns since this summer. The United States, however, has so far ruled out military involvement in Syria.

Many Syrian men also bristled under what they called common descriptions that their uprising is driven by foreign fighters, or hosts groups linked to Al Qaeda.

“We are not terrorists like the regime says,” said Abu Muhammad, a teacher in Deir Sonbul. “We are fighting for dignity, which has been raped for 40 years.”

In this environment of acrimony and charge and countercharge, the anger of Majed al-Muhammad, the retired sergeant major, was of a type fueled by frustration and loss.

A few days before he received journalists in his office here, from where he commands 200 fighters in the northern highlands of Jebel al-Zawiya, he learned that his sister had been killed in Damascus. A photograph of her bloodied remains, crumpled on the ground, was on his cellphone; he displayed the image with rage.

Then he moved to a collection of ordnance remnants on a table beside his desk. He held up an expended tank shell. “Is it possible for the government to use this against the people?” he asked.

He lifted the remains of an S-5 rocket, an air-to-ground weapon in common use by the Syrian Air Force’s helicopters and jets. He asked if citizens of the United States would tolerate what Syria’s opposition has endured, and not ask for weapons and help, too.

“Is it possible for your helicopters to fire this into the crowds?” He was fuming. His voice rose again. “Do we have the right to live, or not?”

    Rebels Say West’s Inaction Is Pushing Syrians to Extremism, NYT, 5.10.2012,






F.B.I. Agents Scour

Ruins of Attacked U.S. Diplomatic Compound in Libya


October 4, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Escorted by several dozen Special Operations forces, F.B.I. agents on Thursday entered the ruins of the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, as part of their investigation into the killings there of ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

Security fears had kept the F.B.I. agents from traveling the 400 miles from the American Embassy in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, to collect evidence at a crime scene that was trampled, looted and badly burned by militants more than three weeks ago. Administration officials said Thursday the delay was caused in part by the Libyan government, which they described as slow in granting approval for the mission.

The officials said the agents flew from Tripoli in a C-130 military transport plane and were then driven to the compound in armored cars. The officials did not say how many F.B.I. agents were involved or precisely how long they were on the ground. The Pentagon press secretary, George Little, would only say at a briefing that the agents and their military escorts were in Benghazi “for a number of hours” before returning to Tripoli.

The agents were specialists in evidence collection, according to law enforcement officials, and were there to sift through the wreckage and to determine in better detail how the attack unfolded. It is unclear how much can still be gleaned from the site, which a senior American law enforcement official has described as so badly “degraded” that linking evidence to the attackers will be difficult at best.

Already looters, curiosity seekers and reporters have been through the site, which is only protected by two private security guards hired by the compound’s Libyan owner, The Washington Post reported Thursday. On Wednesday, a Post reporter at the site discovered loosely secured sensitive documents about American operations in Libya, some of which were turned over to the State Department. Last month CNN discovered Mr. Stevens’s diary in the wreckage.

It is unclear if the F.B.I. investigators plan to return to the site, but Mr. Little hinted that they might. He offered few details about the military escort operation, adding, “We may need to replicate it in the future, and I wouldn’t want to tip off the wrong people.”

It appears that the F.B.I. spent little or no time interviewing residents in Benghazi. Typically they would spend weeks, rather than hours, at a crime scene as important to national security as this site. The F.B.I., which always investigates the deaths of American overseas under suspicious circumstances, has agents from its national security division and New York field office in Libya. They have been operating largely out of the American Embassy in Tripoli, now guarded by a force of 50 elite Marines trained to protect American diplomatic posts in crisis.

But even in Tripoli the investigation has been hobbled by the tenuous security in Libya after the overthrow of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. Late last month investigators were so fearful about the risks of taking some potential Libyan witnesses into the American Embassy that they resorted to questioning people in cars outside the embassy.

The agents are also operating without any help on the ground from the C.I.A., which had about a dozen intelligence operatives and contractors in Benghazi until the attacks, conducting surveillance and collecting information on militant groups in the city. They were among more than two dozen American personnel evacuated from Benghazi after the attack.

American counterterrorism officials and Benghazi residents are now focused on a local militant group, Ansar al-Shariah, as the main force behind the attack, which occurred on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

President Obama has vowed to bring the killers to justice, and the United States is now laying the groundwork for possible operations to kill or capture militants implicated in the attack. The options could include drone strikes, Special Operations raids and joint missions with the Libyan authorities. But the Libyan government opposes any unilateral American military operation in Libya against the attackers, and administration officials say no decisions have been made about attacking any potential targets.

    F.B.I. Agents Scour Ruins of Attacked U.S. Diplomatic Compound in Libya, NYT, 4.10.2012,






Violence and Protest in Iran as Currency Drops in Value


October 3, 2012
The New York Times


TEHRAN — The first outbreak of public anger over Iran’s collapsing currency and other economic maladies jolted the heart of the capital on Wednesday, with the riot police violently clamping down on black-market money changers, hundreds of citizens marching to demand relief and merchants in the sprawling bazaar closing their shops in protest.

Iran’s official news media said an unspecified number of people, including two Europeans, had been arrested in the turmoil, which was documented in news photographs, at least two verifiable videos uploaded on YouTube and witness accounts.

Economists and political analysts in Iran and abroad said the anger reflected the accumulated impact of harsh Western economic sanctions over Iran’s disputed nuclear program, as well as the government’s inability to manage an increasingly acute economic crisis.

It came a day after Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said at a televised news conference that the plunge in the value of Iran’s currency, the rial — which has fallen by 40 percent against the dollar this past week — was orchestrated by ruthless currency speculators, the United States and other unspecified internal enemies of Iran. He urged people to stop selling their rials for dollars, a currency he once characterized as “a worthless piece of paper,” and warned that speculators faced arrest and punishment.

But Mr. Ahmadinejad, whose stewardship of the economy has been increasingly challenged by other Iranian politicians in the last year of his term, offered no new solutions to arrest the slide in the rial, which is a major inflationary threat and has become the most visible barometer of Iran’s economic travails. Because of the sanctions, Iran is facing extreme difficulties in selling oil, its main export, and in repatriating dollars and other foreign currencies, because Iran has been cut off from the global banking system.

Unscripted protests in Iran are highly unusual, particularly since the political opposition in the country was crushed after Mr. Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in 2009. Iran experts said the outbreak on Wednesday was significant because it appeared to offer an insight into the degree of public weariness.

“It may not be widespread yet, but it demonstrates not just unhappiness with the Ahmadinejad government, but also dissatisfaction with the Islamic republic’s failure to stem the economic crisis brought about by incompetence, mismanagement and sanctions,” said Alireza Nader, a political analyst at the RAND Corporation, a research and consulting firm. He said that “the regime is going to face much greater instability in the future, especially if it loses the support of Iran’s business and merchant class.”

Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said in an audio commentary on the group’s Web site that the sanctions had effectively halved Iran’s oil exports, choked its ability to import essential goods and left its currency worth a fraction of its value compared with early this year. “These are hard times for ordinary and upper-class Iranian people,” he said.

The unrest caught the attention of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who, speaking from Washington rejected Mr. Ahmadinejad’s explanation for the rial’s plunge. She suggested that conditions would improve if Iran engaged in meaningful negotiations over its nuclear program, which Western powers and Israel suspect is meant to develop nuclear weapons, but which Iran says is for peaceful purposes.

“I think the Iranian government deserves responsibility for what is going on inside Iran,” she told reporters. “And that is who should be held accountable.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s warning to currency manipulators appeared to be the reason for the deployment of riot police officers in and around Manoucheri Street in central Tehran, where the black-market money changes had been doing a thriving business, particularly in recent days, as hundreds of Iranians sought to trade their rials for other currencies, fearing even worse times ahead.

Witnesses described cat-and-mouse chases between riot police officers on motorcycles armed with tear gas and batons, and money changers and their customers, who had to scatter.

Anger spread to Tehran’s grand bazaar, where many merchants closed their stores. Some were cheered by shoppers in denouncing the government for its financial support of Syria’s embattled government instead of investing that money at home.

“They spend billions of dollars to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power, but now they say they have no money!” one clothing merchant screamed, according to witnesses.

A team from Iran’s state television was nearly attacked when its reporter turned to the camera saying that the people behind him had been upset over a robbery.

Abdullah, a young man selling textiles, loudly complained that it had become extremely difficult to do business when the value of the rial was so unpredictable. “The checks our customers give us bounce, we don’t know what prices will be tomorrow, how can we earn a living?” he asked.

One of the videos uploaded on YouTube that witnesses verified as genuine showed hundreds of demonstrators marching peacefully and chanting, “Leave Syria alone, think of us!”

But other videos, apparently uploaded by Iran’s underground and exiled opposition movement to exploit the moment for political advantage, appeared to be fake, blending clips from Wednesday with old footage from the antigovernment protests that followed the disputed election more than three years ago.

The secretary general of the Tehran Bazaar and Trade Union, a powerful official close to the government, accused unspecified outside instigators of pressing bazaar merchants to close their shops. The official, Ahmad Karimi Esfahani, was quoted by the Iranian Labor News Agency as saying that most merchants had wanted to remain open. “Those now present are trying to show the bazaar as closed,” he was quoted as saying. “They are guided by foreigners.”

Other bazaar traders hinted that the closing had been organized by powerful opponents of Mr. Ahmadinejad, who were trying to make him look weak. The bazaar is firmly in the hands of conservative businessmen who once supported Mr. Ahmadinejad’s rise to power but now strongly oppose him.

Members of Parliament and Shiite Muslim clerics have been calling for an end to the black-market currency trade, accusing the money changers of driving down the rial’s value. Others have called upon the government to buy rials and sell dollars, presumably from the central bank’s reserves, to stabilize the rial. But it is unclear how large a cash reserve the central bank has at its disposal.

The head of Iran’s central bank and Mr. Ahmadinejad regularly say that Iran has more than $100 billion in cash, but government contractors, state employees and even members of the Revolutionary Guards have complained of late payments in recent months — and sometimes of none at all.

With many trying to blame Mr. Ahmadinejad for the wide range of problems plaguing Iran, he seems to be gearing up for a political fight. On Tuesday he attacked the head of Iran’s parliament, Ali Larijani, accusing him and other politicians of trying to bring him down, after Mr. Larijani said the government practiced “Robin Hood economics.”


Thomas Erdbrink reported from Tehran,

and Rick Gladstone from New York. Ramtin Rastin contributed reporting from Tehran.

    Violence and Protest in Iran as Currency Drops in Value, NYT, 3.10.2012,






Complicity in Duplicity?


October 2, 2012
The New York Times


A woman named Rice in a top administration job, ambitious to move up to secretary of state, hitting the Sunday talk shows to aggressively promote a Middle East narrative that’s good for the president but destined to crumble under scrutiny.

Accusations that intelligence on Al Qaeda links in the Middle East was cherry-picked by American officials to create a convenient reality.

A national security apparatus that becomes enmeshed with the political image-making machine.

Sound familiar?

Last time it was Condoleezza Rice helping her war-obsessed bosses spin their deceptive web, as they recklessly tried to re-engineer the Middle East. This time it was Susan Rice offering a noncredible yarn as the Obama team desperately tries to figure out the Middle East.

W.’s administration played up Al Qaeda ties, exploiting 9/11 to invade Iraq, which the neocons had wanted to do all along. The Obama administration sidestepped Al Qaeda ties in the case of the Libyan attack to perpetuate the narrative that the president had decimated Al Qaeda when Osama bin Laden was killed, and to preclude allegations that they were asleep at the switch on the anniversary of 9/11. Better to blame it all on a spontaneous protest to an anti-Islam video on YouTube.

It’s remarkable that President Obama, who came to power abhorring the manipulative and duplicitous tactics of the Bush crowd, should now be vulnerable to similar charges.

You know you’re in trouble when Donald Rumsfeld is the voice of reason. “The idea of sending a United Nations ambassador for the United States out to market and peddle and spin a story that has, within a matter of hours, demonstrated to be not accurate, I think is inexcusable,” the former defense secretary told Fox News on Tuesday. “I can’t imagine.”

His imagination fails him even though he, his pal Dick Cheney and his ward W. sent then-Secretary of State Colin Powell to the U.N. to market a story that fell apart one invasion later. Rumsfeld said that if the Obama administration’s critics are right, that perhaps officials were “bureaucratic and unwilling to respond promptly to a threat report.” Like when W. was unwilling to respond promptly to that threat report screaming “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”?

There was something off-kilter about the tragic saga of Christopher Stevens from the beginning. Even for a highly regarded ambassador with a dash of Lawrence of Arabia’s empathy and mistaken sense of invulnerability, Stevens was obviously too lightly guarded in a region roiling with threats and hatred; he was in a susceptible complex without enough armed security and basic emergency equipment. Even afterward, the place was so unprotected that a CNN staffer could walk in and pick up Stevens’s private diary, which reflected the ambassador’s fear about never-ending attacks and being on an Al Qaeda hit list.

There were, after all, Al Qaeda sympathizers among the rebels who overthrew Muammar el-Qaddafi with American help.

House Republicans will hold a hearing next week and have asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to explain why the consulate was not better defended given, as Representative Darrell Issa noted in a letter, the “long line of attacks on Western diplomats and officials in Libya in the months leading up to September 11, 2012.”

Susan Rice’s tumble is part of a disturbing pattern of rushing to pump up the president on national security, which seems particularly stupid because it’s so unnecessary.

Last year, the White House had to backtrack from the overwrought initial contentions of John Brennan, a deputy national security adviser, who said Bin Laden died after resisting in a firefight and that he was “hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield.”

Now that one of the members of the Navy SEAL team, Matt Bissonette, has written a book, there are contradictory accounts, one by a Democratic White House dying to sound tough, and one by an eyewitness. Bissonette wrote that the lead commando shot an unarmed Bin Laden in the head when he peered out of his bedroom door and they shot his convulsing body again inside the bedroom. In the administration’s version, the shot in the stairwell missed.

Just so, in an overzealous effort to burnish a president who did not need burnishing — especially against foreign policy bumbler Mitt Romney and foreign policy novice Paul Ryan — they have gotten tangled in contradictory accounts about Benghazi. The administration had benefited from the impression that it had diminished Al Qaeda, even though the public no doubt appreciates that it was never going to be so simple. But, as Romney learned when he prematurely rushed to the microphone to take advantage of the crisis and mangled his facts, there is a cost to letting the political spin cycle dictate how you discuss national security.

The U.S. military is preparing to retaliate for the Libyan attack. But, even if Stevens is avenged, will the president get the credit he deserves if his acolytes have left the impression that they’re willing to rewrite the story for political advantage?

    Complicity in Duplicity?, NYT, 2.10.2012,






U.S. Abandoning Hopes for Taliban Peace Deal


October 1, 2012
The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan — With the surge of American troops over and the Taliban still a potent threat, American generals and civilian officials acknowledge that they have all but written off what was once one of the cornerstones of their strategy to end the war here: battering the Taliban into a peace deal.

The once ambitious American plans for ending the war are now being replaced by the far more modest goal of setting the stage for the Afghans to work out a deal among themselves in the years after most Western forces depart, and to ensure Pakistan is on board with any eventual settlement. Military and diplomatic officials here and in Washington said that despite attempts to engage directly with Taliban leaders this year, they now expect that any significant progress will come only after 2014, once the bulk of NATO troops have left.

“I don’t see it happening in the next couple years,” said a senior coalition officer. He and a number of other officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the effort to open talks.

“It’s a very resilient enemy, and I’m not going to tell you it’s not,” the officer said. “It will be a constant battle, and it will be for years.”

The failure to broker meaningful talks with the Taliban underscores the fragility of the gains claimed during the surge of American troops ordered by President Obama in 2009. The 30,000 extra troops won back territory held by the Taliban, but by nearly all estimates failed to deal a crippling blow.

Critics of the Obama administration say the United States also weakened its own hand by agreeing to the 2014 deadline for its own involvement in combat operations, voluntarily ceding the prize the Taliban has been seeking for over a decade. The Obama administration defends the deadline as crucial to persuading the Afghan government and military to assume full responsibility for the country, and politically necessary for Americans weary of what has already become the country’s longest war.

Among America’s commanding generals here, from Stanley A. McChrystal and David H. Petraeus to today’s John R. Allen, it has been an oft-repeated mantra that the United States is not going to kill its way out of Afghanistan. They said that the Afghanistan war, like most insurgencies, could only end with a negotiation.

Now American officials say they have reduced their goals further — to patiently laying the groundwork for eventual peace talks after they leave. American officials say they hope that the Taliban will find the Afghan Army a more formidable adversary than they expect and be compelled, in the years after NATO withdraws, to come to terms with what they now dismiss as a “puppet” government.

The United States has not given up on talks before that time. It agreed last month to set up a committee with Pakistan that would vet potential new Taliban interlocutors, and the Obama administration is considering whether to revive a proposed prisoner swap with the insurgents that would, officials hope, reopen preliminary discussions that collapsed in March, current and former American officials said. Those are both seen as long-term efforts, however.

With the end of this year’s fighting season, the Taliban have weathered the biggest push the American-led coalition is going to make against them. A third of all American forces left by this month, and more of the 68,000 remaining may leave next year, with the goal that only a residual force of trainers and special operations troops will remain by the end of 2014.

Bringing Pakistan into the search for Taliban contacts is also an uncertain strategy, American officials said. The details of the new vetting committee have yet to be worked out, and “if we are depending on Pakistan, it comes with an asterisk,” one of the officials said. “We never know whether they will see it through.”

The American shift toward a more peripheral role in peace efforts represents another retreat from Washington’s once broad designs for Afghanistan, where the surge, along with a sharp escalation of nighttime raids by Special Operations Forces against Taliban field commanders, were partly aimed at forcing the Taliban into negotiations, making a Western withdrawal more feasible.

For a brief moment, the strategy appeared to be working: preliminary talks, painstakingly set up throughout 2011, opened early this year in Qatar, in the Persian Gulf.

The effort fell apart when the Obama administration, faced with bipartisan opposition in Washington, could not make good on a proposed prisoner swap, in which five Taliban leaders held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, would have been exchanged for the sole American soldier held by the insurgents, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

The trade was to be an initial confidence-building measure that would lead to more serious talks. If it is revived by the Obama administration, it would come after the presidential election, most likely leaving too little time to reach a deal before 2014, some current and former American officials said.

In Washington, “the tone of the whole discussion has shifted to a less U.S.-led approach and toward a more Afghan-led approach, but one that will be over a longer term,” said Shamila N. Chaudhary, a South Asia analyst at the Eurasia Group who served as the director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the National Security Council.

The Americans still hope to play a behind-the-scenes role, she said, but what shape that would take is “not clear.”

“It’s too far in the future,” Ms. Chaudhary added.

Divisions between the Taliban’s political wing and its military commanders represent another obstacle to serious talks. When the discussions first became public, “the military wing of the Taliban was very critical,” said Syed Muhammad Akbar Agha, a former Taliban military commander who lives in Kabul.

They were angry to have learned of the talks through President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, who was the first official to speak of them publicly. The Taliban have long derided Mr. Karzai as an American puppet, and they have steadfastly refused to talk with his government.

Then the Americans failed to make good on the prisoner swap, leaving the negotiators feeling betrayed, said Mr. Agha, who has played a tangential role in separate Afghan government efforts to open talks.

The senior coalition officer said the insurgents who supported the Qatar process “didn’t do a good I.O. campaign to sell it to their people.” I.O. is military jargon for Information Operations.

When the Karzai government brought it out into the open and the hard-liners balked, “we got they were backpedaling hard,” the officer said. Mr. Agha was adamant that talks were dead. “Peace is not a subject any longer,” he said.

But the Qataris remain willing to host the talks, and one of the Taliban negotiators still in Qatar said the talks could restart if the prisoner swap took place and the insurgents were allowed to open an office in Qatar, as the Americans had agreed to allow.

If those two steps “are implemented and practical steps are taken by the United States of America, talks will resume. There is no other obstruction,” said Sohail Shaheen, the Taliban negotiator, in an interview last month with Japan’s NHK World TV.

The prospects for direct negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban are even murkier.

Mualavi Qalanmudin, a former Taliban minister who now sits on the High Peace Council, the Karzai administration’s separate peace effort, dismissed the notion that the Taliban will never talk to the Afghan government.

“They will continue saying that until the day they sit at the negotiating table,” said Mr. Qalanmudin, who once ran the Taliban’s notorious Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

Mr. Agha, however, said he had been asked by the High Peace Council to carry proposals for direct talks to the Taliban and was rebuffed. “They said, ‘Reconcile with this corrupt government? Reconcile with this?’ I had no answer.”


Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington, and Sangar Rahimi from Kabul.

    U.S. Abandoning Hopes for Taliban Peace Deal, NYT, 1.10.2012,






5 Are Dead After Clash Between U.S. and Afghan Troops


September 30, 2012
The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan — Only two days after joint operations between American and Afghan forces were said to be returning to normal, five people — two Americans and three Afghans — were killed when a pitched battle broke out between soldiers of the two sides, American and Afghan officials said Sunday.

Afghan officials said that the clash on Saturday was a misunderstanding and that the Americans apparently attacked an Afghan National Army unit in error. A top coalition officer said the Americans were attacked first in what might possibly have been an insurgent attack. Nonetheless, he expressed regret for what ensued.

An initial statement from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, commonly referred to as ISAF, on Sunday described the episode as “a suspected insider attack,” which killed a foreign soldier and a civilian contractor. If so, that would bring to 53 the number of coalition forces killed in the so-called insider attacks this year.

Whatever happened, the episode clearly was another in a series of setbacks this year, and particularly in the last month, in relations between the American and Afghan militaries. It comes at a delicate moment, when all of the American surge reinforcements have only recently left the country, and NATO has been trying to transfer ever greater responsibility to a growing Afghan military.

Shahidullah Shahid, the spokesman for the governor in Wardak Province, where the fighting occurred, said the deaths came “after a clash ensued between two sides following a misunderstanding.” An Afghan official, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to release details, said that a mortar shell had landed amid the American unit, killing a soldier and a civilian contractor and wounding several others. The Americans thought it came from a nearby Afghan National Army checkpoint on a hill overhead and attacked it with small arms and rockets, killing three and wounding three of the seven soldiers there, the official said.

The Wardak provincial police chief, Abdul Qayoum Baqizoi, said the fight broke out when an Afghan soldier among seven soldiers at the checkpoint opened fire on the Americans; in the ensuing gun battle, three Afghan soldiers were killed, including the one who fired first. “We still don’t have a clear picture of what happened,” Mr. Baqizoi said. He quoted the lone Afghan soldier who was unhurt as saying, “ ‘I heard some noise and verbal argument and suddenly heard the shooting and then one of the coalition soldiers threw a hand grenade so I fled from the check post and hid myself behind our Humvee.’ ”

Significantly, according to Afghan officials, the American unit, which was relatively small in size and manning a temporary checkpoint in the Saidabad district, was not partnered with Afghan forces. The unit was conducting a biometric survey, in which details like fingerprints and eye scans are gathered from the local population, often at temporary checkpoints, in an effort to screen for insurgents.

Normally such operations would consist of American and Afghan forces working together, but in recent weeks the American military has issued orders that all joint operations with units smaller than a battalion — 400 to 800 soldiers — need to be approved in advance by a general commanding one of the six military regions in Afghanistan. Most joint operations take place at small unit levels.

At a hastily convened news conference on Sunday, the deputy ISAF commander, Lt. Gen. Adrian Bradshaw, read a brief statement that did little to clarify what happened between the ISAF and Afghan National Army, or ANA, soldiers. “What was initially reported to have been a suspected insider attack is now understood to possibly have involved insurgent fire,” General Bradshaw said. “After a short conversation took place between ANA and ISAF personnel, firing occurred, which resulted in the fatal wounding of an ISAF soldier and the death of his civilian colleague. In an ensuing exchange of fire three ANA personnel are reported to have died.”

He added, “We deeply regret the loss of life in this tragic incident.”

Asked if the restrictions on joint patrolling were a factor in Saturday’s clash, General Bradshaw did not respond to the question, saying instead that the restrictions were not a change in strategy but were prompted by increased caution about the reaction in a Muslim country to the incendiary video recently posted on YouTube that denigrated the Prophet Muhammad.

Insider attacks this year have increased greatly compared with 2011, when there were 35 over 12 months, arousing concern in the coalition, as well as in Western capitals. French forces announced that they were leaving by the end of next year, a year earlier than originally planned, after losing four of their soldiers in an insider attack in January.

In addition to restricting joint patrols by small units, the military has also required its forces to wear body armor and carry loaded weapons whenever they are in the presence of Afghan forces. And early in September training activities between Special Operations troops and new Afghan local police recruits were suspended because of several insider attacks involving the militia forces.

While those restrictions remain in force, Pentagon officials on Thursday said that joint operations among smaller units were returning to normal levels because of expedited approvals by higher commanders.


Sangar Rahimi contributed reporting.

    5 Are Dead After Clash Between U.S. and Afghan Troops, NYT, 30.9.2012,






U.S. May Have Put Mistaken Faith in Libya Site’s Security


September 30, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — An effective response by newly trained Libyan security guards to a small bombing outside the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi in June may have led United States officials to underestimate the security threat to personnel there, according to counterterrorism and State Department officials, even as threat warnings grew in the weeks before the recent attack that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

The guards’ aggressive action in June came after the mission’s defenses and training were strengthened at the recommendation of a small team of Special Forces soldiers who augmented the mission’s security force for several weeks in April while assessing the compound’s vulnerabilities, American officials said.

“That the local security did so well back in June probably gave us a false sense of security,” said one American official who has served in Libya, and who spoke on condition of anonymity because the F.B.I. is investigating the attack. “We may have fooled ourselves.”

The presence of the Special Forces team and the conclusions reached about the role of the Libyan guards offer new insight into the kind of security concerns that American officials had before the attack on Sept. 11.

Security at the mission has become a major issue as the Obama administration struggles to explain what happened during the attack, who was responsible and how the ambassador ended up alone.

Republicans and Democrats in recent days have demanded more detailed explanations from the White House and State Department on possible security lapses. “There were warnings,” Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program on Sunday.

Just how much American and Libyan officials misread the threat has become even more evident as they analyze the skill with which the mortar attack at an annex a half mile away was carried out by the attackers. That assault, nearly three hours after the initial attack on the main diplomatic mission, killed two former Navy SEALs who were defending the compound.

With as few as four armed Americans and three armed Libyans guarding the mission as the attack began, Mr. Stevens’s own bodyguard was so far away that he needed to sprint across the compound under gunfire to reach the building where the ambassador was working at the time. But the bodyguard ultimately left without Mr. Stevens, who died of smoke inhalation.

And even after eight additional American security officers arrived from Tripoli, the roughly 30 Americans were surprised and outgunned again in the second attack, dependent on an ad hoc collection of Libyan militiamen to protect their retreat and avoid greater casualties, Libyan officials said.

American counterterrorism officials and Libyans on the scene say the mortar attack was most likely carried out by the same group of assailants who had attacked the mission and then followed the convoy of American survivors retreating to what they thought was a safe house.

The first mortar shell fell short, but the next two hit their mark in rapid succession with deadly precision, according to an account that David Ubben, one of Mr. Stevens’s security guards, told his father, Rex Ubben, which was supported by other American and Libyan officials.

“There are three villas inside and the walls are high, and the only house that got hit was the house we were in,” said Fathi el-Obeidi, a Libyan militia commander who came to help evacuate the Americans.

This indicated that many of the assailants were practiced at aiming their mortars, skills they learned in fighting Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s army.

“David did not draw a distinction between the attackers,” Rex Ubben said in a telephone interview. David Ubben, a 31-year old Iraq war veteran, was wounded in the mortar attack, and is recovering from his wounds at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. His father said he had declined to speak to reporters.

The Sept. 11 attack culminated several weeks of growing violence against Western and other diplomatic posts in Benghazi. State Department officials said they were aware of the worsening climate and took precautions. One American official who worked in the mission said the Americans there were able to get around with “appropriate prudence.”

One American official, who said he traded e-mails with Mr. Stevens three days before his death, said the ambassador did not mention any heightened security concerns. CNN, however, has reported that Mr. Stevens did express such worries in a diary that one of the network’s correspondents found at the ransacked mission.

But security had been a concern for months. After an attack in early April on the convoy of the United Nations special envoy for Libya, Ian Martin, the United States Embassy in Tripoli sent about four Special Forces soldiers to Benghazi to augment security and conduct the security assessment, the American official said. The soldiers were part of a larger group of nearly two dozen Special Operations personnel, including Navy SEALs and bomb-squad specialists, that the military’s Africa Command sent to Tripoli last fall to establish security at the embassy there.

As a result of the military assessment, the mission increased the number of sandbagged defensive positions and gave the Libyan security guards more training. “We weren’t blind to fact the security situation in Benghazi was more tenuous than in Tripoli,” said the American official who served in Libya. “We were constantly considering Benghazi and constantly looking for ways to improve security there.”

The first test of the new defenses came when militants attacked the mission with a homemade bomb on June 6, the day after the United States announced that it had killed Abu Yahya al-Libi, a top leader of Al Qaeda, in Pakistan. No one was injured in the June 6 bombing.

Representative Peter King, a New York Republican who heads the House Homeland Security Committee, said after the roadside bombing in June, he heard nothing from the State Department or others in the government about a need for more security in Benghazi.

“Between June 6 and Sept. 11, I’m not aware that they asked for more security or that they thought they needed more because it was more of a risk, or that there was talk or a debate about it,” he said.

While the broad outlines of what happened that night have been reported, details continue to emerge that paint a more complete picture of the frantic response to the attack. It began about 9:30 p.m., roughly 15 minutes after Mr. Stevens had finished an evening meeting with the Turkish ambassador, bid him farewell and chatted briefly with a handful of Libyan guards at the gate of the compound.

There were a total of seven Libyan guards at the edge of compound. Four were unarmed guards who worked for the British security firm Blue Mountain inside the gates, checking visitors’ identification, operating a metal detector and running their bags through an X-ray machine. Three others were armed members of a major local militia that fought in the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi, the February 17 Brigade. The brigade had been responsible for securing the mission from its inception, and in interviews the guards said that they had received additional training for the job of guarding the mission.

There were no more than seven Americans in the compound, including three civilians and four who carried guns, three of the Libyan guards later recalled, speaking on condition of anonymity for their safety. In addition to Mr. Stevens, the Libyans said, the civilians included a familiar figure they identified as “the bald maintenance guy” — Sean Smith, a computer technology specialist, as well as another official visiting from Tripoli whom the Libyans referred to as a “delegate.” The Libyan guards said they believed that Mr. Stevens was alone in the residence at the time of the attack, and the locations of Mr. Smith and the visitor at the time were unclear.

Just before 9:30, the Libyan guards began hearing shouts of “God is great” from outside the walls. They said that they had initially assumed the shouts were from a funeral procession.

An unarmed Blue Mountain guard said he tried to call his superior on his two-way radio and could not reach him. Then he heard American voices through the radio: “Attack, attack!”

Moments later the guards heard gunfire, the blasts of rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and other grenades falling inside the compound. The attackers moved on all three entrances at once in an apparently coordinated assault, backed by truck-mounted artillery.

Mohamed Bishari, 20, the son of the landlord and a neighbor who watched the attack, said: “They thought that there would be more Americans inside, commandos or something like that. So they immediately started attacking with their R.P.G. rockets.”

He and other witnesses identified the attackers as Ansar al-Shariah, a well-known brigade of local Islamist militants. He said they arrived waving the black flag favored by such ultraconservative jihadis.

The unarmed Libyan guards ran back to take up positions as they had been instructed, behind sandbags that had been erected between the office and the residence. “The shooting was coming from all directions,” one guard said. “I hid behind the sandbags saying my last prayers.”

Another grenade landed inside the structure housing the three armed Libyan guards but, miraculously, did not explode.

“When the grenade didn’t explode, they came out of the windows,” said one of the unarmed guards, who said he had spoken to the armed contingent over the two-way radio during the attack. “They had a ladder outside the villa which they used to go up on the roof and started resisting.”

“They were resisting and radioing for backup from their brigade at the same time,” the guard said. “They managed to get a few.” Another guard said, “It was like a fog of war, it was chaotic, you couldn’t see anything” He added: “By the end it was every man for himself.”

Three guards, speaking independently, said they saw one of Mr. Stevens’s bodyguards run out of an office building with a light weapon drawn, racing back to the residence under fire to try to protect the ambassador.

Two other security guards, whom the Libyans identified only as Scott and Dave, were in the compound’s canteen and went to its roof to fight, the Libyans said.

Mr. Smith, the information technology worker, died of smoke inhalation during the fight. The American security detail, including Mr. Ubben, was unable to locate Mr. Stevens in the residence because of the thick, choking smoke in the building, and managed only to retrieve Mr. Smith’s body, an American official said.

Previous American government accounts indicated that a convoy evacuated about 20 Americans from the mission at about 11:30 p.m. But Mr. Bishari, the neighbor, said that more than two and a half hours after the fight began, between midnight and 1 a.m., he saw what he described as the ambassador’s armored Mercedes S.U.V. leaving the mission. He pointed to a hole in the compound’s concrete wall that he said was left by a rocket-propelled grenade that was fired at the fleeing vehicle and evidently missed.

The annex building was a secret. The Libyan militia leaders who escorted the Americans say they were unaware of it, and the eight American security officers who arrived at the Benghazi airport from Tripoli at about 1:30 a.m. guided the Libyans to it using a GPS device, members of the Libyan team said.

Those eight Americans initially planned to leave the airport with Mr. Fathi and a handful of Libyan militiamen in four vehicles, two Toyota Land Cruisers followed by two Kia sedans. But when they learned of the Americans’ arrival, local Libyan security forces insisted on sending 16 more vehicles of fighters, Mr. Obeidi said. “I told them not to be too close to us so when we get to the place we don’t create a scene,” he said.

But the attackers had evidently found it, perhaps by following the vehicle leaving the compound. Libyan witnesses who saw the attacks in both locations said they appeared to be the same group, Ansar al-Shariah.

The attackers evidently had set up mortar rounds in advance of the attack. They hit the annex just after the Libyan escort and American security team had reached the gate, Mr. Obeidi said.

United States government officials say they learned from the bodyguards as early as 2 a.m. that Mr. Stevens had disappeared in the smoke. Mr. Obeidi said by that time, he had learned from the hospital that the doctor there who had treated the ambassador identified his body. But other Libyan officials say they were unsure of Mr. Stevens’s condition.

Mustafa el-Sagizli, an officer in the February 17 Brigade and a senior official in the transitional government, said that he repeatedly called the mission’s official translator who for most of the night was unable to reach the ambassador’s security guards.

Finally, Mr. Sagizli said, at 4 a.m., “the Libyan translator said, ‘I finally got in touch with the guards and they told me that they were not with Chris.’ ”

Mr. Sagizli said he learned around the same time that an American was dead at the hospital. Since it was deemed unsafe for Americans to visit the hospital — wounded attackers were also under treatment at the same hospital where Mr. Stevens was taken — Mr. Sagizli went to identify Mr. Stevens, and arranged the transportation of his body to the Americans who had been evacuated earlier and were waiting at the airport.


Eric Schmitt reported from Washington,

and David D. Kirkpatrick and Suliman Ali Zway from Benghazi, Libya.

Steven Lee Myers and Michael S. Schmidt contributed reporting from Washington,

and Kitty Bennett from Florida.

    U.S. May Have Put Mistaken Faith in Libya Site’s Security, NYT, 30.9.2012,






Away From Cities, a Life Laced With Violence for Syrians


September 29, 2012
The New York Times


RUWEIHA, Syria — The children slept on the floor of a school on a mountain slope.

They did not stir as artillery shells passed high overhead to slam into Sarja, the village they had fled, even as each distant rumble told of an explosion that might have killed them had they remained at home.

“There are eight families here,” said Jaber Zein Aldin, 72, who watched from the school door as red tracers arced through the night sky. “Forty people, escaping the shelling and the aircraft.”

In northern Syria, the fighters seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad have created zones in which they and local revolutionary councils are the interim governing force.

They have organized basic services, including field hospitals, policing, courts and rubble cleanup. In at least one town, they publish a small newspaper. And here they move openly and prepare for the next fight.

But even in this de facto safe area, the Syrian government retains a lethal reach. Unable to pursue the rebels on the ground through the farmland and mountains of Idlib and Aleppo Provinces, Mr. Assad’s forces drop bombs from aircraft and shell villages where rebels are active, endangering civilians.

It has also cut off water from much of the countryside and switches electricity on and off, punishing some towns with longer blackouts than others depending on residents’ suspected sentiments.

The two sides have entered a duet of attrition, turning life in the Idlib countryside into a wearying grind punctuated, in flashes and roars, by moments of spectacular and often indiscriminate violence. With cooler weather approaching, many crops at risk and fuel in short supply, Syrians assessing the prospects for the second winter since the uprising began say the outlook is grim.

“We are afraid of the winter,” said Moyad, a pharmacist and a member of the governing revolutionary council in Kafr Takharim, a city of about 25,000 people. Moyad asked that his surname be withheld to protect his relatives from retaliation. “During these last months we have received fuel only twice, and we have not much flour for bread. This winter will be cruel.”

On a strictly military level, the rebellion’s tactical successes have been undeniable. At the start of this year, they were all but in hiding, and government troops moved freely over the ground.

Since then the rebels’ campaign of ambushes and roadside bombs has cleared swaths of territory and forced army and militia convoys to avoid most roads. Even the M5 highway, an asphalt ribbon linking many of Syria’s largest cities, has long stretches that are in rebel hands.

The rebels’ flag flies over their own border crossings to Turkey, at Bab al-Hawa and at the Syrian side of Kilis, beckoning to areas of the country the rebels call free.

Yet Syria’s military and the loyalist militias are far from defeated. They have concentrated forces in cities and retained part of the archipelago of outposts that they occupied in the countryside when the crackdown intensified last year. And they have unleashed an air campaign, dropping free-fall bombs or firing rockets onto rebel territory, an indiscriminate practice documented this month in field research by Amnesty International.

Often the ordnance strikes homes. In Ablin — the hometown of Lt. Col. Hussein Harmoush, the first public defector from the Syrian Army — an airstrike destroyed the medical center. With no end to the violence near, Mr. Aldin and his family, sleeping in the classrooms of Ruweiha, have become a drop in a human tide.

Some families have crowded into others’ homes, where women and children huddle, sometimes with wounded fighters, listening for the next blasts and wondering where to go.

In Kafr Takharim, for instance, Moyad said families had taken in as many as 6,000 civilians displaced by the fighting in Aleppo, where a battle has raged since midsummer.

Kawkab Darweesh, who has been displaced for months, said she and her family had been uprooted, forced to survive off the hospitality of friends. She was from the mountain town of Rama, where government troops remain. Both sides are expecting a battle for the town, she said, and she does not know if her home still stands.

“We are afraid to go back,” she said. “We don’t know what happened there. They are destroying houses over the owners’ heads.”

Other families have moved into the olive groves, where they camp in pump houses, small agricultural buildings or even in archaeological ruins. Many have fled over the nearest border, to Turkey.

On one recent night, just short of the border near the Turkish city of Reyhanli, Syrian families mingled with smugglers in the fields, waiting for gaps between the Turkish border patrols and then dashing for the barbed wire and to life as refugees.

More than 90,000 Syrians who have fled the fighting are registered in 13 temporary refugee camps along Turkey’s 550-mile-long border with Syria, according to figures released Friday by the Turkish government. Many more have crossed the border illegally and are not in the official tallies. One local Turkish official, who asked not to be named because of his diplomatic status, estimated that at least 60,000 Syrian refugees were living unregistered in Turkey.

Aside from the camps, Turkey has set up a temporary shelter by the border gate in Kilis, where another 8,000 Syrians stay and receive daily supplies, the official said. “We see a surge in numbers on days of heavy shelling by the regime around Aleppo and Idlib, but try to contain daily entries around 500,” he said. “There are still thousands of people who have left their homes and live in the fields.”

Many people here said they felt abandoned by the world. The rebels are short of weapons, the civilians short of safe shelter and the necessities of life.

Jamal Marouf, a prominent rebel commander in the highlands of Jebel al-Zawiya, where much of the army has been driven away, said the rebels were trying to restore services that ended with the withdrawal of the government, but they lacked the means to be fully effective. “All of the institutions are not working any more,” he said.


Sebnem Arsu contributed reporting from Istanbul.

    Away From Cities, a Life Laced With Violence for Syrians, NYT, 29.9.2012,






U.S. Move to Give Egypt $450 Million in Aid

Meets Resistance


September 28, 2012
The New York Times


The Obama administration notified Congress on Friday that it would provide Egypt’s new government an emergency cash infusion of $450 million, but the aid immediately encountered resistance from a prominent lawmaker wary of foreign aid and Egypt’s new course under the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The aid is part of the $1 billion in assistance that the Obama administration has pledged to Egypt to bolster its transition to democracy after the overthrow last year of the former president, Hosni Mubarak. Its fate, however, was clouded by concerns over the new government’s policies and, more recently, the protests that damaged the American Embassy in Cairo.

The United States Agency for International Development notified Congress of the cash infusion on Friday morning during the pre-election recess, promptly igniting a smoldering debate over foreign aid and the administration’s handling of crises in the Islamic world.

An influential Republican lawmaker, Representative Kay Granger of Texas, immediately announced that she would use her position as chairwoman of the House appropriations subcommittee overseeing foreign aid to block the distribution of the money. She said the American relationship with Egypt “has never been under more scrutiny” than it is in the wake of the election of President Mohamed Morsi, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“I am not convinced of the urgent need for this assistance and I cannot support it at this time,” Ms. Granger said in a statement that her office issued even before the administration announced the package.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking at a meeting of the Group of 8 nations in New York, said on Friday that the world needed to do more to support the governments that have emerged from the Arab Spring uprisings, including those in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

“The recent riots and protests throughout the region have brought the challenge of transition into sharp relief,” Mrs. Clinton said, without mentioning the assistance to Egypt specifically. “Extremists are clearly determined to hijack these wars and revolutions to further their agendas and ideology, so our partnership must empower those who would see their nations emerge as true democracies.”

The debate comes as the issue of foreign aid in general made an unexpected appearance in the presidential campaign.

In a speech in New York on Tuesday, Mr. Obama’s Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, called for revamping assistance to focus more on investments in the private sector than on direct aid — a shift administration officials have said is under way.

While Mr. Romney did not address aid to Egypt directly, he cited Mr. Morsi’s membership in the Muslim Brotherhood as one of the alarming developments in the Middle East, along with the war in Syria, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the killing of the American ambassador to Libya.

“A temporary aid package can jolt an economy,” he said. “It can fund some projects. It can pay some bills. It can employ some people some of the time. But it can’t sustain an economy — not for long. It can’t pull the whole cart, because at some point the money runs out.”

The $1 billion in aid, announced by Mr. Obama in May 2011, was initially intended to relieve Egypt’s debts to the United States, though negotiations stalled during the country’s turbulent transition from military rule to the election of Mr. Morsi this summer.

In recent weeks, negotiations over the assistance picked up pace, and the administration decided to provide $450 million instead, including $190 million immediately, because the country’s economic crisis has become acute, with an estimated budget shortfall of $12 billion.

The assistance outlined in letters to Congress on Friday would be contingent on Egypt’s setting in motion economic and budgetary changes that the International Monetary Fund is now negotiating as part of a $4.8 billion loan.

The administration has also thrown its support behind that loan, and officials said they hoped it would be completed before the end of the year. A $260 million infusion would come when the much larger loan is completed, according to officials familiar with the package. By law, all assistance to Egypt is contingent on the country’s meeting certain requirements, including adherence to basic democratic values and the Camp David peace treaty with Israel.

The protests over an anti-Muslim video and the storming of the American Embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11 came even as senior White House and State Department officials led a large business delegation to promote economic assistance and trade in Egypt.

Mr. Morsi’s slow response to the protests raised concerns in Washington, although administration officials later cited improved cooperation over the embassy’s security.

The $1 billion in assistance has been cobbled together from funds already appropriated by Congress, but the administration is required to notify lawmakers of its intention to release any of the funds. Ms. Granger presumably can put a hold on that release and pursue legislation to reverse the appropriation.

Mrs. Clinton lobbied lawmakers last week during closed-door briefings that focused on the tumult across the region, including the attack at the American diplomatic mission in Libya that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

In addition to the $1 billion in assistance, the administration is working with Egypt to provide $375 million in financing and loan guarantees for American financiers who invest in Egypt and a $60 million investment fund for Egyptian businesses. All of that comes on top of $1.3 billion in military aid that the United States provides Egypt each year.

A senior State Department official said that the administration would consult with members of Congress in the days ahead “to make the case that this budget support is firmly in U.S. interests in seeing peace, stability and democracy in Egypt and the wider neighborhood.”

    U.S. Move to Give Egypt $450 Million in Aid Meets Resistance, NYT, 29.9.2012,






Ammunition for a Trade War Between U.S. and Mexico


September 27, 2012
The New York Times


Estimates are that nearly one out of two tomatoes eaten in the United States comes from Mexico — a statistic Florida growers would like to change, even at the risk of a trade war.

On Thursday, they got a reason to hope.

The United States Department of Commerce signaled then that it might be willing to end a 16-year-old agreement between the United States and some Mexican growers that has kept the price of Mexican tomatoes relatively low for American consumers. American tomato growers say the price has been so low that they can barely compete.

Within hours of the American action, Mexico threatened to retaliate, claiming that the Obama administration was trying to placate farmers in an important swing state. The Mexican government has support from seemingly unlikely backers in the United States: the big box stores like Walmart, which fear they will have to raise their prices, and other commodity producers, who worry that their products will be caught in a trade war.

“It will be very unfortunate if this devolves into a shooting war because this becomes a tit-for-tat and in the end, nobody wins,” said John Keeling, chief executive of the National Potato Council.

As part of a complex arrangement dating to 1996, the United States has established a minimum price at which Mexican tomatoes can enter the American market. Over the years, Florida’s tomato sales have dropped as low as $250 million annually, from as much as $500 million, according to Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange, which has led the push to rescind the agreement. The state is the country’s largest producer of fresh market tomatoes, followed by California.

In the meantime, Bruno Ferrari, the economy minister of Mexico, said the value of Mexico’s tomato exports to the United States had more than tripled to $1.8 billion since the agreement was signed, and the tomato industry there supports 350,000 jobs. Producers of other commodities and big retailers still have stark memories of the high tariffs Mexico slapped on United States producers of potatoes, pork and toilet paper — $2.4 billion worth of goods — during a trade fight over trucking that began in 2009 and ended last year.

In the first year of the trucking fight, potato exports to Mexico fell more than 35 percent and growers lost $64 million in revenue as Mexicans shifted buying to Canada, Mr. Keeling said.

An analysis by an economist at Iowa State suggests that pork producers, who also lost money during the trucking trade fight, would lose about $14 an animal if Mexico imposed similar tariffs on pork now, said Nick Giordano, vice president at the National Pork Producers Council.

“We’re already having one of the worst financial periods ever because of high grain prices, and if we were to lose a major market like Mexico, it would be like Armageddon,” Mr. Giordano said.

Mr. Ferrari said Mexico was prepared to take all retaliatory measures available under the law. He warned that a final ruling against Mexico could also jeopardize talks over other trade disputes between the two countries.

The Mexicans say they fear that ending the agreement will clear the way for American growers to file formal complaints accusing the Mexicans of unfair trade practices, which they did repeatedly before the agreement.

Thursday’s announcement came as Mexican tomato producers prepared to meet with officials at the Commerce Department on Friday to propose new terms to sweeten the agreement. The growers have said they are willing to accept a higher floor price for their tomatoes, expand the number of growers in the agreement and establish new measures to enforce the deal.

“We’re disappointed. We’re confused. We’re frustrated. We’re angry,” said Martin Ley, vice president of Del Campo Supreme, a family business that exported $60 million in tomatoes to the United States and Canada last year. “We don’t understand where this is going and where this is coming from.”

Robert S. LaRussa, a lawyer who represents Mr. Ley and other growers from Sinaloa, the largest exporting state, said it was an “insult” for the Commerce Department to make its announcement a day before their meeting. He noted that more than 300 letters had been filed in favor of maintaining the agreement.

“They need to take into account much more than the interests of five or six families in Florida,” Mr. LaRussa said.

The Mexicans argue that they are under attack for producing a better product. They say they have invested heavily in new types of tomatoes, in greenhouses and in sophisticated agricultural techniques to improve productivity and quality.

The Mexicans say Florida tomatoes are picked green and then gassed with ethylene to turn them red, but tomatoes grown in Sinaloa ripen on the vine, which accounts for the explosion in vine-ripened tomatoes sold in American grocery stores.

The risk of hurricanes in Florida makes it harder for growers there to set up greenhouse cultivation, though growers elsewhere do not have that concern.

Mr. Brown, of the Florida Tomato Exchange, said he could not envision anything that the Mexicans could offer that would make the agreement palatable to the American growers.

The Commerce Department will have 40 days after Thursday’s announcement is printed in the Federal Register, probably sometime next week, to make a final decision. The Mexicans — and many others — speculated that Florida’s role in the coming elections may have had something to do with the timing.

“This is a debate being fought out in the context of this presidential election, and Florida is one of those swing states,” said Gary Clyde Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and a former deputy assistant secretary for international trade and investment policy at the Treasury Department. “But we also have a lot of fish to fry with Mexico, a lot of reasons to maintain better relations there.”

The 1996 agreement suspended an investigation that began as a result of a dumping complaint filed by tomato growers in the United States against their Mexican counterparts in 1996, after the North American Free Trade Agreement eliminated tariffs on Mexican tomatoes. The complaint accused the Mexican growers of selling tomatoes at an unfair price. Antidumping regulations forbid an exporter to sell products abroad at so low a price that the producer loses money while the goods flood another country’s market.

The Commerce Department will decide whether to lift the suspension permanently, ending the investigation and the agreement.

The agreement, which has been amended since it was struck, sets the floor price for Mexican tomatoes at 17 cents a pound in the summer and 21.6 cents in the winter. American growers say they cannot compete at that price.

Mr. Hufbauer said American companies typically sought to end such agreements because they planned to file new dumping charges, hoping for better terms.

“The only strategy we have right now is to get out of a deal that is the only trade agreement I know of in history where the restricted party is more concerned with it staying in place than the domestic industry,” Mr. Brown said.

    Ammunition for a Trade War Between U.S. and Mexico, NYT, 27.9.2012,






Talking at Cross Purposes


September 27, 2012
The New York Times


The alternate universes of the Israeli and Palestinian leaders were on display Thursday at the United Nations General Assembly.

In dueling speeches, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel focused on drawing a red line for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities while the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, cataloged his community’s many grievances against Israel and tried to revive the fading dream of a two-state solution. Mr. Netanyahu even had on hand a visual aid — a primitive cartoon drawing of a bomb, which quickly went viral on the Internet.

Both issues — Iran’s dangerous nuclear ambitions and the Palestinian right to a secure state — need to be dealt with seriously, but neither man acknowledged the other side’s priority nor articulated a common path forward. Mostly, the speeches showed how far peace efforts have gone off track.

Mr. Netanyahu told the United Nations that he believes Iran’s ability to make a nuclear weapon will be irreversible by next spring or summer, and he argued that a “clear red line” must be drawn to warn Iran to halt its nuclear fuel enrichment or face military action. While that was a far more specific time frame than he had previously noted, his reference to next year seems to back away from earlier statements that seemed to suggest an Israeli strike much sooner.

Still, Mr. Netanyahu’s speech continued to push a campaign, which promotes military action when there is time for sanctions and diplomatic negotiations to produce a peaceful outcome. An Israeli Foreign Ministry report, disclosed by Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, on Thursday, acknowledged as much, saying that sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe are having a huge impact on Iran’s economy and may be affecting the government’s stability. The report urged that the sanctions be tightened further.

A recent report by The Iran Project signed by nearly three dozen American experts concluded that “conservatively, it would take Iran a year or more to build a military-grade weapon, with at least two years or more required to create a nuclear warhead that would be reliably deliverable by a missile.”

Mr. Netanyahu is justifiably suspicious that Iran may be using negotiations to buy time as it advances its weapons program. And President Obama made clear the other day that the time for a diplomatic solution is “not unlimited.”

Mr. Abbas’s complaints are no less important for both Israel, the Palestinians and the region. Using exceptionally sharp rhetoric, he accused Israeli settlers of undertaking 535 attacks against Palestinians in recent months, and he charged Israel with using settlement expansion and efforts to weaken the Palestinian Authority to destroy the prospect of a two-state solution. Mr. Netanyahu made a brief reference to wanting peace with the Palestinians, but there is no hope of meaningful negotiations anytime soon.

After failing to get a process for talks going early in his term, Mr. Obama seems to have given up. Mitt Romney has suggested that he would do even less if he’s elected. On the notorious video taped when he was speaking at a private fund-raising event in May, he disparaged Palestinians as “not wanting to see peace anyway” and said his approach was to “recognize this is going to remain an unsolved problem.” He seems poised to encourage Mr. Netanyahu’s intemperate posture toward Iran, no matter the consequences.

    Talking at Cross Purposes, NYT, 27.9.2012,






Security Fears Hobble Inquiry of Libya Attack


September 27, 2012
The New York Times


BENGHAZI, Libya — Sixteen days after the death of four Americans in an attack on a United States diplomatic mission here, fears about the near-total lack of security have kept F.B.I. agents from visiting the scene of the killings and forced them to try to piece together the complicated crime from Tripoli, more than 400 miles away.

Investigators are so worried about the tenuous security, people involved in the investigation say, that they have been unwilling to risk taking some potential Libyan witnesses into the American Embassy in Tripoli. Instead, the investigators have resorted to the awkward solution of questioning some witnesses in cars outside the embassy, which is operating under emergency staffing and was evacuated of even more diplomats on Thursday because of a heightened security alert.

“It’s a cavalcade of obstacles right now,” said a senior American law enforcement official who is receiving regular updates on the Benghazi investigation and who described the crime scene, which has been trampled on, looted and burned, as so badly “degraded” that even once F.B.I. agents do eventually gain access “it’ll be very difficult to see what evidence can be attributed to the bad guys.”

Piecing together exactly how Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died here would be difficult even under the best of conditions. But the volatile security situation in post-Qaddafi Libya has added to the challenge of determining whether it was purely a local group of extremists who initiated the fatal assault or whether the attackers had ties to international terrorist groups, as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton suggested Wednesday may be the case.

The Libyan government has advised the F.B.I. that it cannot assure the safety of the American investigators in Benghazi. So agents have been conducting interviews from afar, relying on local Libyan authorities to help identify and arrange meetings with witnesses to the attack and working closely with the Libyans to gauge the veracity of any of those accounts.

“There’s a chance we never make it in there,” said a senior law enforcement official.

Also hampering the investigation is fear among Libyan witnesses about revealing their identities or accounts in front of Libyan guards protecting the American investigators, because the potential witnesses fear other Libyans might leak their participation and draw retribution from the attackers.

One person with knowledge of the inquiry said the investigators had gathered some information pointing to the involvement of members of Ansar al-Shariah, the same local extremist group that other witnesses have identified as participating in the attack. Benghazi residents and the leaders of the large militias that have constituted the city’s only police force insist that the attackers were purely local. They note that many of the brigades that have sprung up in the city have the ability to conduct such an attack on short notice and that a few homegrown groups — like Ansar al-Shariah — have the ideological disposition to do it as well.

American counterterrorism and intelligence officials say they have not found any evidence to indicate that the Qaeda affiliate in North Africa, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, ordered or planned the attack.

But the investigators are casting a wide net. To determine whether there was participation by an international element, intelligence analysts are poring over cellphone conversations intercepted before and after the attacks, as well as informant reports, witness accounts and satellite imagery.

When asked which group or groups may have been behind the violence, Matthew G. Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told senators last week, “The picture that is emerging is one where a number of different individuals were involved, so it’s not necessarily an either/or proposition.”

Specifically, intelligence analysts are going down the roster of known militants who operate in and around Benghazi and elsewhere in eastern Libya, and like an Islamic extremist scorecard, seeking to determine what involvement, if any, each might have.

Complicating the investigation, these officials say, is the fact that many of these individuals align themselves with more than one group and with ad hoc organizations, making accountability to a specific group more difficult than to an individual or a group of militants.

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in Washington on Thursday that before the attack — he did not say when — “there was a thread of intelligence reporting that groups in the environment, in eastern Libya, were seeking to coalesce, but there wasn’t anything specific, and certainly not a specific threat to the consulate that I am aware of.”

General Dempsey said that information was shared throughout the government.

Assigning culpability also complicates the American response. For now, the administration awaits the F.B.I. investigation and updated intelligence reports. President Obama has said the United States will bring to justice those responsible for the attacks. But there is little appetite in the White House to launch drone strikes or a Special Operations raid, like the one that killed Osama bin Laden, in yet another Muslim country.

American officials would prefer that Libyan officials lead any military or paramilitary operation, or work alongside American investigators, to arrest any suspects. But the transitional Libyan government still does not command a meaningful national army or national police force.

At the Pentagon on Thursday, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said the government was waiting on the F.B.I. investigation to determine who was responsible for the bloodshed.

“We have made clear that as a result of that, we’re going to continue to go after those that would attack our individuals,” Mr. Panetta told reporters. “We are not going to let people who deliberately attack and kill our people get away with it.”

Mr. Panetta also indicated that the attack on the mission involved some degree of advance planning.

“As we determined the details of what took place there, and how that attack took place,” Mr. Panetta said, “it became clear that there were terrorists who had planned that attack.”

Another United States official who receives daily intelligence briefings said that the planning was “a matter of a few hours, not days or weeks.”

Adding to the uncertainty of the investigation is the American government’s relative lack of information on the Islamist groups operating in North Africa, including the Algerian opposition group that renamed itself Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

One Western intelligence official expressed doubt that the Islamists in northern Mali were involved in the Benghazi attack. “If they were going to take direct action, it would be in Bamako,” the official said, mentioning the Malian capital, which has a number of Western targets.

Islamist extremists are believed to have a more secure foothold than ever in Africa, receiving training and fighting across borders, officials said.

“It’s not impossible that somebody who would have been trained in northern Mali would have been involved” in the deaths in Benghazi, said the Western intelligence official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

But many Benghazi residents said the city’s many heavily armed fighters needed no further training after the uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, and they noted that Libyans were deeply hostile to the Malians, in part because of racial animosity and in part because they think Malians provided mercenaries for Colonel Qaddafi.

“It is a Libyan job,” Ismail al-Sallabi, a commander with one of the largest so-called authorized militias here, said of the attack on the mission. “It is not Al Qaeda.”


David D. Kirkpatrick reported from Benghazi and Tripoli, Libya,

and Eric Schmitt and Michael S. Schmidt from Washington.

Adam Nossiter contributed reporting from Bissau, Guinea-Bissau,

and Steven Lee Myers from New York.

    Security Fears Hobble Inquiry of Libya Attack, NYT, 27.9.2012,






Clinton Suggests Link to Qaeda Offshoot

in Deadly Libya Attack


September 26, 2012
The New York Times


Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday suggested there was a link between the Qaeda franchise in North Africa and the attack at the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the American ambassador and three others. She was the highest-ranking Obama administration official to publicly make the connection, and her comments intensified what is becoming a fiercely partisan fight over whether the attack could have been prevented.

Mrs. Clinton did not offer any new evidence of a Qaeda link, and officials later said the question would be officially settled only after the F.B.I. completed a criminal inquiry, which could take months. But they said they had not ruled out the involvement of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb — an affiliate of the international terrorist group with origins in Algeria — in an attack the administration initially described as a spontaneous protest turned violent.

Her remarks added to the administration’s evolving and at times muddled explanation of what happened on the evening of Sept. 11 and into the next morning. Republicans in Congress have accused President Obama of playing down possible terrorist involvement in the midst of a re-election campaign in which killing Osama bin Laden and crippling Al Qaeda are cited as major achievements.

Mrs. Clinton made her remarks at a special United Nations meeting on the political and security crisis in the parts of North Africa known as the Maghreb and the Sahel, particularly in northern Mali, which has been overrun by Islamic extremists since a military coup helped lead to the division of that country this year.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has long operated in the region, she said, and was now exploiting a haven in Mali to export extremism and terrorist violence to neighbors like Libya.

“Now with a larger safe haven and increased freedom to maneuver, terrorists are seeking to extend their reach and their networks in multiple directions,” Mrs. Clinton told leaders assembled at the meeting, including President François Hollande of France and the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon. “And they are working with other violent extremists to undermine the democratic transitions under way in North Africa, as we tragically saw in Benghazi.”

Mr. Ban called the meeting to lay the groundwork for a possible international military intervention — to be led by African troops — to help the new military government in Mali re-establish control over a part of the country that Mr. Hollande noted was the size of France and is now under the grip of Islamist extremists imposing their vision of law and order.

“We cannot stand by and allow terrorists to take over an entire territory,” Mr. Hollande said.

Top militia leaders in Benghazi have dismissed the possibility that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb played a role in the attacks or had a foothold in eastern Libya. Benghazi residents have said they believe the brigade that conducted the attack could not have managed the assault on its own, because it included more than 100 heavily armed fighters.

Mrs. Clinton’s connection of the turmoil in the Sahel with the violence in Benghazi, which killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, echoed remarks made last week by Matthew G. Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center. He said that intelligence analysts were investigating ties between local Libyan militias and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, but had not yet come to any conclusions.

A senior administration official said that Mrs. Clinton intended to underscore the rising threat that the Qaeda affiliate and other extremist organizations pose to the emerging democratic governments in countries like Tunisia and Libya, adding that the group clearly intended to make contact with extremists in Benghazi and elsewhere. The final determination of the group’s role, the official said, would await the investigation by the F.B.I.

Mrs. Clinton has also ordered a review of diplomatic security that is being led by Thomas R. Pickering, a veteran diplomat and former undersecretary of state.

It was not clear whether Mrs. Clinton’s remarks foreshadowed any possible retaliation against those who carried out the attack, whether they operated in sympathy with, or on orders from, Al Qaeda leaders. But she reiterated the administration’s vow to bring those responsible to justice, telling the conference that American intelligence and law-enforcement agencies were working not only with Libya but with other nations in the region to investigate the attack.

The cooperation with other nations beyond Libya in the investigations also seemed to indicate that the attack’s planning and execution might have crossed international borders and not simply have been a local, spontaneous eruption of violence in response to an amateurish Internet video denigrating the Prophet Muhammad.

“The United States is stepping up our counterterrorism efforts across the Maghreb and the Sahel,” Mrs. Clinton said, “and we’re working with the Libyan government and other partners to find those responsible for the attack on our diplomatic post in Benghazi and bring them to justice.”

Questions about the attack in Libya have become politically charged, even as the State Department has grieved over the loss of four employees — including the first American ambassador killed on duty since 1979 — and tried to contain the outrage over the video that spread to dozens of countries.

Officials initially described the attack as a protest, though one administration official acknowledged what Libyan witnesses have said in interviews: that the attack was deliberate and organized. Five days after the attack, the American representative to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice, in an appearance on the Sunday talk shows, continued to describe it as a spontaneous protest, and it was only on Sept. 19 that Mr. Olsen of National Counterterrorism Center called it a terrorist attack.

Four Republican Senators — John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — released a blistering letter to Ms. Rice on Wednesday, accusing her of making “several troubling statements that are inconsistent with the facts and require explanation.”

“The administration’s position seems to be evolving with the pass of each day,” Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and a ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, said in an interview. Ms. Collins, who has received briefings from administration, counterterrorism and defense officials, said that shortly after the attack it was evident to her that terrorists had been behind it. She said she was convinced both because the attack took place on the anniversary of the attacks in New York and Washington in 2001 and because the gunmen were reported to be so heavily armed.

“I have been perplexed that the administration has been slow in coming to that same conclusion,” she said.

The Republican criticism was bolstered by Libya’s president, Mohamed Magariaf, who met with Mrs. Clinton and other American officials in New York on Monday. In an interview broadcast on Wednesday, he also attributed the attack to what he called “Al Qaeda elements who are hiding in Libya,” citing its sophistication and the date of the attack.

From the start, Libyan officials have sought to blame foreigners, even as they move to crack down on extremist militias that took part in the uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi last year and clearly had a role in the attack. Mr. Magariaf said at least 40 suspects had been questioned, but there was no definitive conclusion about those involved. “It was a preplanned act of terrorism directed against American citizens,” Mr. Magariaf said in remarks broadcast on NBC’s “Today” show Wednesday.

The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, defended the administration’s evolving version of events. “Over the course of the past two weeks, this administration has provided as much information as it has been able to,” Mr. Carney told reporters traveling on Air Force One to Ohio on Wednesday. “We made clear that our initial assessment and interim reports were based on information that was available at the time.”


David D. Kirkpatrick contributed reporting from Benghazi, Libya,

and Michael S. Schmidt and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

    Clinton Suggests Link to Qaeda Offshoot in Deadly Libya Attack, NYT, 26.9.2012,






At U.N., Egypt and Yemen Urge Curbs on Free Speech


September 26, 2012
The New York Times


UNITED NATIONS — The new presidents of Egypt and Yemen — both of whom were swept to power by uprisings demanding democratic rights — issued clear rebuttals on Wednesday to President Obama’s ardent defense of Western values at the United Nations, arguing that cultural limits on rights like freedom of speech had to be respected.

President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt, who billed his 40-minute speech to world leaders as the first by a democratically elected leader of his country, condemned the violence stemming from a short online video that insulted the Prophet Muhammad and led to numerous deaths, including that of the American ambassador to Libya and three of his staff members.

But Mr. Morsi rejected Mr. Obama’s broad defense of free speech a day earlier at the United Nations, saying “Egypt respects freedom of expression, freedom of expression that is not used to incite hatred against anyone.”

“We expect from others, as they expect from us, that they respect our cultural specifics and religious references, and not seek to impose concepts or cultures that are unacceptable to us,” said Mr. Morsi, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. “Insults against the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, are not acceptable. We will not allow anyone to do this by word or by deed.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Obama laid out a lengthy defense of the right of free speech as a universal value. But Mr. Morsi and other leaders signaled that such a right could only go so far, even if the Arab world has four new leaders because of popular revolutions demanding basic human rights.

President Abed Rabbu Mansour Hadi of Yemen opened his speech on Wednesday by demanding curbs on freedom of speech that insults religion.

“These behaviors find people who defend them under the justification of the freedom of expression,” he said. “These people overlook the fact that there should be limits for the freedom of expression, especially if such freedom blasphemes the beliefs of nations and defames their figures.”

But Mr. Hadi also noted that expressions of opinion should be peaceful, denouncing “violence and incitement of hatred, which is contradictory to the values of the true Islamic religion.”

Other leaders have spoken out on the issue at the United Nations. President Asif A. Zardari of Pakistan, a country that experienced some of the most violent riots as a result of the film, went furthest in arguing against freedom of expression on religious matters, using his address on Tuesday to demand that insults to religion be criminalized.

“Before I take up my speech, I want to express the strongest condemnation for acts of incitement of hate against the faith of billions of Muslims of the world and our beloved prophet, Muhammad,” Mr. Zardari said, going on to enumerate the suffering caused in Pakistan by extremism, including the 2007 assassination of his wife, Benazir Bhutto.

“The international community must not become silent observers and should criminalize such acts that destroy the peace of the world and endanger world security by misusing freedom of expression,” he said. The United Nations should take up the issue immediately, he added.

Past United Nations attempts to address the issue, summarized in a general Human Rights Council agreement, have been deemed insufficient.

Nabil Elaraby, the secretary general of the 21-member Arab League, added his voice to the issue, saying that spiritual harm should be treated as a crime, even as he condemned the recent riots. “If the international community has criminalized bodily harm, it must just as well criminalize psychological and spiritual harm,” Mr. Elaraby told a special session about Syria of the Security Council, saying it was a serious enough problem to warrant Council attention.

The Arab League will pursue an international legal framework to confront insults to religion and to ensure respect for all faiths and their symbols, he said.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, in a speech on Monday at a high-level meeting on legal standards, indirectly attacked the United States and others for defending freedom of speech when it came to defaming religion, but there was no direct reference to this in his main address on Wednesday. He stuck largely to spiritual and moral themes, rather than presenting his usual annual broadside against Israel, the lack of peace in the Middle East and international efforts to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program.

Mr. Ahmadinejad did say that Iran was being threatened with military action by “uncivilized Zionists” and criticized the enormous amount of money spent on American elections, without naming the United States. He aligned himself indirectly with Occupy Wall Street and similar protest movements, saying the voices of the “99 percent” were not heard in policy making decisions.

But otherwise the 35-minute appearance was a lecture about the need for a fairer world order. As an example, he said later, Iran would soon form a working group to tackle the Syria problem. He concluded by forecasting at length about the peace that will prevail with the appearance of the religious savior awaited by many faiths.

“The current abysmal situation of the world and the bitter incidents of history are due mainly to the wrong management of the world, and the self-proclaimed centers of power who have entrusted themselves to the devil,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said.

But he said nothing to prompt what had become an annual walkout by European nations over Holocaust denials and other subjects.

“Ahmadinejad gave a long, rambling speech,” said one European Union diplomat, speaking anonymously according to his ministry’s guidelines. “Previously we’ve walked out because of his anti-Semitism, threats against Israel and 9/11 conspiracies. This year his only crime was incoherence.”

Other critics noted that Mr. Ahmadinejad made laudatory remarks about the young people who are seeking change around the world, even though Iran crushed its own youth-fueled pro-democracy movement that contested his re-election in 2009.

    At U.N., Egypt and Yemen Urge Curbs on Free Speech, NYT, 26.9.2012,






U.N. Leader Opens General Assembly on Somber Note


September 25, 2012
The New York Times


The leader of the United Nations formally opened its annual General Assembly on Tuesday with a speech conveying a broad sense of crisis because of pressing problems including armed conflict in the Middle East, disruptive climate change and religious intolerance.

“I am here to sound the alarm about our direction as a human family,” said Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, beginning six days of speeches by world leaders.

He warned about the implications of the unbridled war in Syria, the unresolved Palestinian statehood issue, Israel-Iran war rhetoric and unchecked Islamic fury over an anti-Muslim video.

In his wide-ranging speech, Mr. Ban also said global action on climate change remains unfinished business and food prices are too volatile. The economic and political crisis across Africa’s Sahel region is not getting sufficient attention, Mr. Ban said, and North Korea had to do more to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

He pointed to some positive developments, including a halving in extreme poverty in the past decade; the democratic transition in the Arab world; and Africa’s booming economic growth.

He said one of the most pressing immediate issues confronting the United Nations is the Syria conflict, which began in March 2011 and is now causing regional instability. “This is a serious and growing threat to international peace and security which requires Security Council action,” Mr. Ban said.

The Council remains sharply divided on Syria, with Russia and China arguing that the opposition needs to be curbed while the West wants President Bashar al-Assad to step aside.

“We must stop the violence and flows of arms to both sides, and set in motion a Syrian-led transition as soon as possible,” said Mr. Ban. He noted that “brutal” human rights abuses continue, “mainly by the government, but also by opposition groups.” Criminal prosecution should be pursued, he said.

On the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, being given scant high-level attention this week, Mr. Ban said that when it comes to the two-state solution, “the door may be closing, for good.” The growth of settlements in occupied Palestinian territory as “seriously undermines,” efforts toward peace, he said.

Mr. Ban also made an oblique critical reference to the threats traded between Israel and Iran about a possible war over Iran’s disputed nuclear program, describing the shrill war talk as “alarming.”

“I also reject both the language of delegitimization and threats of potential military action by one state against another,” he said. “Any such attacks would be devastating.”

Speaking about the outbreak of global rioting in the past few weeks over an anti-Muslim video, Mr. Ban said, “a disgraceful act of great insensitivity has led to justifiable offense and unjustifiable violence.”

While endorsing freedom of speech as a fundamental right, he said it should not be used as a license to incite nor commit violence. Divisions around the world are too often “exploited for short-term political gain,” Mr. Ban told 120 assembled world leaders.

“Too many people are read to take small flames of difference and turn them into a bonfire,” he said. “Too many people are tolerant of intolerance.”

    U.N. Leader Opens General Assembly on Somber Note, NYT, 25.9.2012,






Obama Tells U.N. New Democracies Need Free Speech


September 25, 2012
The New York Times


UNITED NATIONS — President Obama on Tuesday used his last major address on a global stage before the November election to deliver a strong defense of America’s belief in freedom of speech, challenging fledgling Arab and North African democracies to ensure that right even in the face of violence.

The speech was in many ways a balancing act for Mr. Obama, who has had to contend with angry anti-American demonstrations throughout the Middle East during the past several weeks, and a Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, who says the president has projected weakness in his foreign policy. Mr. Romney has criticized the administration for issuing what he called “an apology for American values” in its initial response to the demonstrations.

Mr. Obama’s message seemed intended to appeal to a domestic audience as much as to the world leaders at the General Assembly.

In a 30-minute address, he affirmed what he said “are not simply American values or Western values — they are universal values.” He vowed to protect the enduring ability of Americans to say what they think. He promised that the United States “will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” And he asserted that the flare-up of violence over a video that ridicules the Prophet Muhammad would not set off a retreat from his support of the Arab democracy movement.

Mr. Romney was also in New York on Tuesday, talking about foreign aid at a forum sponsored by the Clinton Global Initiative, where Mr. Obama also spoke after his United Nations address. But Mr. Romney was left to make his own case on a much smaller stage, where the host was former President Bill Clinton, an Obama surrogate.

Mr. Romney called for a rethinking of how American foreign aid is disbursed, suggesting that it could be tied directly to how governments and organizations work to open up their markets and encourage employment. “The aim of a much larger share of our aid must be the promotion of work and the fostering of free enterprise,” he said.

That idea is bound to set off debate, since many labor rights organizations — and in fact, many American labor unions — argue that free trade pacts like the ones advocated by Mr. Romney serve only to ship jobs overseas.

Mr. Romney managed a smile when Mr. Clinton, who has been slamming him in swing states on behalf of Mr. Obama, introduced him, and he even joked about the help Mr. Clinton has been giving his rival on the campaign trail. “If there’s one thing we’ve learned this election season, it’s that a few words from Bill Clinton can do a man a lot of good,” Mr. Romney said.

Mr. Obama appeared to relish the larger canvas of the United Nations and his subject, freedom of speech and why in the United States, even making “a crude and disgusting video” is a right of all citizens.

“As president of our country, and commander in chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day,” Mr. Obama said. “And I will defend their right to do so.” For that, he received cheers in the cavernous hall.

The president worked to explain — before a sometimes skeptical audience that has never completely bought into the American idea that even hateful speech is protected — why the United States values its First Amendment so highly.

“We do so because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can become a tool to silence critics, or oppress minorities,” Mr. Obama said. “We do so because given the power of faith in our lives, and the passion that religious differences can inflame, the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech — the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.” He said Americans “have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their view.”

Just two weeks after the beginning of violent anti-American protests that led to the deadly attacks on American diplomatic compounds in Benghazi, Libya, Mr. Obama vowed that even as the United States worked to bring the killers to justice, he would not back down from his support of democratic freedoms in the Muslim world.

“It is time to marginalize those who, even when not resorting to violence, use hatred of America, or the West, or Israel as the central principle of politics,” Mr. Obama said. “For that only gives cover, and sometimes makes excuses, for those who do resort to violence.”

On Iran, Mr. Obama warned that time to diplomatically resolve the Iranian nuclear issue “is not unlimited.” But he refused to go further than what he has said in the past, that “a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained,” despite pleas from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to establish a new “red line” that Iran cannot cross without provoking military intervention.

“America wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy, and we believe there is still time and space to do so,” Mr. Obama said. “We respect the right of nations to access peaceful nuclear power, but one of the purposes of the United Nations is to see that we harness that power for peace.”

He devoted most of his remarks to the Arab democracy movement and its fallout. Benjamin J. Rhodes, one of Mr. Obama’s deputy national security advisers, worked on the speech, but as a starting point he had the president’s own thoughts after he learned of the attacks in Benghazi that claimed the lives of the four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

Mr. Obama had accompanied Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the State Department to console grieving employees there, and spoke off the cuff, a senior administration official said, about the devotion of diplomats like Mr. Stevens and the American ideals that they put themselves in the line of fire to uphold.

He returned to that subject at the United Nations on Tuesday. “There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents,” Mr. Obama told the General Assembly. “There is no video that justifies an attack on an embassy. There is no slander that provides an excuse for people to burn a restaurant in Lebanon, or destroy a school in Tunis, or cause death and destruction in Pakistan.”

It was the president’s first truly expansive response to the unrest that erupted over the video made in the United States, and it came just as his campaign was battling attacks from Republicans over his foreign policy. Mr. Romney, at the Clinton conference, did not repeat those accusations. Nor did the president, in either his remarks at the General Assembly or at his appearance at the Clinton forum, make his own partisan attack.

But the presidential election seemed to be a subtext, and while Mr. Romney was the first up at bat in the dueling speeches on Tuesday, Mr. Obama had the more presidential forum in the high-ceilinged General Assembly chamber. After the ritual of waiting for 10 seconds in a chair just below the stage while he was introduced, Mr. Obama walked to the lectern.

“I would like to begin today by telling you about an American named Chris Stevens,” he said. He spoke of Mr. Stevens’s “love and respect” for the people of North Africa and the Middle East, of his penchant for “walking the streets of the cities where he worked, tasting the local food, meeting as many people as he could, speaking Arabic and listening with a broad smile.”

At the close of his remarks, he returned to the slain American envoy. “Today,” he said, “I promise you this: Long after these killers are brought to justice, Chris Stevens’s legacy will live on in the lives he touched.”


Ashley Parker contributed reporting from New York.

    Obama Tells U.N. New Democracies Need Free Speech, NYT, 25.9.2012,






Obama’s Speech

to the United Nations General Assembly — Text


September 25, 2012
The New York Times


Following is a text of President Obama’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, as released by the White House:

Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentleman: I would like to begin today by telling you about an American named Chris Stevens.

Chris was born in a town called Grass Valley, California, the son of a lawyer and a musician. As a young man, Chris joined the Peace Corps, and taught English in Morocco. And he came to love and respect the people of North Africa and the Middle East. He would carry that commitment throughout his life. As a diplomat, he worked from Egypt to Syria, from Saudi Arabia to Libya. He was known for walking the streets of the cities where he worked -- tasting the local food, meeting as many people as he could, speaking Arabic, listening with a broad smile.

Chris went to Benghazi in the early days of the Libyan revolution, arriving on a cargo ship. As America’s representative, he helped the Libyan people as they coped with violent conflict, cared for the wounded, and crafted a vision for the future in which the rights of all Libyans would be respected. And after the revolution, he supported the birth of a new democracy, as Libyans held elections, and built new institutions, and began to move forward after decades of dictatorship.

Chris Stevens loved his work. He took pride in the country he served, and he saw dignity in the people that he met. And two weeks ago, he traveled to Benghazi to review plans to establish a new cultural center and modernize a hospital. That’s when America’s compound came under attack. Along with three of his colleagues, Chris was killed in the city that he helped to save. He was 52 years old.

I tell you this story because Chris Stevens embodied the best of America. Like his fellow Foreign Service officers, he built bridges across oceans and cultures, and was deeply invested in the international cooperation that the United Nations represents. He acted with humility, but he also stood up for a set of principles -- a belief that individuals should be free to determine their own destiny, and live with liberty, dignity, justice, and opportunity.

The attacks on the civilians in Benghazi were attacks on America. We are grateful for the assistance we received from the Libyan government and from the Libyan people. There should be no doubt that we will be relentless in tracking down the killers and bringing them to justice. And I also appreciate that in recent days, the leaders of other countries in the region -- including Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen -- have taken steps to secure our diplomatic facilities, and called for calm. And so have religious authorities around the globe.

But understand, the attacks of the last two weeks are not simply an assault on America. They are also an assault on the very ideals upon which the United Nations was founded -- the notion that people can resolve their differences peacefully; that diplomacy can take the place of war; that in an interdependent world, all of us have a stake in working towards greater opportunity and security for our citizens.

If we are serious about upholding these ideals, it will not be enough to put more guards in front of an embassy, or to put out statements of regret and wait for the outrage to pass. If we are serious about these ideals, we must speak honestly about the deeper causes of the crisis -- because we face a choice between the forces that would drive us apart and the hopes that we hold in common.

Today, we must reaffirm that our future will be determined by people like Chris Stevens -- and not by his killers. Today, we must declare that this violence and intolerance has no place among our United Nations.

It has been less than two years since a vendor in Tunisia set himself on fire to protest the oppressive corruption in his country, and sparked what became known as the Arab Spring. And since then, the world has been captivated by the transformation that’s taken place, and the United States has supported the forces of change.

We were inspired by the Tunisian protests that toppled a dictator, because we recognized our own beliefs in the aspiration of men and women who took to the streets.

We insisted on change in Egypt, because our support for democracy ultimately put us on the side of the people.

We supported a transition of leadership in Yemen, because the interests of the people were no longer being served by a corrupt status quo.

We intervened in Libya alongside a broad coalition, and with the mandate of the United Nations Security Council, because we had the ability to stop the slaughter of innocents, and because we believed that the aspirations of the people were more powerful than a tyrant.

And as we meet here, we again declare that the regime of Bashar al-Assad must come to an end so that the suffering of the Syrian people can stop and a new dawn can begin.

We have taken these positions because we believe that freedom and self-determination are not unique to one culture. These are not simply American values or Western values -- they are universal values. And even as there will be huge challenges to come with a transition to democracy, I am convinced that ultimately government of the people, by the people, and for the people is more likely to bring about the stability, prosperity, and individual opportunity that serve as a basis for peace in our world.

So let us remember that this is a season of progress. For the first time in decades, Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans voted for new leaders in elections that were credible, competitive, and fair. This democratic spirit has not been restricted to the Arab world. Over the past year, we’ve seen peaceful transitions of power in Malawi and Senegal, and a new President in Somalia. In Burma, a President has freed political prisoners and opened a closed society, a courageous dissident has been elected to parliament, and people look forward to further reform. Around the globe, people are making their voices heard, insisting on their innate dignity, and the right to determine their future.

And yet the turmoil of recent weeks reminds us that the path to democracy does not end with the casting of a ballot. Nelson Mandela once said: “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

True democracy demands that citizens cannot be thrown in jail because of what they believe, and that businesses can be opened without paying a bribe. It depends on the freedom of citizens to speak their minds and assemble without fear, and on the rule of law and due process that guarantees the rights of all people.

In other words, true democracy -- real freedom -- is hard work. Those in power have to resist the temptation to crack down on dissidents. In hard economic times, countries must be tempted -- may be tempted to rally the people around perceived enemies, at home and abroad, rather than focusing on the painstaking work of reform.

Moreover, there will always be those that reject human progress -- dictators who cling to power, corrupt interests that depend on the status quo, and extremists who fan the flames of hate and division. From Northern Ireland to South Asia, from Africa to the Americas, from the Balkans to the Pacific Rim, we’ve witnessed convulsions that can accompany transitions to a new political order.

At time, the conflicts arise along the fault lines of race or tribe. And often they arise from the difficulties of reconciling tradition and faith with the diversity and interdependence of the modern world. In every country, there are those who find different religious beliefs threatening; in every culture, those who love freedom for themselves must ask themselves how much they’re willing to tolerate freedom for others.

That is what we saw play out in the last two weeks, as a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world. Now, I have made it clear that the United States government had nothing to do with this video, and I believe its message must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity.

It is an insult not only to Muslims, but to America as well -- for as the city outside these walls makes clear, we are a country that has welcomed people of every race and every faith. We are home to Muslims who worship across our country. We not only respect the freedom of religion, we have laws that protect individuals from being harmed because of how they look or what they believe. We understand why people take offense to this video because millions of our citizens are among them.

I know there are some who ask why we don’t just ban such a video. And the answer is enshrined in our laws: Our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech.

Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs. As President of our country and Commander-in-Chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day -- (laughter) -- and I will always defend their right to do so.

Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views, even views that we profoundly disagree with. We do not do so because we support hateful speech, but because our founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views and practice their own faith may be threatened. We do so because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can quickly become a tool to silence critics and oppress minorities.

We do so because given the power of faith in our lives, and the passion that religious differences can inflame, the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression; it is more speech -- the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.

Now, I know that not all countries in this body share this particular understanding of the protection of free speech. We recognize that. But in 2012, at a time when anyone with a cell phone can spread offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete. The question, then, is how do we respond?

And on this we must agree: There is no speech that justifies mindless violence. There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents. There’s no video that justifies an attack on an embassy. There’s no slander that provides an excuse for people to burn a restaurant in Lebanon, or destroy a school in Tunis, or cause death and destruction in Pakistan.

In this modern world with modern technologies, for us to respond in that way to hateful speech empowers any individual who engages in such speech to create chaos around the world. We empower the worst of us if that’s how we respond.

More broadly, the events of the last two weeks also speak to the need for all of us to honestly address the tensions between the West and the Arab world that is moving towards democracy.

Now, let me be clear: Just as we cannot solve every problem in the world, the United States has not and will not seek to dictate the outcome of democratic transitions abroad. We do not expect other nations to agree with us on every issue, nor do we assume that the violence of the past weeks or the hateful speech by some individuals represent the views of the overwhelming majority of Muslims, any more than the views of the people who produced this video represents those of Americans. However, I do believe that it is the obligation of all leaders in all countries to speak out forcefully against violence and extremism.

It is time to marginalize those who -- even when not directly resorting to violence -- use hatred of America, or the West, or Israel, as the central organizing principle of politics. For that only gives cover, and sometimes makes an excuse, for those who do resort to violence.

That brand of politics -- one that pits East against West, and South against North, Muslims against Christians and Hindu and Jews -- can’t deliver on the promise of freedom. To the youth, it offers only false hope. Burning an American flag does nothing to provide a child an education. Smashing apart a restaurant does not fill an empty stomach. Attacking an embassy won’t create a single job. That brand of politics only makes it harder to achieve what we must do together: educating our children, and creating the opportunities that they deserve; protecting human rights, and extending democracy’s promise.

Understand America will never retreat from the world. We will bring justice to those who harm our citizens and our friends, and we will stand with our allies. We are willing to partner with countries around the world to deepen ties of trade and investment, and science and technology, energy and development -- all efforts that can spark economic growth for all our people and stabilize democratic change.

But such efforts depend on a spirit of mutual interest and mutual respect. No government or company, no school or NGO will be confident working in a country where its people are endangered. For partnerships to be effective our citizens must be secure and our efforts must be welcomed.

A politics based only on anger -- one based on dividing the world between “us” and “them” -- not only sets back international cooperation, it ultimately undermines those who tolerate it. All of us have an interest in standing up to these forces.

Let us remember that Muslims have suffered the most at the hands of extremism. On the same day our civilians were killed in Benghazi, a Turkish police officer was murdered in Istanbul only days before his wedding; more than 10 Yemenis were killed in a car bomb in Sana’a; several Afghan children were mourned by their parents just days after they were killed by a suicide bomber in Kabul.

The impulse towards intolerance and violence may initially be focused on the West, but over time it cannot be contained. The same impulses toward extremism are used to justify war between Sunni and Shia, between tribes and clans. It leads not to strength and prosperity but to chaos. In less than two years, we have seen largely peaceful protests bring more change to Muslim-majority countries than a decade of violence. And extremists understand this. Because they have nothing to offer to improve the lives of people, violence is their only way to stay relevant. They don’t build; they only destroy.

It is time to leave the call of violence and the politics of division behind. On so many issues, we face a choice between the promise of the future, or the prisons of the past. And we cannot afford to get it wrong. We must seize this moment. And America stands ready to work with all who are willing to embrace a better future.

The future must not belong to those who target Coptic Christians in Egypt -- it must be claimed by those in Tahrir Square who chanted, “Muslims, Christians, we are one.” The future must not belong to those who bully women -- it must be shaped by girls who go to school, and those who stand for a world where our daughters can live their dreams just like our sons.

The future must not belong to those corrupt few who steal a country’s resources -- it must be won by the students and entrepreneurs, the workers and business owners who seek a broader prosperity for all people. Those are the women and men that America stands with; theirs is the vision we will support.

The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. But to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see in the images of Jesus Christ that are desecrated, or churches that are destroyed, or the Holocaust that is denied.

Let us condemn incitement against Sufi Muslims and Shiite pilgrims. It’s time to heed the words of Gandhi: “Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.” Together, we must work towards a world where we are strengthened by our differences, and not defined by them. That is what America embodies, that’s the vision we will support.

Among Israelis and Palestinians, the future must not belong to those who turn their backs on a prospect of peace. Let us leave behind those who thrive on conflict, those who reject the right of Israel to exist. The road is hard, but the destination is clear -- a secure, Jewish state of Israel and an independent, prosperous Palestine. Understanding that such a peace must come through a just agreement between the parties, America will walk alongside all who are prepared to make that journey.

In Syria, the future must not belong to a dictator who massacres his people. If there is a cause that cries out for protest in the world today, peaceful protest, it is a regime that tortures children and shoots rockets at apartment buildings. And we must remain engaged to assure that what began with citizens demanding their rights does not end in a cycle of sectarian violence.

Together, we must stand with those Syrians who believe in a different vision -- a Syria that is united and inclusive, where children don’t need to fear their own government, and all Syrians have a say in how they are governed -- Sunnis and Alawites, Kurds and Christians. That’s what America stands for. That is the outcome that we will work for -- with sanctions and consequences for those who persecute, and assistance and support for those who work for this common good. Because we believe that the Syrians who embrace this vision will have the strength and the legitimacy to lead.

In Iran, we see where the path of a violent and unaccountable ideology leads. The Iranian people have a remarkable and ancient history, and many Iranians wish to enjoy peace and prosperity alongside their neighbors. But just as it restricts the rights of its own people, the Iranian government continues to prop up a dictator in Damascus and supports terrorist groups abroad. Time and again, it has failed to take the opportunity to demonstrate that its nuclear program is peaceful, and to meet its obligations to the United Nations.

So let me be clear. America wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy, and we believe that there is still time and space to do so. But that time is not unlimited. We respect the right of nations to access peaceful nuclear power, but one of the purposes of the United Nations is to see that we harness that power for peace. And make no mistake, a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained. It would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations, and the stability of the global economy. It risks triggering a nuclear-arms race in the region, and the unraveling of the non-proliferation treaty. That’s why a coalition of countries is holding the Iranian government accountable. And that’s why the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

We know from painful experience that the path to security and prosperity does not lie outside the boundaries of international law and respect for human rights. That’s why this institution was established from the rubble of conflict. That is why liberty triumphed over tyranny in the Cold War. And that is the lesson of the last two decades as well.

History shows that peace and progress come to those who make the right choices. Nations in every part of the world have traveled this difficult path. Europe, the bloodiest battlefield of the 20th century, is united, free and at peace. From Brazil to South Africa, from Turkey to South Korea, from India to Indonesia, people of different races, religions, and traditions have lifted millions out of poverty, while respecting the rights of their citizens and meeting their responsibilities as nations.

And it is because of the progress that I’ve witnessed in my own lifetime, the progress that I’ve witnessed after nearly four years as President, that I remain ever hopeful about the world that we live in. The war in Iraq is over. American troops have come home. We’ve begun a transition in Afghanistan, and America and our allies will end our war on schedule in 2014. Al Qaeda has been weakened, and Osama bin Laden is no more. Nations have come together to lock down nuclear materials, and America and Russia are reducing our arsenals. We have seen hard choices made -- from Naypyidaw to Cairo to Abidjan -- to put more power in the hands of citizens.

At a time of economic challenge, the world has come together to broaden prosperity. Through the G20, we have partnered with emerging countries to keep the world on the path of recovery. America has pursued a development agenda that fuels growth and breaks dependency, and worked with African leaders to help them feed their nations. New partnerships have been forged to combat corruption and promote government that is open and transparent, and new commitments have been made through the Equal Futures Partnership to ensure that women and girls can fully participate in politics and pursue opportunity. And later today, I will discuss our efforts to combat the scourge of human trafficking.

All these things give me hope. But what gives me the most hope is not the actions of us, not the actions of leaders -- it is the people that I’ve seen. The American troops who have risked their lives and sacrificed their limbs for strangers half a world away; the students in Jakarta or Seoul who are eager to use their knowledge to benefit mankind; the faces in a square in Prague or a parliament in Ghana who see democracy giving voice to their aspirations; the young people in the favelas of Rio and the schools of Mumbai whose eyes shine with promise. These men, women, and children of every race and every faith remind me that for every angry mob that gets shown on television, there are billions around the world who share similar hopes and dreams. They tell us that there is a common heartbeat to humanity.

So much attention in our world turns to what divides us. That’s what we see on the news. That’s what consumes our political debates. But when you strip it all away, people everywhere long for the freedom to determine their destiny; the dignity that comes with work; the comfort that comes with faith; and the justice that exists when governments serve their people -- and not the other way around.

The United States of America will always stand up for these aspirations, for our own people and for people all across the world. That was our founding purpose. That is what our history shows. That is what Chris Stevens worked for throughout his life.

And I promise you this: Long after the killers are brought to justice, Chris Stevens’s legacy will live on in the lives that he touched -- in the tens of thousands who marched against violence through the streets of Benghazi; in the Libyans who changed their Facebook photo to one of Chris; in the signs that read, simply, “Chris Stevens was a friend to all Libyans.”

They should give us hope. They should remind us that so long as we work for it, justice will be done, that history is on our side, and that a rising tide of liberty will never be reversed.

Thank you very much.

    Obama’s Speech to the United Nations General Assembly — Text, NYT, 25.9.2012,






In Arab Spring, Obama Finds a Sharp Test


September 24, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Hosni Mubarak did not even wait for President Obama’s words to be translated before he shot back.

“You don’t understand this part of the world,” the Egyptian leader broke in. “You’re young.”

Mr. Obama, during a tense telephone call the evening of Feb. 1, 2011, had just told Mr. Mubarak that his speech, broadcast to hundreds of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo, had not gone far enough. Mr. Mubarak had to step down, the president said.

Minutes later, a grim Mr. Obama appeared before hastily summoned cameras in the Grand Foyer of the White House. The end of Mr. Mubarak’s 30-year rule, Mr. Obama said, “must begin now.” With those words, Mr. Obama upended three decades of American relations with its most stalwart ally in the Arab world, putting the weight of the United States squarely on the side of the Arab street.

It was a risky move by the American president, flying in the face of advice from elders on his staff at the State Department and at the Pentagon, who had spent decades nursing the autocratic — but staunchly pro-American — Egyptian government.

Nineteen months later, Mr. Obama was at the State Department consoling some of the very officials he had overruled. Anti-American protests broke out in Egypt and Libya. In Libya, they led to the deaths of four Americans, including the United States ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens. A new Egyptian government run by the Muslim Brotherhood was dragging its feet about condemning attacks on the American Embassy in Cairo.

Television sets in the United States were filled with images of Arabs, angry over an American-made video that ridiculed the Prophet Muhammad, burning American flags and even effigies of Mr. Obama.

Speaking privately to grieving State Department workers, the president tried to make sense of the unfolding events. He talked about how he had been a child abroad, taught to appreciate American diplomats who risked their lives for their country. That work, and the outreach to the Arab world, he said, must continue, even in the face of mob violence that called into question what the United States can accomplish in a turbulent region.

In many ways, Mr. Obama’s remarks at the State Department two weeks ago — and the ones he will make before the General Assembly on Tuesday morning, when he addresses the anti-American protests — reflected hard lessons the president had learned over almost two years of political turmoil in the Arab world: bold words and support for democratic aspirations are not enough to engender good will in this region, especially not when hampered by America’s own national security interests.

In fact, Mr. Obama’s staunch defense of democracy protesters in Egypt last year soon drew him into an upheaval that would test his judgment, his nerve and his diplomatic skill. Even as the uprisings spread to Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, the president’s sympathy for the protesters infuriated America’s allies in the conservative and oil-rich Gulf states. In mid-March, the Saudis moved decisively to crush the democracy protests in Bahrain, sending a convoy of tanks and heavy artillery across the 16-mile King Fahd Causeway between the two countries.

That blunt show of force confronted Mr. Obama with the limits of his ability, or his willingness, to midwife democratic change. Despite a global outcry over the shooting and tear-gassing of peaceful protesters in Bahrain, the president largely turned a blind eye. His realism and reluctance to be drawn into foreign quagmires has held sway ever since, notably in Syria, where many critics continue to call for a more aggressive American response to the brutality of Bashar al-Assad’s rule.

Mr. Obama’s journey from Cairo to the Causeway took just 44 days. In part, it reflected the different circumstances in the countries where protests broke out, despite their common origins and slogans. But his handling of the uprisings also demonstrates the gap between the two poles of his political persona: his sense of himself as a historic bridge-builder who could redeem America’s image abroad, and his more cautious adherence to long-term American interests in security and cheap oil.

To some, the stark difference between the outcomes in Cairo and Bahrain illustrates something else, too: his impatience with old-fashioned back-room diplomacy, and his corresponding failure to build close personal relationships with foreign leaders that can, especially in the Middle East, help the White House to influence decisions made abroad.


A Focus on Respect

In many ways, Mr. Obama’s decision to throw American support behind change in the Arab world was made well before a Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire and ignited the broadest political challenge to the region in decades.

Mr. Obama, whose campaign for the presidency was in part set in motion by his early opposition to the Iraq war, came into office in January 2009 determined that he would not repeat what he viewed as the mistakes of his predecessor in pushing a “freedom agenda” in Iraq and other parts of the Arab world, according to senior administration officials.

Instead, he focused on mutual respect and understanding. During a speech to the Arab world in 2009 from Cairo, the president did talk about the importance of governments “that reflect the will of the people.” But, he added pointedly, “there is no straight line to realize this promise.”

Two weeks later, as large street protests broke out in Iran after disputed presidential elections, Mr. Obama followed a low-key script, criticizing violence but saying he did not want to be seen as meddling in Iranian domestic politics.

Months later, administration officials said, Mr. Obama expressed regret about his muted stance on Iran. “There was a feeling of ‘we ain’t gonna be behind the curve on this again,’ ” one senior administration official said. He, like almost two dozen administration officials and Arab and American diplomats interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity.

By the time the Tunisian protests broke out in January 2011 — an angry Mr. Obama accused his staff of being caught “flat-footed,” officials said — the president publicly backed the protesters. But the real test of the new muscular posture came 11 days later, when thousands of Egyptians converged on Tahrir Square in Cairo for a “day of rage.”

Mr. Obama felt keenly, one aide said, the need for the United States, and for he himself, to stand as a moral example. “He knows that the protesters want to hear from the American president, but not just any American president,” a senior aide to Mr. Obama said. “They want to hear from this American president.” In other words, they wanted to hear from the first black president of the United States, a symbol of the possibility of change.

If the president felt a kinship with the youthful protesters, he seems to have had little rapport with Egypt’s aging president, or, for that matter, any other Arab leaders. In part, this was a function of time: he was still relatively new to the presidency, and had not built the kind of cozy relationship that the Bush family, for instance, had with the Saudis.

But Mr. Obama has struggled with little success to build better relations with key foreign leaders like Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

In any case, after an awkward phone call between the American and Egyptian presidents on Jan. 28, Mr. Obama sent a senior diplomat with long experience in Egypt, Frank G. Wisner, to make a personal appeal to the Egyptian leader. But Mr. Mubarak balked. Meanwhile, the rising anger in Cairo’s streets led to a new moment of reckoning for Mr. Obama: Feb. 1.

That afternoon at the White House, top national security officials were meeting in the Situation Room to decide what to do about the deteriorating situation in Egypt. Thirty minutes into it, the door opened and the president walked in, crashing what was supposed to be a principals’ meeting.

Attending were Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.; Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates; the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen; and the national security adviser, Tom Donilon. Margaret Scobey, the ambassador in Cairo, appeared on the video conference screen.

The question on the table would have been unthinkable just a week before. Should Mr. Obama call for Mr. Mubarak to step down?

Midway through the meeting, an aide walked in and handed a note to Mr. Donilon. “Mubarak is on,” he read aloud.

Every screen in the Situation Room was turned to Al Jazeera, and the Egyptian leader appeared, making a much-anticipated address. He said he would not run again, but did not offer to step down. “This is my country,” he said. “I will die on its soil.”

In the Situation Room, there was silence. Then the president spoke. “That’s not going to cut it,” he said.


Seeing the Inevitable

If this were Hollywood, the story of Barack Obama and the Arab Spring would end there, with the young American president standing with the protesters against the counsel of his own advisers, and hastening the end of the entrenched old guard in Egypt. In the Situation Room, Mr. Gates, Admiral Mullen, Jeffrey D. Feltman, then an assistant secretary of state, and others balked at the inclusion in Mr. Obama’s planned remarks that Mr. Mubarak’s “transition must begin now,” arguing that it was too aggressive.

Mr. Mubarak had steadfastly stood by the United States in the face of opposition from his own public, they said. The president, officials said, countered swiftly: “If ‘now’ is not in my remarks, there’s no point in me going out there and talking.”

John O. Brennan, chief counterterrorism adviser to Mr. Obama, said the president saw early on what others did not: that the Arab Spring movement had legs. “A lot of people were in a state of denial that this had an inevitability to it,” Mr. Brennan said in an interview. “And I think that’s what the president clearly saw, that there was an inevitability to it that would clearly not be turned back, and it would only be delayed by suppression and bloodshed.”

So “now” stayed in Mr. Obama’s statement. Ten days later, Mr. Mubarak was out. Even after the president’s remarks, Mrs. Clinton was still publicly cautioning that removing Mr. Mubarak too hastily could threaten the country’s transition to democracy.

In the end, many of the advisers who initially opposed Mr. Obama’s stance now give him credit for prescience. But there were consequences, and they were soon making themselves felt.


Angry Reactions

On Feb. 14, in the tiny island monarchy of Bahrain, Internet calls for a “day of rage” led to street rallies and bloody clashes with the police. The next day at a news conference in Washington, Mr. Obama seemed to suggest that this revolt was much like the others. His message to Arab allies, he said, was “if you are governing these countries, you’ve got to get out ahead of change.”

But in the following weeks, Mr. Obama fell silent. Away from the public eye, he was coming under assault from leaders in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, even Israel. Angry at the treatment of Mr. Mubarak, which officials from the Gulf states feared could forecast their own abandonment, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates drew a line in the sand. Some American and Arab diplomats say that response could have been avoided if Mr. Obama had worked quietly to ease Mr. Mubarak out, rather than going public.

On March 14, White House officials awoke to a nasty surprise: the Saudis had led a military incursion into Bahrain, followed by a crackdown in which the security forces cleared Pearl Square in the capital, Manama, by force. The moves were widely condemned, but Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton offered only veiled criticisms, calling for “calm and restraint on all sides” and “political dialogue.”

The reasons for Mr. Obama’s reticence were clear: Bahrain sits just off the Saudi coast, and the Saudis were never going to allow a sudden flowering of democracy next door, especially in light of the island’s sectarian makeup. Bahrain’s people are mostly Shiite, and they have long been seen as a cat’s paw for Iranian influence by the Sunni rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. In addition, the United States maintains a naval base in Bahrain that is seen as a bulwark against Iran, crucial for maintaining the flow of oil from the region.

“We realized that the possibility of anything happening in Saudi Arabia was one that couldn’t become a reality,” said William M. Daley, President Obama’s chief of staff at the time. “For the global economy, this couldn’t happen. Yes, it was treated differently from Egypt. It was a different situation.”

Some analysts credit Mr. Obama for recognizing early on that strategic priorities trumped whatever sympathy he had for the protesters. Others say the administration could have more effectively mediated between the Bahraini government and the largely Shiite protesters, and thereby avoided what has become a sectarian standoff in one of the world’s most volatile places.

If Mr. Obama had cultivated closer ties to the Saudis, he might have bought time for negotiations between the Bahraini authorities and the chief Shiite opposition party, Al Wefaq, according to one American diplomat who was there at the time. Instead, the Saudis gave virtually no warning when their forces rolled across the causeway linking Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and the ensuing crackdown destroyed all hopes for a peaceful resolution.

The lingering resentment over Mr. Mubarak’s ouster had another apparent consequence. Mrs. Clinton’s criticism of the military intervention in a Paris television interview angered officials of the United Arab Emirates, whose military was also involved in the Bahrain operation and who shared the Saudis’ concern about the Mubarak episode.

The Emiratis promptly threatened to withdraw from the coalition then being assembled to support a NATO-led strike against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan leader. The Emiratis knew they were needed to give the coalition legitimacy. They quickly named their price for staying on board, according to Arab and Western diplomats familiar with the episode: Mrs. Clinton must issue a statement that would pull back from any criticism of the Bahrain operation.

The statement, hastily drafted and vetted by Emirati and American officials, appeared soon afterward, in the guise of a communiqué on Libya.

The tensions between Mr. Obama and the Gulf states, both American and Arab diplomats say, derive from an Obama character trait: he has not built many personal relationships with foreign leaders. “He’s not good with personal relationships; that’s not what interests him,” said one United States diplomat. “But in the Middle East, those relationships are essential. The lack of them deprives D.C. of the ability to influence leadership decisions.”


A Lack of Chemistry

Arab officials echo that sentiment, describing Mr. Obama as a cool, cerebral man who discounts the importance of personal chemistry in politics. “You can’t fix these problems by remote control,” said one Arab diplomat with long experience in Washington. “He doesn’t have friends who are world leaders. He doesn’t believe in patting anybody on the back, nicknames.

“You can’t accomplish what you want to accomplish” with such an impersonal style, the diplomat said.

Mr. Obama’s advisers argue that when he does reach out, he is more effective — as in a phone call last week to Mohamed Morsi, the new president of Egypt. After Mr. Morsi’s initial tepid response to the attacks on the embassy in Cairo, a fed-up Mr. Obama demanded a show of support. Within an hour, he had it.

“Were he to be calling all the time, it would run counter to our assertion that we won’t dictate the outcome of every decision in every country,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, a top national security aide. Limiting his outreach, Mr. Rhodes said, “heightens the impact of presidential engagement” when Mr. Obama does get on the phone.

Still, there remains concern in the administration that at any moment, events could spiral out of control, leaving the president and his advisers questioning their belief that their early support for the Arab Spring would deflect longstanding public anger toward the United States.

For instance, Mr. Feltman, the former assistant secretary of state, said, “the event I find politically most disturbing is the attack on Embassy Tunis.” Angry protesters breached the grounds of the American diplomatic compound there last week — in a country previously known for its moderation and secularism — despite Mr. Obama’s early support for the democracy movement there. “That really shakes me out of complacency about what I thought I knew.”

    In Arab Spring, Obama Finds a Sharp Test, NYT, 24.9.2012,






Romney and the Forbes 400


September 24, 2012
The New York Times


Last week, sandwiched between Monday’s leak of the video in which Mitt Romney dismissed “the 47 percent” and Friday’s release of the Romneys’ 2011 tax returns — showing that they had paid an effective tax rate of 14 percent — Forbes magazine published its annual list of the 400 wealthiest Americans.

There weren’t a lot of surprises on the Forbes 400. Bill Gates, with an estimated net worth of $66 billion, remains the wealthiest man in the country. He is a whopping $20 billion richer than his pal Warren Buffett, who came in at No. 2, according to Forbes. All the usual suspects were there: Michael Bloomberg; George Soros; the Koch brothers; various descendants of Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart; and on and on.

What was illuminating was not so much who was on the list but what they collectively told us about the state of the richest of the rich. Thirty years ago, when Forbes published its first Forbes 400, a net worth of $75 million would get you on the list. Today it takes $1.1 billion. In the last year alone, the cumulative net worth of the wealthiest 400 people, by Forbes’s calculation, rose by $200 billion. That compares with a 4 percent drop in median household income last year, according to the Census Bureau. One would be hard pressed to find a clearer example of how powerfully income inequality has taken root.

Like Romney, Forbes magazine is a little defensive about this — and, like Romney, Forbes has adopted a self-justifying narrative. Luisa Kroll, one of the magazine’s “wealth editors,” nods toward “concerns” about income inequality in her introduction to the list, but she goes on to write that “a deeper analysis instills confidence that the American dream is still very much alive.” In fact, it does nothing of the sort.

The fundamental reason the Romneys pay so little in taxes is that the bulk of their income comes from investments and thus is taxed at the capital gains rate of 15 percent. Although Romney himself isn’t close to being rich enough to join the Forbes 400, his reliance on capital gains is a trait he shares with most of the ultrawealthy. It is the thread that ties together the Forbes 400.

Financiers, who make up a large percentage of the Forbes 400, long ago found ways to convert their compensation to capital gains, for instance. Romney, of course, did the same thing when he was running Bain Capital, a private equity firm. But even those who are not on Wall Street rely on capital gains. A large number of the Forbes 400 — “roughly 40 percent,” according to a group called United for a Fair Economy — inherited their wealth. Many others on the list — people who started companies that they’ve since left — are classified by Forbes as investors.

Even many of the corporate executives on the Forbes 400 are likely paying a lower tax rate. Many of them get minimal cash compensation and rely on stock options for the bulk of their wealth. Or they maneuver to take their companies through a leveraged buyout, which reaps them huge potential capital gains. In 2009, according to recent Congressional testimony by Leonard E. Burman, a professor at Syracuse University, the 400 highest-income taxpayers reaped an astounding 16 percent of all capital gains.

All of which would be justifiable if the country got some benefit in return. On “60 Minutes” Sunday night, when Romney was asked about the justification for his low tax rate, he said what most conservatives say, that a low capital gains rate is “the right way to encourage economic growth, to get people to invest, to start businesses, to put people to work.”

This is also what Forbes means when it links its list to “the American dream.” Except that there is no evidence that it’s true. In 1986, when Ronald Reagan was president, the differential between capital gains and ordinary income was eliminated — and the economy soared. The capital gains rate was higher during the Bill Clinton years than in the George W. Bush years, yet the economy did better under Clinton than under Bush.

In the printed copy of his Congressional testimony, Burman has a chart that plots the ups and downs of the economy since the 1950s with changes in the capital gains rate. There is no correlation between the two. The idea that a lower capital gains rate spurs economic growth is one of the enduring myths of conservative thought.

The American dream exists not because of the capital gains differential but in spite of it. It is the tax break that most glaringly exists to benefit the wealthy. If you have any doubts about that, all you need to do is read the latest Forbes 400.

    Romney and the Forbes 400, NYT, 24.9.2012,






Deadly Attack in Libya Was Major Blow to C.I.A. Efforts


September 23, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans has dealt the Central Intelligence Agency a major setback in its intelligence-gathering efforts at a time of increasing instability in the North African nation.

Among the more than two dozen American personnel evacuated from the city after the assault on the American mission and a nearby annex were about a dozen C.I.A. operatives and contractors, who played a crucial role in conducting surveillance and collecting information on an array of armed militant groups in and around the city.

“It’s a catastrophic intelligence loss,” said one American official who has served in Libya and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the F.B.I. is still investigating the attack. “We got our eyes poked out.”

The C.I.A.’s surveillance targets in Benghazi and eastern Libya include Ansar al-Sharia, a militia that some have blamed for the attack, as well as suspected members of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in North Africa, known as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Eastern Libya is also being buffeted by strong crosscurrents that intelligence operatives are trying to monitor closely. The killing of Mr. Stevens has ignited public anger against the militias, underscored on Friday when thousands of Libyans took to the streets of Benghazi to demand that the groups be disarmed. The makeup of militias varies widely; some are moderate, while others are ultraconservative Islamists known as Salafis and still others are loyalists from the government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the deposed Libyan leader.

“The region’s deeply entrenched Salafi community is undergoing significant upheaval, with debate raging between a current that is amenable to political integration and a more militant strand that opposes democracy,” Frederic Wehrey, a senior policy analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who closely follows Libya and visited there recently, wrote in a paper this month, “The Struggle for Security in Eastern Libya.”

American intelligence operatives also assisted State Department contractors and Libyan officials in tracking shoulder-fired missiles taken from the former arsenals of Colonel Qaddafi’s forces; they aided in efforts to secure Libya’s chemical weapons stockpiles; and they helped train Libya’s new intelligence service, officials said.

Senior American officials acknowledged the intelligence setback, but insisted that information was still being collected using a variety of informants on the ground, systems that intercept electronic communications like cellphone conversations and satellite imagery. “The U.S. isn’t close to being blind in Benghazi and eastern Libya,” said an American official.

Spokesmen for the C.I.A., the State Department and the White House declined to comment on the matter on Sunday.

Within months of the start of Libyan revolution in February 2011, the C.I.A. began building a meaningful but covert presence in Benghazi, a locus of the rebel efforts to oust the government of Colonel Qaddafi.

Though the agency has been cooperating with the new post-Qaddafi Libyan intelligence service, the size of the C.I.A.’s presence in Benghazi apparently surprised some Libyan leaders. The deputy prime minister, Mustafa Abushagour, was quoted in The Wall Street Journal last week saying that he learned about some of the delicate American operations in Benghazi only after the attack on the mission, in large part because a surprisingly large number of Americans showed up at the Benghazi airport to be evacuated.

“We have no problem with intelligence sharing or gathering, but our sovereignty is also key,” said Mr. Abushagour.

The attack has raised questions about the adequacy of security preparations at the two American compounds in Benghazi: the American mission, the main diplomatic facility where Mr. Stevens and another American diplomat died of smoke inhalation after an initial attack, and an annex a half-mile away that encompassed four buildings inside a low-walled compound.

From these buildings, the C.I.A. personnel carried out their secret missions. The New York Times agreed to withhold locations and details of these operations at the request of Obama administration officials, who said that disclosing such information could jeopardize future sensitive government activities and put at risk American personnel working in dangerous settings.

In Benghazi, both compounds were temporary homes in a volatile city teeming with militants, and they were never intended to become permanent diplomatic missions with appropriate security features built into them.

Neither was heavily guarded, and the annex was never intended to be a “safe house,” as initial accounts suggested. Two of the mission’s guards — Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty, former members of the Navy SEALs — were killed just outside the villa’s front gate. A mortar round struck the roof of the building where the Americans had scrambled for cover.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced last week the creation of a review board to examine the attacks. The board is to be led by a veteran diplomat and former undersecretary of state, Thomas R. Pickering.

The F.B.I. has sent investigators — many from its New York field office — to Benghazi, but they have been hampered by the city’s tenuous security environment and the fact that they arrived more than a day after the attack occurred, according to senior American officials.

Complicating the investigation, the officials said, is that many of the Americans who were evacuated from Benghazi after the attack are now scattered across Europe and the United States. It is also unclear, one of the officials said, whether there was much forensic evidence that could be extracted from the scene of the attacks.

Investigators and intelligence officials are now focusing on the possibility that the attackers were members of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or at least were in communication with the group during the four hours that elapsed between the initial attack at the mission and the second one at the mission’s annex.

Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who heads the House Intelligence Committee, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program on Sunday that there was “a high degree of probability that it is an Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda-affiliated group that had a very specific target in mind, and that was to attack the consulate and cause as much harm, chaos and death as possible.”

Foreign diplomats say that under security circumstances like those now in Libya, it is generally standard procedure to have a “safe house” in the vicinity of a main diplomatic facility that can be easily defended and evacuated.

“Normally, you try to keep the location of such a safe house secret, but in Benghazi right now, I think this was next to impossible,” Col. Wolfgang Pusztai, who until early August was Austria’s defense attaché to Libya and visited the country every month, wrote in an e-mail. “There are not too many foreigners hanging around, and it is quite easy to track them.”

    Deadly Attack in Libya Was Major Blow to C.I.A. Efforts, NYT, 23.9.2012,






The Satanic Video


September 23, 2012
The New York Times


THE alchemy of modern media works with amazing speed. Start with a cheesy anti-Muslim video that resembles a bad trailer for a Sacha Baron Cohen comedy. It becomes YouTube fuel for protest across the Islamic world and a pretext for killing American diplomats. That angry spasm begets an inflammatory Newsweek cover, “MUSLIM RAGE,” which in turn inspires a Twitter hashtag that reduces the whole episode to a running joke:

“There’s no prayer room in this nightclub. #MuslimRage.”

“You lose your nephew at the airport but you can’t yell his name because it’s JIHAD. #MuslimRage.”

From provocation to trauma to lampoon in a few short news cycles. It’s over in a week, forgotten in two. Now back to Snooki and Honey Boo Boo.

Except, of course, it’s far from over. It moves temporarily off-screen, and then it is back: the Pakistani retailer accused last week of “blasphemy” because he refused to close his shops during a protest against the video; France locking down diplomatic outposts in about 20 countries because a Paris satirical newspaper has published new caricatures of the prophet.

It’s not really over for Salman Rushdie, whose new memoir recounts a decade under a clerical death sentence for the publication of his novel “The Satanic Verses.” That fatwa, if not precisely the starting point in our modern confrontation with Islamic extremism, was a major landmark. The fatwa was dropped in 1998 and Rushdie is out of hiding, but he is still careful. His book tour for “Joseph Anton” (entitled for the pseudonym he used in his clandestine life) won’t be taking him to Islamabad or Cairo.

Rushdie grew up in a secular Muslim family, the son of an Islam scholar. His relationship to Islam was academic, then literary, before it became excruciatingly personal. His memoir is not a handbook on how America should deal with the Muslim world. But he brings to that subject a certain moral authority and the wisdom of an unusually motivated thinker. I invited him to help me draw some lessons from the stormy Arab Summer.

The first and most important thing Rushdie will tell you is, it’s not about religion. Not then, not now.

When the founding zealot of revolutionary Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued his Rushdie death warrant in 1989, the imam was not defending the faith; he was trying to regenerate enthusiasm for his regime, sapped by eight years of unsuccessful war with Iraq. Likewise, Muslim clerics in London saw the fatwa against a British Indian novelist as an opportunity to arouse British Muslims, who until that point were largely unstirred by sectarian politics. “This case was a way for the mosque to assert a kind of primacy over the community,” the novelist said the other day. “I think something similar is going on now.”

It’s pretty clear that the protests against that inane video were not spontaneous. Antisecular and anti-American zealots, beginning with a Cairo TV personality whose station is financed by Saudi fundamentalists, seized on the video as a way to mobilize pressure on the start-up governments in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. The new governments condemned the violence and called in police to protect American diplomatic outposts, but not before a good bit of nervous wobbling.

(One of the principal goals of the extremists, I was reminded by experts at Human Rights First, who follow the region vigilantly, is to pressure these transitional governments to enact and enforce strict laws against blasphemy. These laws can then be used to purge secularists and moderates.)

Like the fanatics in the Middle East and North Africa, our homegrown hatemongers have an interest in making this out to be a great clash of faiths. The Islamophobes — the fringe demagogues behind the Koran-burning parties and that tawdry video, the more numerous (mainly right-wing Republican) defenders against the imaginary encroachment of Islamic law on our domestic freedom — are easily debunked. But this is the closest thing we have to a socially acceptable form of bigotry. And their rants feed the anti-American opportunists.

Rushdie acknowledges that there are characteristics of Islamic culture that make it tinder for the inciters: an emphasis on honor and shame, and in recent decades a paranoiac sense of the world conspiring against them. We can argue who is more culpable — the hostile West, the sponsors, the appeasers, the fanatics themselves — but Islam has been particularly susceptible to the rise of identity politics, Rushdie says. “You define yourself by what offends you. You define yourself by what outrages you.”

But blaming Islamic culture dismisses the Muslim majorities who are not enraged, let alone violent, and it leads to a kind of surrender: Oh, it’s just the Muslims, nothing to be done. I detect a whiff of this cultural fatalism in Mitt Romney’s patronizing remarks about the superiority of Israeli culture and the backwardness of Palestinian culture. That would explain his assertion, on that other notorious video, that an accommodation with the Palestinians is “almost unthinkable.” That’s a strangely defeatist line of thought for a man who professes to be an optimist and a problem-solver.

Romney and Rushdie are a little more in tune when it comes to mollifying the tender feelings of irate Muslims.

In his new book, Rushdie recounts being urged by the British authorities who were protecting him to “lower the temperature” by issuing a statement that could be taken for an apology. He does so. It fills him almost immediately with regret, and the attacks on him are unabated. He “had taken the weak position and was therefore treated as a weakling,” he writes.

Of the current confrontation, he says, “I think it’s very important that we hold our ground. It’s very important to say, ‘We live like this.’ ” Rushdie made his post-fatwa life in America in part because he reveres the freedoms, including the freedom, not so protected in other Western democracies, to say hateful, racist, blasphemous things.

“Terrible ideas, reprehensible ideas, do not disappear if you ban them,” he told me. “They go underground. They acquire a kind of glamour of taboo. In the harsh light of day, they are out there and, like vampires, they die in the sunlight.”

And so he would have liked a more robust White House defense of the rights that made the noxious video possible.

“It’s not for the American government to regret what American citizens do. They should just say, ‘This is not our affair and the [violent] response is completely inappropriate.’ ”

I would cut the diplomats a little more slack when they are trying to defuse an explosive situation. But I agree that the administration pushed up against the line that separates prudence from weakness. And the White House request that Google consider taking down the anti-Muslim video, however gentle the nudge, was a mistake.

By far the bigger mistake, though, would be to write off the aftermath of the Arab Spring as a lost cause.

It is fairly astounding to hear conservatives who were once eager to invade Iraq — ostensibly to plant freedom in the region — now giving up so quickly on fledgling democracies that might actually be won over without 10 bloody years of occupation. Or lamenting our abandonment of that great stabilizing autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Or insisting that we bully and blackmail the new governments to conform to our expectations.

These transition governments present an opportunity. Fortifying the democratic elements in the post-Arab Spring nation-building, without discrediting them as American stooges, is a delicate business. The best argument we have is not our aid money, though that plays a part. It is the choice between two futures, between building or failing to build a rule of law, an infrastructure of rights, and an atmosphere of tolerance. One future looks something like Turkey, prospering, essentially secular and influential. The other future looks a lot like Pakistan, a land of fear and woe.

We can’t shape the Islamic world to our specifications. But if we throw up our hands, if we pull back, we now have a more vivid picture of what will fill the void.

    The Satanic Video, NYT, 23.9.2012,






Obama’s Journey to Tougher Tack on a Rising China


September 20, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama’s patience with China had been fraying for months, and by November 2010 he was fed up. Meeting with President Hu Jintao in Seoul, South Korea, Mr. Obama warned that if China did not do more to curb North Korea’s bellicose behavior, he would have to take steps to shield the United States from the threat of a nuclear missile attack from the North.

For the first time in a half dozen stilted encounters, Mr. Obama seemed to get through to the bland, tightly scripted Chinese leader. Mr. Hu dropped his talking points and asked Mr. Obama to clarify what he meant, according to two people who were in the room. The president’s answer included a clear hint that the United States would move warships to the seas off China, a step sure to antagonize the increasingly nationalistic Chinese.

“Obama pulled back the veil,” said Jeffrey A. Bader, the president’s chief adviser on China at the time, who was one of those in the room. He added that Mr. Obama’s warning prodded the Chinese president to send a senior diplomat to lean on North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-il.

The tense exchange, Mr. Bader and other officials said, was a turning point in the president’s complex relationship with China, a journey that began with hope and accommodation but fell into disillusionment after Beijing started flexing its muscles on trade and military questions and proved to be a truculent partner on a variety of global issues.

As Mr. Obama runs for re-election, his tougher line toward Beijing is showing itself on several fronts. The White House has filed two major cases in the past three months against China at the World Trade Organization, both of which Mr. Obama promoted to autoworkers in the Rust Belt. On the same day as the latest trade action, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta announced plans in Tokyo to help Japan deploy a new missile-defense system, which has aroused suspicion in Beijing.

With Mitt Romney charging that Mr. Obama has not stood up enough to Chinese leaders, China has suddenly become a focal point in the presidential campaign, one that encompasses both security and economic concerns and puts to the test the president’s management of a crucial, and occasionally combustible, relationship.

Mr. Obama’s blunt warning in Seoul presaged what may end up as the most consequential foreign policy initiative of his presidency: the shift of American focus from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan to the Pacific Rim, where the United States has shored up alliances with Japan and South Korea, opened the door to Myanmar, and sent Marines to Australia. While the new focus has rattled allies in Europe, the emergence of a counterweight to a rising China has been greeted with enthusiasm in Asia.

“Time and time again, I had leaders — I mean, I’m talking about the highest leaders — essentially say: ‘Thank goodness. Thank you. I’m so pleased you’re here. We were worried about America,’ ” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who played a significant role in shaping the president’s approach to China, said in an interview.

Mr. Obama’s turn to Asia was not precisely what he had in mind when he entered office. The shift emerged in fits and starts, after a first year in which critics, including the president’s aides, concluded that the United States had been too soft on China. In interviews, a dozen current and former administration officials described a White House that struggled to find the right tone with Beijing.

From his decision not to meet with the Dalai Lama in 2009 to his tightly constrained first trip to China, the president accommodated Chinese leaders in the hopes that the moves would translate into good will on issues like climate change or Iran’s nuclear program.

They did not. China spurned the United States on climate change standards, dragged its feet on efforts to pressure Iran and began bullying its neighbors over territorial claims in the South China Sea. That last development, in particular, persuaded the administration that the time for accommodation had come to an end.

“I certainly think we tested the limit of how far you can get with China through positive engagement,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser. “We needed to toughen our line in Year 2, and we did that.”

At the center of the internal debate on China was a president, who despite being born in Hawaii and spending childhood years in Indonesia, is less beguiled by China’s history and culture than many of his predecessors were, aides said. Once in office, they said, Mr. Obama came to view China primarily through an economic prism. He is angry at what he sees as Beijing’s refusal to play by the rules in trade, and frustrated by the United States’ lack of leverage to do anything about it.

In meetings, Mr. Obama liked to tease two of his advisers, Mr. Bader and Lawrence H. Summers, who had helped negotiate China’s entry into the World Trade Organization during the administration of Bill Clinton. “Did you guys give away too much?” he asked them, according to a senior aide, who described it as “a running joke.”

To some extent, Mr. Obama’s learning curve on China parallels his early outreach to Iran: an initial hope that old adversaries could put aside their differences, followed by a jolting recognition of reality and the ultimate adoption of a realpolitik approach. The difference, officials argue, is that in this case the tougher line has led not to stalemate but to a constructive give-and-take with a country bound to rub up against the United States.

“Despite it all, China has been an increasingly responsible actor on Iran,” said James B. Steinberg, a former deputy secretary of state who made a number of trips to Beijing to air American concerns. “Despite some wobbles, they’ve played a positive role in constraining North Korea at times of crisis.”

The president’s Asia agenda, however, raises many questions. With deep cuts in the military budget looming, critics question whether the United States has the money to back up its words. A Pentagon preoccupied by Afghanistan and Iraq has done little planning to shift troops or ships — so little, in fact, that a Navy commander was called to the White House for his first meeting after Mr. Obama had already laid out the broader strategy.

America’s eastward shift has left the Chinese deeply suspicious of American motives, with some analysts in China arguing that the United States is trying to encircle the country. For all the talk of give-and-take, the Chinese rebuffed Mrs. Clinton during her recent visit to Beijing when she raised the disputes over the South China Sea.

“The Chinese feel a bit whiplashed,” said Michael J. Green, an Asia policy maker in the administration of George W. Bush who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The hope and change of the first year, followed by the sharp-edged push-back of the second year, all of this, to the Chinese, looks like gross inconsistency and unpredictability.”

The President’s Asia

It is little surprise that Mr. Obama would look east. The president’s Asia, however, lies not on the wind-swept ramparts of the Great Wall of China but in the tropical swelter of Singapore and Indonesia. He identifies more with the languid rhythms of Jakarta, aides say, than with the crackling energy of Shanghai.

An adviser recalled a breakfast at a summit meeting in Toronto in 2010 that Mr. Obama shared with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia, which was so relaxed and serene that afterward the president’s hyperactive chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, told him, “Now I see what your Asianness is about.”

Despite his preferences, Mr. Obama was determined not to antagonize China when he ran for president in 2008. Unlike Mr. Clinton, who referred to China’s leaders as the “butchers of Beijing” in 1992, Mr. Obama said little about China, and his thin record on foreign policy left few clues for the Chinese to size him up.

“We tried to introduce him as the first Asia-Pacific president,” said Jon M. Huntsman Jr., who was ambassador to China from 2009 to 2011, before resigning to run for the Republican presidential nomination. Mr. Huntsman said that in exchanges with Chinese officials, Mr. Obama was highly effective. “But the Chinese were perplexed by President Obama,” he said. “Where does he come from? What does he think? He remained a bit of a cipher.”

With the president focused on priorities like Afghanistan and Iran in the early days of his administration, other officials rushed to stake their claim to China. Thomas E. Donilon, who later became national security adviser, spoke of a “rebalancing” to Asia from the Middle East. Mrs. Clinton, eager to reassert the State Department’s role on China, made her first trip there.

Before landing in Beijing, however, Mrs. Clinton appeared to sideline the issue of human rights, saying she did not see the value of lodging pro forma protests with the Chinese in return for predictable responses. (She quickly changed course.)

Then, a few months later, Mr. Obama declined to meet with the Dalai Lama when he visited the United States. The sticking point was not the meeting but the timing — in October 2009, a month before Mr. Obama was to make his first trip as president to Beijing. Officials involved in the decision now express regret for not going ahead with the meeting.

“We hadn’t reckoned with the way people in Washington set up litmus tests,” Mr. Bader said. “Maybe we should have.”

The optics did not improve on Mr. Obama’s trip, which the Chinese stage-managed, allowing no questions after a joint news conference with Mr. Hu. White House officials said the trip was more successful than the news coverage suggested, but they do not dispute that the lasting impression was of a fast-rising power — the holder of $1 trillion in American debt — pushing back on a beleaguered United States.

Not all of Mr. Obama’s first year was conciliatory. In September 2009, he imposed a tariff on China for dumping tires into the American market. The administration also kept pressure on Beijing to revalue its currency, though it did not label China a currency manipulator. This showed what former aides described as the “Chicago pol” side of Mr. Obama, who views China as a threat to American jobs.

An aide recalled briefing the president in early 2011 before a state visit by Mr. Hu on an array of diplomatic and human rights issues. Impatiently, Mr. Obama said, “The only thing people care about is the economic issues.”

Drawing a Line

For a president with Southeast Asian sympathies, however, the tensions over the South China Sea were hard to ignore. At a meeting in May 2010, China’s top foreign affairs official, Dai Bingguo, told a stunned Mrs. Clinton that Beijing regarded vast swaths of the sea, which it shares with Vietnam, the Philippines and other neighbors, as its territory. The economic stakes are great, given the resources beneath the sea’s surface.

“China had been on a charm offensive and had really been making inroads with their neighbors in kind of soothing fears and showing restraint,” Mrs. Clinton said. “And then I think that the Chinese began to flex their muscles.”

The White House decided to draw a line. Two months later, Mrs. Clinton, working with Mr. Bader and Kurt M. Campbell, the hard-charging assistant secretary for East Asia in the State Department, sprang a surprise. At a summit meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam, she declared that the United States would take an interest in resolving disputes over the sea. China was livid, while Vietnam and the Philippines felt that they had a potent new backer.

China also underlies Mr. Obama’s opening to Myanmar. During the long estrangement between the United States and its military dictators, China set out to turn the isolated country, also known as Burma, into a colonial outpost. On Wednesday, Mr. Obama welcomed Myanmar’s opposition leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, to the White House.

Mr. Campbell rejected the suggestion that the United States was pursuing a cold-war-style containment of China, saying that the notion was “simplistic and wrong.” At the same time, he said, “the Chinese respect strength, determination and strategy.”

Exhibit A in that approach, he and others said, is the tortuous but ultimately successful negotiation over the dissident Chen Guangcheng, who sought refuge in the American Embassy in Beijing and was allowed to fly to New York.

With China embroiled in a leadership transition, Beijing now sometimes sounds like the beleaguered party. Over lunch with Mr. Donilon in Beijing recently, China’s foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, complained about being pressured over the South China Sea. “Big countries can get bullied by little countries,” Mr. Yang said, according to a senior aide who was in the room.

But China shows few signs of backing down. It filed its own case at the World Trade Organization against the United States on the same day as Mr. Obama’s latest action. And when Mr. Panetta met in Beijing with China’s presumed next leader, Xi Jinping, he got an earful on a territorial dispute involving tiny islands claimed by Japan and China.

Looking back, some former officials argue that it was not Mr. Obama who changed, but the Chinese. “People say we got mugged by reality,” Mr. Bader said. “No, the Chinese behaved differently in 2010, and what we did reflected their behavior.”

    Obama’s Journey to Tougher Tack on a Rising China, NYT, 20.9.2012,






The United States and the Muslim World


September 19, 2012
The New York Times


The anti-Islam video that set off attacks against American embassies and violent protests in the Muslim world was a convenient fuse for rage. Deeper forces are at work in those societies, riven by pent-up anger over a lack of jobs, economic stagnation and decades of repression by previous Arab governments.

In the wake of the Arab Spring, these newly liberated nations have become battlegrounds for Islamic extremists, moderates and secularists, all contending for power and influence over the direction of democratic change. These forces and the attacks may be beyond the control of American foreign policy, no matter what some might want to believe.

Plenty of Islamist leaders, and Al Qaeda affiliates, are eager to exploit unrest for their own purposes. One particularly destructive force is Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah chief who rallied a huge anti-American demonstration in Lebanon. He is undoubtedly trying to revive his own popularity, badly damaged by his alliance with the brutal Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.

The anti-American extremists who murdered Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three of his colleagues in Benghazi, Libya, or went on rampages in other cities have reinforced the worst fears of those who see Muslims mainly through a prism of intolerance and hate. The extremists have also done serious damage to their economies; tourism and businesses cannot grow in chaos and insecurity.

Instead of demanding that their governments deliver needed jobs and housing, the protesters focused on a crude video promoted by hatemongering fanatics in the United States. With the news media mostly state-controlled in the Arab world, the idea of the United States government refusing to censor offensive anti-Islam material on free speech grounds remains inexplicable to many Muslims. On Wednesday, a French magazine published vulgar caricatures of Prophet Muhammad, provoking a new wave of outrage.

In 2009, President Obama wisely sought rapprochement with Muslims. Speaking in Cairo, he endorsed an approach of mutual respect and promised that, while he would never hesitate to confront extremism, America never would be at war with Islam. He also challenged Muslims to establish elected, peaceful governments that respect all their people. Few would have predicted then how many Arab nations would now be struggling to meet that standard. As troubling as they are, the protests should be seen in context. Most of the crowds were a few thousand people or less. And many leaders — the Libyans and Tunisians, especially, but also the Turkish prime minister, the grand mufti in Saudi Arabia and, belatedly, Egyptian leaders — condemned the violence and promised to beef up security at American embassies and consulates. They need to keep speaking out and also publicly explain to their people why a relationship with the United States even matters. The Libyans who tried to save Ambassador Stevens certainly saw value in those ties.

Mitt Romney and the Republicans have leveled preposterous charges that Mr. Obama has been weak and apologetic. They have offered only confusing and often contradictory assertions in place of a coherent alternative. They haven’t gotten the message that Washington cannot, and should not, try to impose its will on the fragile Arab democracies.

But it would be wrong to retreat from supporting people in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt who are committed to building democratic governments and pluralistic societies based on the rule of law as some in Congress urge. The United States has to stay engaged in whatever ways it can.

    The United States and the Muslim World, NYT, 19.9.2012,






Look in Your Mirror


September 18, 2012
The New York Times


On Monday, David D. Kirkpatrick, the Cairo bureau chief for The Times, quoted one of the Egyptian demonstrators outside the American Embassy, Khaled Ali, as justifying last week’s violent protests by declaring: “We never insult any prophet — not Moses, not Jesus — so why can’t we demand that Muhammad be respected?” Mr. Ali, a 39-year-old textile worker, was holding up a handwritten sign in English that read: “Shut Up America.” “Obama is the president, so he should have to apologize!”

I read several such comments from the rioters in the press last week, and I have a big problem with them. I don’t like to see anyone’s faith insulted, but we need to make two things very clear — more clear than President Obama’s team has made them. One is that an insult — even one as stupid and ugly as the anti-Islam video on YouTube that started all of this — does not entitle people to go out and attack embassies and kill innocent diplomats. That is not how a proper self-governing people behave. There is no excuse for it. It is shameful. And, second, before demanding an apology from our president, Mr. Ali and the young Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans, Yemenis, Pakistanis, Afghans and Sudanese who have been taking to the streets might want to look in the mirror — or just turn on their own televisions. They might want to look at the chauvinistic bile that is pumped out by some of their own media — on satellite television stations and Web sites or sold in sidewalk bookstores outside of mosques — insulting Shiites, Jews, Christians, Sufis and anyone else who is not a Sunni, or fundamentalist, Muslim. There are people in their countries for whom hating “the other” has become a source of identity and a collective excuse for failing to realize their own potential.

The Middle East Media Research Institute, or Memri, was founded in 1998 in Washington by Yigal Carmon, a former Israeli government adviser on counterterrorism, “to bridge the language gap between the Middle East and the West by monitoring, translating and studying Arab, Iranian, Urdu and Pashtu media, schoolbooks, and religious sermons.” What I respect about Memri is that it translates not only the ugly stuff but the courageous liberal, reformist Arab commentators as well. I asked Memri for a sampler of the hate-filled videos that appear regularly on Arab/Muslim mass media. Here are some:

ON CHRISTIANS Hasan Rahimpur Azghadi of the Iranian Supreme Council for Cultural Revolution: Christianity is “a reeking corpse, on which you have to constantly pour eau de cologne and perfume, and wash it in order to keep it clean.” http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/1528.htm — July 20, 2007.

Sheik Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi: It is permissible to spill the blood of the Iraqi Christians — and a duty to wage jihad against them. http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/5200.htm — April 14, 2011.

Abd al-Aziz Fawzan al-Fawzan, a Saudi professor of Islamic law, calls for “positive hatred” of Christians. Al-Majd TV (Saudi Arabia), http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/992.htm — Dec. 16, 2005.

ON SHIITES The Egyptian Cleric Muhammad Hussein Yaaqub: “Muslim Brotherhood Presidential Candidate Mohamed Morsi told me that the Shiites are more dangerous to Islam than the Jews.” www.memritv.org/clip/en/3466.htm — June 13, 2012.

The Egyptian Cleric Mazen al-Sirsawi: “If Allah had not created the Shiites as human beings, they would have been donkeys.” http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/3101.htm — Aug. 7, 2011.

The Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan video series: “The Shiite is a Nasl [Race/Offspring] of Jews.” http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/51/6208.htm — March 21, 2012.

ON JEWS Article on the Muslim Brotherhood’s Web site praises jihad against America and the Jews: “The Descendants of Apes and Pigs.” http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/51/6656.htm — Sept. 7, 2012.

The Pakistani cleric Muhammad Raza Saqib Mustafai: “When the Jews are wiped out, the world would be purified and the sun of peace would rise on the entire world.” http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/51/6557.htm — Aug. 1, 2012.

Dr. Ismail Ali Muhammad, a senior Al-Azhar scholar: The Jews, “a source of evil and harm in all human societies.” http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/51/6086.htm — Feb. 14, 2012.

ON SUFIS A shrine venerating a Sufi Muslim saint in Libya has been partly destroyed, the latest in a series of attacks blamed on ultraconservative Salafi Islamists. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-19380083 — Aug. 26, 2012.

As a Jew who has lived and worked in the Muslim world, I know that these expressions of intolerance are only one side of the story and that there are deeply tolerant views and strains of Islam espoused and practiced there as well. Theirs are complex societies.

That’s the point. America is a complex society, too. But let’s cut the nonsense that this is just our problem and the only issue is how we clean up our act. That Cairo protester is right: We should respect the faiths and prophets of others. But that runs both ways. Our president and major newspapers consistently condemn hate speech against other religions. How about yours?

    Look in Your Mirror, NYT, 18.9.2012,






Video Shows Libyans Retrieving Envoy’s Body


September 16, 2012
The New York Times


CAIRO — An amateur video that surfaced Sunday appears to show a crowd removing the motionless body of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens from a window of the American mission in Benghazi, Libya, after it was attacked last week by Islamist militants, adding new details to reports that Mr. Stevens had died of smoke inhalation while locked in a safe room.

The video emerged as a new disagreement broke out between the recently named president of the Libyan Parliament and American officials over whether the attack was planned and whether Al Qaeda had a role.

Labeled the work of Fahd al-Bakkosh, the video centers on what appears to be the same tall, narrow window that witnesses have described as Mr. Stevens’s last exit. The witnesses said residents drawn to the scene had forced open the window and found Mr. Stevens behind a locked iron gate, pulled him out and taken him to the hospital. In the video, none say anything that shows ill will.

“I swear, he’s dead,” one Libyan says, peering in.

“Bring him out, man! Bring him out,” another says.

“The man is alive. Move out of the way,” others shout. “Just bring him out, man.”

“Move, move, he is still alive!”

“Alive, Alive! God is great,” the crowd erupts, while someone calls to bring Mr. Stevens to a car.

Mr. Stevens was taken to a hospital, where a doctor tried to revive him, but said he was all but dead on arrival.

The full identity and motivation of the attackers remains a matter of dispute. Considerable suspicion has fallen on a local Benghazi militia, Ansar al-Sharia, known for its intensely conservative and anti-democratic Islamist politics. Witnesses saw the group’s insignia on trucks at the scene, and attackers acknowledged they were members. Fighters and others present at the attack said the motive was anger at a video produced in the United States that denigrates the Prophet Muhammad.

On Sunday, Mohamed Yussef Magariaf, president of Libya’s newly elected national congress, said in interviews with American news media that he believed people affiliated with or sympathetic to Al Qaeda played a role in the assault, although he did not seem to rule out that the attackers might have been ideological allies of Al Qaeda without specific collaboration. The regional Qaeda affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, is active near Libya but has focused primarily on attacking local governments.

Mr. Magariaf said that Libya has arrested as many as 50 people over the assault. At least a few, he said, had come from outside Libya, possibly Algeria or Mali. And he also said that he believed the non-Libyans had been involved in planning the attack in the months since they entered the country, and that it was meant to coincide with the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Referring to “ugly deeds, criminal deeds,” Mr. Magariaf insisted that the attacks “do not resemble any way, in any sense, the aspirations, the feelings of Libyans towards the United States and its citizens,” emphasizing the role of “foreigners.”

Appearing on the same program, Susan Rice, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, said the attacks began “spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo.”

“But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution,” Ms. Rice said. “And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent.”

The United States did not believe the attack was preplanned or premeditated, Ms. Rice said, adding that whether the extremists “were Al Qaeda affiliates, whether they were Libyan-based extremists or Al Qaeda itself I think is one of the things we’ll have to determine.”


Suliman Ali Zway contributed reporting from Benghazi, Libya.

    Video Shows Libyans Retrieving Envoy’s Body, NYT, 16.9.2012,






Cultural Clash Fuels Muslims Raging at Film


September 16, 2012
The New York Times


CAIRO — Stepping from the cloud of tear gas in front of the American Embassy here, Khaled Ali repeated the urgent question that he said justified last week’s violent protests at United States outposts around the Muslim world.

“We never insult any prophet — not Moses, not Jesus — so why can’t we demand that Muhammad be respected?” Mr. Ali, a 39-year-old textile worker said, holding up a handwritten sign in English that read “Shut Up America.” “Obama is the president, so he should have to apologize!”

When the protests against an American-made online video mocking the Prophet Muhammad exploded in about 20 countries, the source of the rage was more than just religious sensitivity, political demagogy or resentment of Washington, protesters and their sympathizers here said. It was also a demand that many of them described with the word “freedom,” although in a context very different from the term’s use in the individualistic West: the right of a community, whether Muslim, Christian or Jewish, to be free from grave insult to its identity and values.

That demand, in turn, was swept up in the colliding crosscurrents of regional politics. From one side came the gale of anger at America’s decade-old war against terrorism, which in the eyes of many Muslims in the region often looks like a war against them. And from the other, the new winds blowing through the region in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, which to many here means most of all a right to demand respect for the popular will.

“We want these countries to understand that they need to take into consideration the people, and not just the governments,” said Ismail Mohamed, 42, a religious scholar who once was an imam in Germany. “We don’t think that depictions of the prophets are freedom of expression. We think it is an offense against our rights,” he said, adding, “The West has to understand the ideology of the people.”

Even during the protests, some stone throwers stressed that the clash was not Muslim against Christian. Instead, they suggested that the traditionalism of people of both faiths in the region conflicted with Western individualism and secularism.

Youssef Sidhom, the editor of the Coptic Christian newspaper Watani, said he objected only to the violence of the protests.

Mr. Sidhom approvingly recalled the uproar among Egyptian Christians that greeted the 2006 film “The Da Vinci Code,” which was seen as an affront to aspects of traditional Christianity and the persona of Jesus. Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and other Arab countries banned both the film and the book on which it was based. And in Egypt, where insulting any of the three Abrahamic religions is a crime, the police even arrested the head of a local film company for importing 2,000 copies of the DVD, according to news reports.

“This reaction is expected,” Mr. Sidhom said of last week’s protests, “and if it had stayed peaceful I would have said I supported it and understood.”

In a context where insults to religion are crimes and the state has tightly controlled almost all media, many in Egypt, like other Arab countries, sometimes find it hard to understand that the American government feels limited by its free speech rules from silencing even the most noxious religious bigot.

In his statement after protesters breached the walls of the United States Embassy last Tuesday, the spiritual leader of the Egypt’s mainstream Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, declared that “the West” had imposed laws against “those who deny or express dissident views on the Holocaust or question the number of Jews killed by Hitler, a topic which is purely historical, not a sacred doctrine.”

In fact, denying the Holocaust is also protected as free speech in the United States, although it is prohibited in Germany and a few other European countries. But the belief that it is illegal in the United States is widespread in Egypt, and the Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, Mohamed Badie, called for the “criminalizing of assaults on the sanctities of all heavenly religions.”

“Otherwise, such acts will continue to cause devout Muslims across the world to suspect and even loathe the West, especially the U.S.A., for allowing their citizens to violate the sanctity of what they hold dear and holy,” he said. “Certainly, such attacks against sanctities do not fall under the freedom of opinion or thought.”

Several protesters said during the heat of last week’s battles here that they were astonished that the United States had not punished the filmmakers. “Everyone across all these countries has the same anger, they are rising up for the same reason and with the same demands, and still no action is taken against the people who made that film,” said Zakaria Magdy, 23, a printer.

In the West, many may express astonishment that the murder of Muslims in hate crimes does not provoke the same level of global outrage as the video did. But even a day after the clashes in Cairo had subsided, many Egyptians argued that a slur against their faith was a greater offense than any attack on a living person.

“When you hurt someone, you are just hurting one person,” said Ahmed Shobaky, 42, a jeweler. “But when you insult a faith like that, you are insulting a whole nation that feels the pain.”

Mr. Mohamed, the religious scholar, justified it this way: “Our prophet is more dear to us than our family and our nation.”

Others said that the outpouring of outrage against the video had built up over a long period of perceived denigrations of Muslims and their faith by the United States or its military, which are detailed extensively in the Arab news media: the invasion of Iraq on a discredited pretext; the images of abuse from the Abu Ghraib prison; the burning or desecrations of the Koran by troops in Afghanistan and a pastor in Florida; detentions without trial at Guantánamo Bay; the denials of visas to prominent Muslim intellectuals; the deaths of Muslim civilians as collateral damage in drone strikes; even political campaigns against the specter of Islamic law inside the United States.

“This is not the first time that Muslim beliefs are being insulted or Muslims humiliated,” said Emad Shahin, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo.

While he stressed that no one should ever condone violence against diplomats or embassies because of even the most offensive film, Mr. Shahin said it was easy to see why the protesters focused on the United States government’s outposts. “There is a war going on here,” he said. “This was a straw, if you will, that broke the camel’s back.

“The message here is we don’t care about your beliefs — that because of our freedom of expression we can demean them and degrade them any time, and we do not care about your feelings.”

There are also purely local dynamics that can fan the flames. In Tunis, an American school was set on fire by protesters angry over the video — but then looted of computers and musical instruments by people in the neighborhood.

Here in Cairo, ultraconservative Islamists known as Salafis initially helped drum up outrage against the video and rally their supporters to protest outside the embassy. But by the time darkness fell and a handful of young men climbed the embassy wall, the Salafis were nowhere to be found, and they stayed away the rest of the week.

Egyptian officials said that some non-Salafis involved in the embassy attacks confessed to receiving payments, although no payer had been identified. But after the first afternoon, the next three days of protests were dominated by a relatively small number of teenagers and young men — including die-hard soccer fans known as ultras. They appeared to have been motivated mainly by the opportunity to attack the police, whom they revile.

Some commentators said they regretted that the violence here and around the region had overshadowed the underlying argument against the offensive video. “Our performance came out like that of a failed lawyer in a no-lose case,” Wael Kandil, an editor of the newspaper Sharouq, wrote in a column on Sunday. “We served our opponents something that made them drop the main issue and take us to the margins — this is what we accomplished with our bad performance.”

Mohamed Sabry, 29, a sculptor and art teacher at a downtown cafe, said he saw a darker picture. “To see the Islamic world in this condition of underdevelopment,” he said, “this is a bigger insult to the prophet.”


Mai Ayyad contributed reporting.

    Cultural Clash Fuels Muslims Raging at Film, NYT, 16.9.2012,






On Web, a Fine Line on Free Speech Across the Globe


September 16, 2012
The New York Times


SAN FRANCISCO — For Google last week, the decision was clear. An anti-Islamic video that provoked violence worldwide was not hate speech under its rules because it did not specifically incite violence against Muslims, even if it mocked their faith.

The White House was not so sure, and it asked Google to reconsider the determination, a request the company rebuffed.

Although the administration’s request was unusual, for Google, it represented the kind of delicate balancing act that Internet companies confront every day.

These companies, which include communications media like Facebook and Twitter, write their own edicts about what kind of expression is allowed, things as diverse as pointed political criticism, nudity and notions as murky as hate speech. And their employees work around the clock to check when users run afoul of their rules.

Google is not the only Internet company to grapple in recent days with questions involving the anti-Islamic video, which appeared on YouTube, which Google owns. Facebook on Friday confirmed that it had blocked links to the video in Pakistan, where it violates the country’s blasphemy law. A spokeswoman said Facebook had also removed a post that contained a threat to a United States ambassador, after receiving a report from the State Department; Facebook has declined to say in which country the ambassador worked.

“Because these speech platforms are so important, the decisions they take become jurisprudence,” said Andrew McLaughlin, who has worked for both Google and the White House. Most vexing among those decisions are ones that involve whether a form of expression is hate speech. Hate speech has no universally accepted definition, legal experts say. And countries, including democratic ones, have widely divergent legal approaches to regulating speech they consider to be offensive or inflammatory.

Europe bans neo-Nazi speech, for instance, but courts there have also banned material that offends the religious sensibilities of one group or another. Indian law frowns on speech that could threaten public order. Turkey can shut down a Web site that insults its founding president, Kemal Ataturk. Like the countries, the Internet companies have their own positions, which give them wide latitude on how to interpret expression in different countries.

Although Google says the anti-Islamic video, “Innocence of Muslims,” was not hate speech, it restricted access to the video in Libya and Egypt because of the extraordinarily delicate situation on the ground and out of respect for cultural norms.

Google has not yet explained why its cultural norms edict applied to only two countries and not others, where Muslim sensitivities have been demonstrably offended.

Free speech absolutists say all expression, no matter how despicable, should be allowed online. Others say Internet companies, like governments, should be flexible enough to exercise restraint under exceptional circumstances, especially when lives are at stake.

At any rate, as Mark L. Movsesian, a law professor at St. John’s University, pointed out, any effort to ban hateful or offensive speech worldwide would be virtually impossible, if not counterproductive.

“The regimes are so different, it’s very, very difficult to come up with one answer — unless you ban everything,” he said.

Google’s fine parsing led to a debate in the blogosphere about whether the video constituted hateful or offensive speech.

Peter J. Spiro, a law professor at Temple University, said Google was justified in restricting access to the video in certain places, if for no other reason than to stanch the violence.

“Maybe the hate speech/offensive speech distinction can be elided by the smart folks in Google’s foreign ministry,” Mr. Spiro wrote on the blog Opinio Juris. “If material is literally setting off global firestorms through its dissemination online, Google will strategically pull the plug.”

Every company, in order to do business globally, makes a point of obeying the laws of every country in which it operates. Google has already said that it took down links to the incendiary video in India and Indonesia, because it violates local statutes.

But even as a company sets its own rules, capriciously sometimes and without the due process that binds most countries, legal experts say they must be flexible to strike the right balance between democratic values and law.

“Companies are benevolent rulers trying to approximate the kinds of decisions they think would be respectful of free speech as a value and also human safety,” said Jonathan Zittrain, a law professor at Harvard.

Unlike Google, Twitter does not explicitly address hate speech, but it says in its rule book that “users are allowed to post content, including potentially inflammatory content, provided they do not violate the Twitter Terms of Service and Rules.” Those include a prohibition against “direct, specific threats of violence against others.”

That wide margin for speech sometimes lands Twitter in feuds with governments and lobbyists. Twitter was pressed this summer to take down several accounts the Indian government considered offensive. Company officials agreed to remove only those that blatantly impersonated others; impersonation violates company rules, unless the user makes it clear that it is satirical.

Facebook has some of the industry’s strictest rules. Terrorist organizations are not permitted on the social network, according to the company’s terms of service. In recent years, the company has repeatedly shut down fan pages set up by Hezbollah.

In a statement after the killings of United States Embassy employees in Libya, the company said, “Facebook’s policy prohibits content that threatens or organizes violence, or praises violent organizations.”

Facebook also explicitly prohibits what it calls “hate speech,” which it defines as attacking a person. In addition, it allows users to report content they find objectionable, which Facebook employees then vet. Facebook’s algorithms also pick up certain words that are then sent to human inspectors to review; the company declined to provide details on what kinds of words set off that kind of review.

Nudity is forbidden on Facebook, too. This year, that policy enmeshed the social network in a controversy over photographs of breast-feeding women. Facebook pages were set up by groups that objected to the company’s ban on pictures of exposed breasts, and “nurse-ins” were organized, calling on women to breast-feed outside Facebook offices worldwide.

The company said sharing breast-feeding photos was fine, but “photos that show a fully exposed breast where the child is not actively engaged in nursing do violate Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.”

Just this month, a New Yorker cartoon tripped over Facebook’s rules on exposed breasts. On its Facebook page, the magazine displayed a cartoon that contained the topless figures of a man and women. The illustration was removed for violating Facebook’s naked breast decree.

Facebook soon corrected itself. With “hundreds of thousands” of reported complaints each week, the company said, sometimes it makes a mistake.

    On Web, a Fine Line on Free Speech Across the Globe, NYT, 16.9.2012,






U.S. Is Preparing for a Long Siege of Arab Unrest


September 15, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — After days of anti-American violence across the Muslim world, the White House is girding itself for an extended period of turmoil that will test the security of American diplomatic missions and President Obama’s ability to shape the forces of change in the Middle East.

Although the tumult subsided Saturday, senior administration officials said they had concluded that the sometimes violent protests in Muslim countries may presage a period of sustained instability with unpredictable diplomatic and political consequences. While pressing Arab leaders to tamp down the unrest, Mr. Obama’s advisers say they may have to consider whether to scale back diplomatic activities in the region.

The upheaval over an anti-Islam video has suddenly become Mr. Obama’s most serious foreign policy crisis of the election season, and a range of analysts say it presents questions about central tenets of his Middle East policy: Did he do enough during the Arab Spring to help the transition to democracy from autocracy? Has he drawn a hard enough line against Islamic extremists? Did his administration fail to address security concerns?

These questions come at an inopportune time domestically as Mr. Obama enters the fall campaign with a small lead in polls. His policies escaped serious scrutiny in the initial days after the attack that killed four Americans in Libya last week, in part because of the furor over a statement by Mitt Romney accusing the president of sympathizing with the attackers. White House officials said they recognized that if not for Mr. Romney’s statement, they would have been the ones on the defensive.

As of Saturday night, the worst of the crisis appeared to have passed, at least for now. The Egyptian government, responding to administration pressure, cracked down on protesters in Cairo on Saturday, and in Libya the government rounded up suspects in the violence that killed four Americans on Tuesday. Leaders in Saudi Arabia and Tunisia appealed for calm.

Still, images from the past week of American flags being torn down and burned, an Islamic flag being raised and embassies being overrun by angry mobs introduce a volatile element into a re-election effort in which foreign policy has been a strength. Some critics and commentators were already evoking the images of the Iranian hostage crisis that doomed another presidency.

“After Obama’s success in killing Osama bin Laden, in killing Qaddafi and in not blowing up Iraq, I think Obama and his aides figured, ‘We’ve got this box pretty well taken care of,’ ” said Michael Rubin, a Middle East scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Bush administration official, referring to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya.

“Now that gets thrown up into the air,” he said. “Instead of Obama being the successful guy that got Bin Laden, we’re talking about Obama as the second coming of Jimmy Carter, and that’s not something the campaign wants to see.”

Mr. Obama came to office vowing to recalibrate America’s relationship with the Muslim world after the Iraq war and gave a high-profile speech in Cairo outlining a new era of fraternity. Caught off guard by cascading revolutions in the Middle East, he eventually supported rebels who overthrew Egypt’s longtime president and ordered airstrikes that helped bring down Colonel Qaddafi, who was later killed.

But his administration has struggled to find a balance between supporting democracy and guarding national interests in the region as authoritarian governments have been replaced by popular Islamist parties much less tied to Washington. To the extent that the United States supports greater democracy, it may not defuse anti-American rage in a region with no real history of popular rule, and with deep economic troubles. His citing of Libya as a model of transition now looks suspect, and the United States has been powerless to stop a bloody crackdown in Syria.

Administration officials say they are acutely aware of the risks, and they worry that the violence could rage for a while, because with every new protest more people are exposed to the inflammatory American-made anti-Islam video that has fueled so much anger. Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen on Saturday called for further attacks against American embassies.

“The reality is the Middle East is going to be turbulent for the foreseeable future and beyond that,” said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former State Department official in the Bush administration. “It’s going to present the United States with any number of difficult choices. It’s also going to be frustrating, because in most instances our interests are likely to be greater than our influence.”

Administration officials say the people in the streets are not the ones who won the elections, but those who lost, and that the new governments largely have condemned the violence. Mr. Obama’s outreach, they said, has improved the position of the United States in the Muslim world. “We have made significant inroads in demonstrating that the U.S. is not at war with Islam, and isolating Al Qaeda as an element within Islam,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser. “But it clearly remains the case that there are persistent challenges in parts of the Arab world. It’s been building up for a very long time.”

The twin challenges of dealing with the crisis overseas and the politics of it at home overlap in complicated and uncomfortable ways. Just hours after mourning in the Rose Garden last Wednesday for American victims of a Libyan attack, Mr. Obama flew off to a Las Vegas campaign event. After meeting their flag-draped coffins at Joint Base Andrews on Friday, he headed to Democratic headquarters for campaign meetings and then to an evening fund-raiser.

In his weekly address on Saturday, Mr. Obama referred to American anxieties about the unrest. “I know the images on our televisions are disturbing,” he said. “But let us never forget that for every angry mob, there are millions who yearn for the freedom and dignity and hope that our flag represents.”

During marathon meetings at the White House since the killings of American diplomatic officials in Benghazi, officials have tried to anticipate the next developments and contemplate a response. But they were surprised when an American-run school was ransacked in Tunisia, which they considered a successful transition.

Even as more Marines are sent to diplomatic missions, and two Navy destroyers patrol nearby, Mr. Obama has reached out to leaders like Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, and aides asked YouTube to review its posting of the video.

More broadly, the Obama team is confronting the very nature of America’s presence in the Middle East. With embassies already fortified after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, officials are asking whether they can be further secured or whether some activities need to be curtailed, like assistance and public diplomacy programs that leave Americans more exposed, though there are no plans at the moment to do so. The State Department said Saturday that it was evacuating all family members and nonessential personnel from embassies in Tunis and Khartoum.

The trade-offs of such choices are stark. Pulling back on American involvement in these countries would undercut the ability to build cultural bridges that in theory diminish the sort of hostility now vividly on display. Yet officials said continuing with business as usual seemed untenable as well, and they recognize that foreign aid, already a tough sell in a rigid fiscal environment, may become even tougher to extract from Congress.

At home, the challenge is political but no less daunting. Republicans have had a hard time putting up a fight on foreign policy but believe the uprisings provide a new opening. Mr. Romney characterizes Mr. Obama’s approach to the Arab Spring as naïve and apologetic, and his campaign has criticized the president as not being supportive enough of Israel.

In recent days, Republican critics like former Vice President Dick Cheney have opened up a new line of attack by accusing Mr. Obama of not paying enough attention to intelligence briefings. Mr. Obama receives the briefing in writing every day, but does not always sit down for an oral presentation, as President George W. Bush did. “The hubris of a president who believes he does not need to meet regularly with them is astounding,” Marc Thiessen, a former speechwriter for Mr. Bush, wrote in The Washington Post.

The White House says the president receives plenty of briefings and meets repeatedly with security advisers. “The president’s record, when it comes to acting on — interpreting correctly and acting on — intelligence in the interest of the security of the United States is one that we are happy to have examined,” said Jay Carney, the White House press secretary.

As for the broader debate, Mr. Obama’s defenders argue that the legacy of American support for Arab autocrats complicated the situation. “Obama did his best, in a very difficult situation, to get the United States on the right side of history,” said Martin S. Indyk, a former ambassador to Israel in the Clinton administration. “But we had a good 40 years of U.S. policy backing regimes that the people in the street overthrew.”

Some analysts pointed to his failure to make progress between the Israelis and the Palestinians. “You didn’t have a track record to use with these Arab elites to say, ‘We’re doing the right things,’ ” said Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former ambassador to Egypt and Israel who teaches at Princeton.

Over the last week, Mr. Rubin said, Mr. Obama suffered from an intelligence breakdown, much as Mr. Bush did before the Iraq war. “That’s not Obama’s fault,” he said, “but it’s going to make him look weak because he’s the one sitting in the Oval Office.”

    U.S. Is Preparing for a Long Siege of Arab Unrest, NYT, 15.9.2012,






After Days of Unrest in Muslim World,

a Fragile Calm Takes Hold


September 15, 2012
The New York Times


CAIRO — Under intense pressure from Washington, Egyptian security forces arrested hundreds of protesters around the American Embassy in Cairo on Saturday as political leaders struggled to deal with the fallout caused by the week of unrest.

Across the region, the anti-American protests that convulsed cities in many parts of the Islamic world last week subsided at least temporarily, a fragile calm taking hold a day after violent and sometimes deadly demonstrations at American and Western installations spread to more than 20 countries.

In Cairo, where the protests against a crude video denigrating Islam began on Tuesday, security forces expanded the fortifications around the American Embassy. On Friday, despite a new concrete barrier, hundreds of young men battled security officers near the embassy, hurling rocks and homemade bombs as the police fired tear gas.

But by midday Saturday, security forces had cleared the streets around the embassy. Only a faint scent of tear gas remained.

Hisham Qandil, Egypt’s prime minister, said Saturday that he had visited the American Embassy to express his support and told the BBC’s Arabic news channel that it was regrettable and wrong that so many blamed the American government for a video to which it had no connection.

But he also called for the West to “strike a balance between freedom of expression and to maintain respect for other people’s beliefs.” He said the violence was caused by “a small group of people doing irresponsible work, and everybody is paying the price for these people’s work, and we have to do all it takes to stop this from happening again.”

Even as the violence abated, Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen urged its followers to “expel the embassies of America from the lands of the Muslims” and praised the killing of the American ambassador to Libya. The violence raised questions about political instability in Egypt, Tunisia and other Middle Eastern countries where newfound freedoms have given way to an absence of authority. In Egypt, leaders sought to repair ties with Washington that have been strained by their initial response to attacks on the embassy, tacitly acknowledging that they erred in not vehemently condemning the violence.

The toll of the demonstrations became clearer on Saturday, with Egyptian state news media reporting that at least one person had died in the clashes. More than 224 people have been injured in four days of street battles, according to state news media, and by Friday at least 99 security officers had been hurt.

Across the region, there were reports of about a dozen deaths during the six days of protests, some in confrontations with security forces, others in riots.

In Benghazi, Libya, where four Americans were killed Tuesday, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, the authorities appeared to be rounding up many men who were at the diplomatic compound during that attack.

On Saturday, President Obama condemned the violence but also reached out to Muslims.

“We stand for religious freedom,” he said in his weekly radio address. “And we reject the denigration of any religion — including Islam. Yet there is never any justification for violence.”

Political and religious leaders in the Arab world also called for calm. In Saudi Arabia, where no protests were reported, the grand mufti, the highest religious authority in Islam’s birthplace, denounced the attacks and said “it is forbidden to punish the innocent for the wicked crimes of the guilty,” state news media reported.

In Tunis, where the American Embassy was attacked Friday by protesters who smashed windows and set fires, the moderate Islamist governing party condemned the violence, which left at least 3 dead and 28 injured, for threatening Tunisia’s progress toward democracy.

Two protesters died in Sudan, two died in Tunisia and one was killed in Lebanon. On Thursday, four people were killed as protests turned violent at the American Embassy in Sana, Yemen.

Some of the worst violence on Friday was in Khartoum, Sudan, where about 5,000 people rallied, news reports said, before marching to the American Embassy.

Sudanese police on Saturday said that two protesters had died in a traffic accident that resulted from the chaos on Friday, The Associated Press reported.

Sudan rebuffed a request by the United States to deploy Marines around the embassy, but talks continued and Washington reminded Sudan of its obligations to provide diplomatic security. Marines have already been sent to Libya and Yemen, although the Yemeni Parliament demanded on Saturday that the Marines leave the country, according to SABA, the state news service. “We do not accept any foreign forces in Yemen, be it small or big forces, and for any reason,” the Parliament statement said.

The State Department said it was evacuating all family members and nonemergency staff members from the embassies in Tunis and Khartoum, citing the security situation. It also warned American citizens about travel in both capitals.


David D. Kirkpatrick reported from Cairo, and Marc Santora from New York.

Reporting was contributed by Moises Saman from Cairo, Monica Marks from Tunis,

Steven Lee Myers from Washington and Nasser Arrabyee from Sana, Yemen.

    After Days of Unrest in Muslim World, a Fragile Calm Takes Hold, NYT, 15.12.2012,






A U.S. Envoy Who Plunged Into Arab Life


September 15, 2012
The New York Times


J. Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya who was killed in an assault on a diplomatic mission there last week, was happy to gossip, but was revered for listening. A northern Californian with a toothy grin, he had a passion for the Arab world and its language, and he went out of his way to use it, whether with officials or shopkeepers, in an effort to show respect.

In his willingness to allow others to be heard, even when he had an important message to impart, Mr. Stevens was an unusual American diplomat, friends and colleagues say. He allowed himself to be governed by the habits, proprieties and slower pace of the Arab world.

With the State Department on high alert for security threats, especially since the Sept. 11 attacks, and many American diplomats consigned to embassies that resemble fortresses and armored motorcades that do not make unscheduled stops, Mr. Stevens plunged into Arab social life. He traded personal risk for personal contact.

His comfort with his environment and his distaste for displays of security, some quietly suggest, may have led to a touch of overconfidence that cost him his life. His lonely death in Benghazi, a city he knew well, along with those of three other Americans, came during a Libyan militia attack on the American diplomatic mission there, where his presence had not been advertised.

What the United States lost was not only one of its foremost Arabists, a man who built a bridge to the tribes and militias that toppled the Libyan dictator Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. It also may be losing, in the unrest sweeping a conflict-prone crescent of Muslim countries from Pakistan to Sudan, a style of diplomacy already on the decline: the street-smart, low-key negotiator who gets things done by building personal relationships.

Mr. Stevens, 52, was known as Chris, but he often signed letters and e-mails to friends as Krees, the way many Arabs pronounced his name. His affection for Arab culture and street life, whether in Syria, Libya or the Palestinian territories, made him many friends and impressive networks of contacts.

Precisely what happened the night he was killed is unclear. But for an American ambassador to have so little security on the anniversary of Sept. 11, especially in a part of Libya known for its radicalism, is bound to raise questions, and in some sense, only adds to the irony of his death in a country he loved, and that for the most part, loved him back as an ally and a friend.

John Bell, an Arabic-speaking former Canadian diplomat, knew Mr. Stevens when they were young political officers together in Syria, and later in Jerusalem. “He was a consummate professional, calm and deliberative, with a real sensitivity to the Arab world,” Mr. Bell said. “He was good on the ground, and he had a way about him that endeared him to a lot of people; he listened to a lot of people and was not highly opinionated. And that made him a good and unusual American diplomat.”

Diana Buttu knew Mr. Stevens in Ramallah and Jerusalem for several years from the autumn of 2002, when he was the political officer dealing with the Palestinians and she was the legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiators.

“He was a different kind of American diplomat, he really was,” she said. “First, he was interested in being here. He brought a lot of energy and he spoke Arabic, and reached out to people and tried to build relationships for the U.S. In my experience, many U.S. diplomats don’t speak Arabic, or if they do, they don’t try.”

American diplomats, given a presentation on the Israeli settlements by the Palestinians, often responded with exasperation, Ms. Buttu said, complaining that the Palestinians “didn’t understand how much we do for you behind the scenes with the Israelis.” But Mr. Stevens was different, she said. “He would say, ‘Tell me more. Tell me more of what America can do to help and why.’ ”

Harvey Morris, as a correspondent for The Financial Times, also knew Mr. Stevens then. For him, Mr. Stevens was both of a new generation and yet “very much in the tradition of old-school Americans who went to the region, that missionary generation that founded the American University of Beirut, long before any suggestion of U.S. neocolonialism.”

Mr. Stevens was not above diplomatic gossip, said Mr. Morris, who now blogs for The International Herald Tribune. Recounting the private meeting of Cécilia Sarkozy, then the wife of the French president, with Colonel Qaddafi in 2007 to try to secure the release of some jailed Bulgarian nurses, Mr. Stevens noted that the Libyan leader had opened his robes and was naked underneath.

Another friend in Jerusalem, Noga Tarnopolsky, a journalist, remembers Mr. Stevens as “the ideal of what you want when you meet a diplomat; he was a complete anomaly,” she said. “Wherever he was living, he was able to let go of everything else and live that place completely.”

But she said he was deeply frustrated with security regulations that confined his activities. “He wanted that human contact, he wanted to be able to speak to Palestinians on the street, and he couldn’t because security regulations made him always travel in armored vehicles,” she said. “He used to talk about how he felt this was an obstacle to his ability to really be who he wanted to be.”

At the same time, she said, “those security measures might have saved his life in a very different context,” and now there creeps in a thought, she said, that perhaps he was too trusting.

As a diplomat, Mr. Stevens also got very high marks from his superiors.

“We were in Damascus together, and I remember running into him Friday in the souk, sipping tea, talking to merchants,” said his boss, Elizabeth Dibble, the principal deputy assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. “He went out and explored Syria. Many of us in a tough place stick together, but he had Syrian friends and international friends wherever he went.”

Mr. Stevens, having served already in Colonel Qaddafi’s Libya, was the perfect choice as the first ambassador to a new Libya, she said, especially after having spent six months in Benghazi during the war working to help the rebel National Transitional Council. He had gone to Benghazi by boat, with one other diplomat, two security officers and a couple of armored cars. “For him it wasn’t just the sense of adventure,” Ms. Dibble said. “It was not something every Foreign Service officer would be willing to do.”

He also had the diplomat’s requisite patience. “It takes a lot of tea,” Ms. Dibble said. “You don’t rush into talking points, you develop a relationship and a personal connection, and a series of connections becomes a network. Many Americans, we start at A and work down the list to F. But A to B is not a straight line, and Chris had an instinctive feel for this, how to get things done.”

The French writer and activist Bernard-Henri Lévy, who made early contact with the rebels in Benghazi and helped persuade the French to intervene, knew Mr. Stevens then, and related a meeting Mr. Stevens had in April 2011 with Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the chairman of the council. “I was struck by the mix of human warmth and professional diplomacy,” Mr. Lévy said, and “by his great capacity to listen and his strategy to speak last.”

David Welch, a retired senior State Department official, knew Mr. Stevens from a first posting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 1992 and helped promote him. “He was one of the best of his generation,” Mr. Welch said.

Helena Kane Finn, who was a senior diplomat at the American Embassy in Israel, remembers her encounters with Mr. Stevens with fondness and respect. “He was able to keep his balance and remain open-minded,” she said. “And he had sheer courage. It takes a lot of guts to go into Libya and do what he did. It’s not just dinners and cocktail parties. It’s people like him who really count.”

Martin Indyk was Mr. Stevens’s boss in Washington in the late 1990s, when Mr. Stevens was running the Iran desk in an earlier effort to re-engage with Tehran.

“He wanted to learn Farsi on the side,” Mr. Indyk remembered. “He wanted to be our first diplomat on the ground there, which was a stretch to me, but it was no surprise that he was first on the ground in Libya. Some people enjoy bureaucratic fighting in Washington, but he wanted to be out on the front lines where the fires burn. There aren’t a lot of people like that.”

Roya Hakakian, an Iranian-born writer who met him then, said that “he displayed the quintessential sunny innocence of Americans.”

Late last year, as Mr. Stevens waited for his confirmation hearings, they met in Washington, she wrote in thedailybeast.com. They spoke about the radicalization of the Libyan opposition and her concern that there would inevitably be a lashing out at the United States. She cited the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979 as inevitable, given the revolutionary narrative.

“Chris’s face was unusually flushed as he listened,” Ms. Hakakian wrote. “He was far more hopeful about the future.” He seemed hurt, she said. “Chris had fallen in love with Libya’s revolution. At the end, those very forces whose influence he thought would be curbed had claimed his life.”


Scott Sayare contributed reporting.

    A U.S. Envoy Who Plunged Into Arab Life, NYT, 15.12.2012,






Attack by Fringe Group Highlights

the Problem of Libya’s Militias


September 15, 2012
The New York Times


CAIRO — Ansar al-Sharia, the brigade of rebel fighters that witnesses say led the attack on the United States diplomatic mission in Benghazi, holds that democracy is incompatible with Islam. It has paraded the streets with weapons calling for an Islamic state, and a few months ago its leader boasted publicly that its fighters could flatten a foreign consulate.

But if the group’s ideology may put it on the fringe of Libyan society, its day-to-day presence in society does not. It is just one of many autonomous battalions of heavily armed men formed during and after the uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi who have filled the void in public security left by his fall, resisting calls to disarm by saying that the weak transitional government is not up to the job.

Ansar al-Sharia’s fighters have given conflicting stories about their role in the attack. Said to number fewer than 200, they can usually be found at Al Jala Hospital in Benghazi, where they act as its guards and protectors. And when instead they turned their guns on the United States mission, American security officers and the Libyan authorities did not call for help from any formal military or police force — there is none to speak of — but turned to the leader of another autonomous militia with its own Islamist ties.

“We had to coordinate everything,” said that militia leader, Fawzi Bukatef, recalling the first phone call about the attack that he received from the mission’s security team. The Libyan government, he said, “was absent.”

The organization and firepower used in the assault, which killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, has raised alarm in Washington about the possibility of links to Al Qaeda and a premeditated conspiracy that found a pretext in anger over an American-made video mocking the Prophet Muhammad. But to Libyans, the battle for the mission has underscored how easy it is for a spark like the earlier protest in Cairo to set off such an attack in post-Qaddafi Libya, when major cities are still controlled by a patchwork of independent militias and all keep their weapons at the ready.

The battle over the mission has also became the latest skirmish in a larger struggle unfolding across the region between hard-line and moderate Islamists seeking to determine the fate of the Arab Spring.

The leaders of Libya’s interim government say they hope public dismay at the attack on the mission will be the catalyst they need to finally disarm and control the militias. Mr. Stevens, the United States ambassador, was a widely admired figure for his support during the revolt against Colonel Qaddafi, and in the days after the attack far larger crowds than the one that attacked the mission turned out in both Tripoli and Benghazi to demonstrate their sadness at his death and their support for the United States.

But since the militiamen, who still call themselves “revolutionaries,” remain the power on the streets, there is an open question who will disarm or control them. “The government is required to do so,” said Mr. Bukatef, leader of eastern Libya’s most potent armed force, the February 17 Brigade. “But the government can’t do it without the revolutionaries,” he said, noting that many brigades continued to operate independently even though they now nominally report to the defense minister. “It takes a delicate approach.”

Ansar al-Sharia declined to be interviewed for this article. The brigade in Benghazi, whose name means Supporter of Islamic Law, came together during the fight against Colonel Qaddafi.

Mr. Bukatef said that its numbers had seemed to range from 50 to about 200. He claimed that some of its members were responsible for the assassination during the uprising of the rebel commander Abdul Fattah Younes, in revenge for his previous role as a minister in the Qaddafi government who led a crackdown on Islamists. The transitional government, Mr. Bukatef said, was too weak to confront such a brigade, and so no one has been charged with the crime.

Many more-secular politicians in Libya are suspicious of Mr. Bukatef and his brigade because of their own Islamist reputation. He has been a member of Libya’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and one of his group’s commanders reporting to him is Ismail al-Salabi, who leads a group of Islamist fighters and is the brother of Libya’s most prominent Islamist thinker, Ali al-Salabi. But unlike Ansar al-Sharia, both Mr. Bukatef and the Salabi brothers have emphasized their conviction that Islam requires a democratic, constitutional government.

Ansar al-Sharia, Mr. Bukatef said, was excluded from meetings of a larger eastern Libyan militia alliance that he oversees. “Some of their members were with us at the beginning,” he said, but “we do not believe people who do not believe in the government are entitled to be with us.”

Mr. Bukatef dismissed suggestions by some in the West that Ansar al-Sharia might have ties to Al Qaeda or other international militants. “They’re Libyans. They’re extremists. They are outlaws,” he said, noting that some had served time in Colonel Qaddafi’s jails — a radicalizing experience for many Libyan Islamists.

Witnesses at the scene of the assault on the mission said they saw pickup trucks labeled with the group’s logo, which is well known in Benghazi. Fighters attacking the embassy acknowledged then that they belonged to Ansar al-Sharia, although they said there were other unarmed protesters joining them.

But amid the backlash against the attack — and the news that the beloved United States ambassador was killed — the group’s leaders have tried to distance themselves from the assault, often in muddled or contradictory ways. On the morning after the attack, a spokesman for the group made a statement to local television from the hospital saluting the assault, approvingly recalling a similar mob attack on the Italian consulate in Benghazi six years ago after an Italian minister wore a T-shirt mocking the Prophet Muhammad.

But the spokesman, Hani al-Mansouri, denied that the Ansar al-Sharia brigade had participated as “an independent entity following orders.” He said, “It was doing its work in Jala hospital and other places where it has assigned roles.” And at a news conference on Thursday night, amid growing threats of retaliation against the perpetrators of the attack, Mr. Mansouri denied that any of the group’s fighters had participated, pleading with the news media to accept his denial.

Ansar al-Sharia has never been shy about its beliefs. In June the group led a parade of pickup trucks loaded with weapons through the streets of Benghazi to call for an Islamic government. Local residents were so annoyed by the display that they stopped cars to shout at them, blasted Western rap music forbidden (along with all music) by ultraconservative Islamists, and pelted them with rocks.

Later, after several minor or unsuccessful attacks on Western diplomatic offices and convoys, including a bomb blast in June outside the United States mission, a commander of the group said his brigade would have been more ruthless if it had tried such things. While he disapproved of those attacks, including the June attack, the commander, Mohammed Ali al-Zahawi, told The Washington Post, “If it had been our attack on the U.S. Consulate, we would have flattened it.”

Members of the group have often refused to talk to Western journalists, or, in at least one case, refused to speak with a female journalist. They gave the BBC a statement of their philosophy on paper bearing the symbols of the Koran and a Kalashnikov. “Democracy is a human condition where laws are made by people,” it said. “Only God has the authority to make law and that is why Islam and Sharia are incompatible with democracy.”

The Libyan guards who were outside the United States mission during the assault said the attackers, whoever they were, made their militant ideology clear, charging that any Muslim who defended Americans had effectively disavowed the faith.

“You are an unbeliever! You are shooting at us with the Americans,” the attackers shouted at one wounded Libyan guard, as he later recalled from his hospital bed, with two bullet wounds in his right leg and shrapnel from a grenade in his left. (He spoke anonymously for his safety.) “I am just the gardener,” the guard said he eventually lied to a second wave of fighters, who carried him to the hospital.


Mai Ayyad contributed reporting.

    Attack by Fringe Group Highlights the Problem of Libya’s Militias, NYT, 15.9.2012,






It’s Not About the Video


September 15, 2012
The New York Times


THE greatest mistake to be made right now, with our embassies under assault and crowds chanting anti-American slogans across North Africa and the Middle East, is to believe that what’s happening is a completely genuine popular backlash against a blasphemous anti-Islamic video made right here in the U.S.A.

There is a cringing way to make this mistake, embodied by the apologetic press release that issued from the American embassy in Cairo on Tuesday as the protests outside gathered steam, by the Obama White House’s decision to lean on YouTube to take the offending video down, and by the various voices (including, heaven help us, a tenured Ivy League professor) suggesting that the video’s promoters be arrested for abusing their First Amendment liberties.

But there’s also a condescending way to make the same error, which is to stand up boldly for free speech while treating the mob violence as an expression of foaming-at-the-mouth unreason, with no more connection to practical politics than a buffalo stampede or a summer storm.

There is certainly unreason at work in the streets of Cairo and Benghazi, but something much more calculated is happening as well. The mobs don’t exist because of an offensive movie, and an American ambassador isn’t dead because what appears to be a group of Coptic Christians in California decided to use their meager talents to disparage the Prophet Muhammad.

What we are witnessing, instead, is mostly an exercise in old-fashioned power politics, with a stone-dumb video as a pretext for violence that would have been unleashed on some other excuse.

This has happened many times before, and Westerners should be used to it by now. Anyone in need of a refresher course should consult Salman Rushdie’s memoir, due out this week and excerpted in the latest New Yorker, which offers a harrowing account of what it felt like to live under an ayatollah’s death threat, and watch as other people suffered at the hands of mobs chanting for his head.

What Rushdie understands, and what we should understand as well, is that the crucial issue wasn’t actually how the novelist had treated Islam’s prophet in the pages of “The Satanic Verses.” The real issue, instead, was the desire of Iran’s leaders to keep the flame of their revolution burning after the debacle of the Iran-Iraq War, the desire of Pakistan’s Islamists to test the religious bona fides of their country’s prime minister, and the desire of religious extremists in Britain to cast themselves as spokesmen for the Muslim community as a whole. (In this, some of them succeeded: Rushdie dryly notes that an activist who declared of the novelist that “death, perhaps, is a bit too easy for him” would eventually be knighted “at the recommendation of the Blair government for his services to community relations.”)

Today’s wave of violence, likewise, owes much more to a bloody-minded realpolitik than to the madness of crowds. As The Washington Post’s David Ignatius was among the first to point out, both the Egyptian and Libyan assaults look like premeditated challenges to those countries’ ruling parties by more extreme Islamist factions: Salafist parties in Egypt and pro-Qaeda groups in Libya. (The fact that both attacks were timed to the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks should have been the first clue that this was something other than a spontaneous reaction to an offensive video.)

The choice of American targets wasn’t incidental, obviously. The embassy and consulate attacks were “about us” in the sense that anti-Americanism remains a potent rallying point for popular discontent in the Islamic world. But they weren’t about America’s tolerance for offensive, antireligious speech. Once again, that was the pretext, but not the actual cause.

Just as it was largely pointless, then, for the politicians of 1989 to behave as if an apology from Rushdie himself might make the protests subside (“It’s felt,” he recalls his handlers telling him, “that you should do something to lower the temperature”), it’s similarly pointless to behave as if a more restrictive YouTube policy or a more timely phone call from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the anti-Islam film’s promoters might have saved us from an autumn of unrest.

What we’re watching unfold in the post-Arab Spring Mideast is the kind of struggle for power that frequently takes place in a revolution’s wake: between secular and fundamentalist forces in Benghazi, between the Muslim Brotherhood and its more-Islamist-than-thou rivals in Cairo, with similar forces contending for mastery from Tunisia to Yemen to the Muslim diaspora in Europe.

Navigating this landscape will require less naïveté than the Obama White House has displayed to date, and more finesse than a potential Romney administration seems to promise. But at the very least, it requires an accurate understanding of the crisis’s roots, and a recognition that policing speech won’t make our problems go away.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/DouthatNYT.

    It’s Not About the Video, NYT, 15.9.2012,






Man Linked to Film in Protests Is Questioned


September 15, 2012
The New York Times


LOS ANGELES — One of the men behind the anti-Muslim film trailer on YouTube that has set off violent protests at Western embassies across the Middle East was taken in for questioning by federal probation officers early Saturday morning, law enforcement officials said.

The man, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, was questioned at the Los Angeles County sheriff’s station in Cerritos, where he lives, about 20 miles south of Los Angeles. He was not placed under arrest, the authorities said.

“He was never in handcuffs,” said Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County sheriff. “He was never arrested. This is all voluntary.”

Federal court officials did not immediately respond to calls on Saturday.

But earlier in the week, federal officials appeared to be investigating whether Mr. Nakoula had been the person who uploaded the video to YouTube. If so, he would have violated the terms of his sentencing in a conviction in a 2010 check-kiting case, which includes restrictions against his using the Internet without permission from a probation officer.

The incendiary, amateurish video — a 14-minute trailer for a supposed full-length feature called “The Innocence of Muslims” — depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a buffoon, a womanizer and a child molester. It was first uploaded to YouTube in June, and translated into Arabic and uploaded several more times in the week leading up to the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks.

The video helped set off protests last week, first on Tuesday at the United States Embassy in Egypt and then at a diplomatic mission in Libya, where the American ambassador and three other people were killed, and then at Western embassies and consulates throughout the Middle East.

After days of unrest and anti-American protests across the Muslim world, there was a respite on Saturday with a fragile calm returning to the region, but often under an intense show of force from the police or military.

Since the protests, Mr. Nakoula had remained inside his house, while a news media encampment kept 24-hour watch outside his front door.

When he finally emerged with sheriff’s deputies on Saturday morning, Mr. Whitmore, the sheriff’s spokesman, said, he wore a hat and jacket, and had wrapped a white shawl around his face.

After the interview, Mr. Whitmore said that sheriff’s deputies dropped Mr. Nakoula off at his car, and that he was no longer at his house.

Mr. Nakoula, the former owner of a gas station near his home, apparently used a series of pseudonyms while making and discussing the film, even when dealing with some of the actors, who believed they were making a film called “Desert Warriors.”

One actress said she had no idea that Muhammad was even a character in the film, which was produced in 2011 in the remote hills of Los Angeles County.

In June 2010, Mr. Nakoula was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison for orchestrating a check-kiting scheme against a Wells Fargo Bank, though he served only about a year, court records show. He was also ordered to pay restitution of $794,700.

As part of the bank fraud scheme, prosecutors also claimed that Mr. Nakoula possessed at least 15 credit and debit cards in the names of other people, along with at least five identification documents that were not issued lawfully.


Charlie Savage contributed reporting from Washington.

    Man Linked to Film in Protests Is Questioned, NYT, 15.9.2012,






Anti-American Protests Flare Beyond the Mideast


September 14, 2012
The New York Times


Anti-American rage that began this week over a video insult to Islam spread to nearly 20 countries across the Middle East and beyond on Friday, with violent and sometimes deadly protests that convulsed the birthplaces of the Arab Spring revolutions, breached two more United States Embassies and targeted diplomatic properties of Germany and Britain.

The broadening of the protests appeared to reflect a pent-up resentment of Western powers in general, and defied pleas for restraint from world leaders, including the new Islamist president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, whose country was the instigator of the demonstrations that erupted three days earlier on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The anger stretched from North Africa to South Asia and Indonesia and in some cases was surprisingly destructive. In Tunis, an American-run school that was untouched during the revolution nearly two years ago was completely ransacked. In eastern Afghanistan, protesters burned an effigy of President Obama, who had made an outreach to Muslims a thematic pillar of his first year in office.

The State Department confirmed that protesters had penetrated the perimeters of the American Embassies in the Tunisian and Sudanese capitals, and said that 65 embassies or consulates around the world had issued emergency messages about threats of violence, and that those facilities in Islamic countries were curtailing diplomatic activity. The Pentagon said it sent Marines to protect embassies in Yemen and Sudan.

The wave of unrest not only increased concern in the West but raised new questions about political instability in Egypt, Tunisia and other Middle East countries where newfound freedoms, once suppressed by autocratic leaders, have given way to an absence of authority. The protests also seemed to highlight the unintended consequences of America’s support of movements to overthrow those autocrats, which have empowered Islamist groups that remain implacably hostile to the West.

“We have, throughout the Arab world, a young, unemployed, alienated and radicalized group of people, mainly men, who have found a vehicle to express themselves,” Rob Malley, the Middle East-North African program director for the International Crisis Group, a consulting firm, said in a telephone interview from Tripoli, Libya.

In a number of these countries, particularly Egypt and Tunisia, he said, “the state has lost a lot of its capacity to govern effectively. Paradoxically, that has made it more likely that events like the video will make people take to the streets and act in the way they did.”

Some of the most serious violence targeted the compound housing the German and British Embassies in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, causing minor damage to the British property but major fire damage to the German one. The foreign ministers of both countries strongly protested the assault, which The Associated Press said had been instigated by a prominent sheik exhorting protesters to storm the German Embassy to avenge what he called anti-Muslim graffiti on Berlin mosques.

The police fired tear gas to repulse attacks in Khartoum, where about 5,000 demonstrators had massed, news reports said, before they moved on to the United States Embassy on the outskirts of the capital.

In Tunis, the United States Embassy was assaulted at midday by protesters who smashed windows and set fires before security forces routed them in violent clashes that left at least 3 dead and 28 hurt. Witnesses and officials said no Americans were hurt and most had left earlier.

The worst damage was inflicted on the American Cooperative School of Tunis, a highly regarded institution that, despite its name, catered mostly to the children of non-American expatriates, nearly half of whom work for the African Development Bank. School officials, who had sent the 650 students home early, said a few protesters scaled the fence and dismantled monitoring cameras, followed by 300 to 400 others, some of them local residents, who looted everything including 700 laptop computers, musical instruments and the safe in the director’s office, and then set the building on fire.

“It’s ransacked,” the director, Allan Bredy, said in a telephone interview. “We were thinking it was something the Tunisia government would keep under control. We had no idea they would allow things to go as wildly as they did.”

The school’s director of security, David Santiago, said a group of staff members formed a posse armed with baseball bats to chase lingering looters away hours after the assault. “Our elementary school library is burning as we speak,” he said angrily as he and his colleagues sought to assess the damage. “It’s complete chaos.”

Thousands of Palestinians joined demonstrations after Friday Prayer in the Gaza Strip. Since there is no American diplomatic representation in Gaza, the main gathering took place in Gaza City, outside the Parliament building, where American and Israeli flags were placed on the ground for the crowds to stomp. Palestinians also clashed with Israeli security forces in Jerusalem and held protests in the West Bank.

Witnesses in Cairo said protests that first flared Tuesday grew in scope on Friday, with demonstrators throwing rocks and gasoline bombs near the American Embassy and the police firing tear gas. The Egyptian news media said more than 220 people had been injured in clashes so far.

In the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, where J. Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador, and three other Americans were killed Tuesday, militias fired rockets at what they thought were American drones overhead, prompting the government to temporarily close the airport as a precaution. The bodies of Mr. Stevens and the others killed in the Libya attack were returned to the United States on Friday.

In Lebanon, where Pope Benedict XVI was visiting, one person was killed and 25 were injured as protesters attacked restaurants. There was also turmoil in Yemen, Bangladesh, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, India, Pakistan and Iraq, and demonstrations in Malaysia. In Nigeria, troops fired into the air to disperse protesters marching on the city of Jos, Reuters reported. In Syria, about 200 protesters chanted anti-American slogans outside the long-closed American Embassy in Damascus, news reports said.

In the Egyptian Sinai, a group of Bedouins stormed an international peacekeepers’ camp and set fire to an observation tower, according to Al Ahram Online, a state-owned, English-language Web site. Three people, two Colombians and one Egyptian, were injured in the ensuing clashes.

In Yemen, baton-wielding security forces backed by water cannons blocked streets near the American Embassy a day after protesters breached the outer security perimeter there, and officials said two people were killed in clashes with the police. Still, a group of several dozen protesters gathered near the diplomatic post, carrying placards and shouting slogans.

In Iraq, where the heavily fortified American Embassy sits on the banks of the Tigris River inside Baghdad’s Green Zone and is out of reach to most Iraqis, thousands protested after Friday Prayer in Sunni and Shiite cities alike.

Raising banners with Islamic slogans and denouncing the United States and Israel, Iraqis called for the expulsion of American diplomats from the country and demanded that the American government apologize for the incendiary film and take legal action against its creators.

In Egypt, in particular, leaders scrambled to repair deep strains with Washington provoked by their initial response to attacks on the American Embassy on Tuesday, tacitly acknowledging that they erred in their response by focusing far more on anti-American domestic opinion than on condemning the violence.

The attacks squeezed Mr. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood between conflicting pressures from Washington and their Islamic constituency at home, a senior Brotherhood official acknowledged. During a 20-minute phone call Wednesday night, Mr. Obama warned Mr. Morsi that relations would be jeopardized if the authorities in Cairo failed to protect American diplomats and stand more firmly against anti-American attacks.

On Friday, Mr. Morsi, on a scheduled state visit to Rome, called attacks on foreign embassies “absolutely unacceptable.”


Reporting was contributed by David D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo;

Alan Cowell from London; Monica Marks from Tunis;

Nasser Arrabyee from Sana, Yemen; Tim Arango from Baghdad;

Nicholas Kulish from Berlin; Steven Lee Myers from Washington;

Alissa J. Rubin from Kabul, Afghanistan; Kareem Fahim from Beirut, Lebanon;

Fares Akram from Gaza; Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem;

and Christine Hauser from New York.

    Anti-American Protests Flare Beyond the Mideast, NYT, 14.9.2012,







Diplomats’ Bodies Return to U.S.,

and Libyan Guards Recount Deadly Riot


September 14, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — As four flag-draped coffins bearing the bodies of the Americans killed in Libya arrived in the United States on Friday, new details emerged of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens’s final hours, alone, locked in a smoke-filled room in a diplomatic mission under siege.

In a solemn ceremony at Joint Base Andrews outside the capital, President Obama said the victims “laid down their lives for us all” and vowed to honor their memory by never retreating from the world.

The arrival, broadcast live on news channels, proved an emotional culmination to an episode that has rocked Washington and American embassies around the world, even as details of those final fateful moments only now began to come clear. When the attack on the diplomatic compound occurred, officials said, Ambassador Stevens was separated from his security detail — and was located only later, at the hospital in Benghazi, where he had been pronounced dead.

Officials in Washington said they were investigating that blacked-out period, but as they conduct that inquiry, witnesses have emerged who said that Mr. Stevens had fled to a room in the diplomatic compound, hoping to find safety behind a locked iron gate and wooden door. But fires raged around the mission, and Mr. Stevens, unable to escape the smoke and heat, died of asphyxiation.

Witnesses say he was eventually discovered by people who rushed to see what was happening at the mission. They broke a window, spotted Mr. Stevens, who might or might not have been unconscious at the time, and removed him from the room.

According to guards at the compound, the attack began at about 9:30 p.m., without advance warning or any peaceful protest. “I started hearing, ‘God is great! God is great!’ ” one guard said. “I thought to myself, maybe it is a passing funeral.” (All the guards spoke on the condition of anonymity for their safety.)

“Attack, attack,” the guard said he heard an American calling over his walkie-talkie as the chants came closer. Suddenly there came a barrage of gunfire, explosions and rocket-propelled grenades.

“I saw the ambassador’s personal bodyguard — the one who was killed — running toward the villa where the ambassador was,” he said. Armed only with a light weapon, the bodyguard “was running there to protect him.”

Another Libyan guard said he saw Mr. Stevens escorted to the office in a wing off the main mission building, the room with an iron gate behind a wooden door. Three hours later, about 12:30 a.m., witnesses said that a crowd — possibly looters — broke through a tall and narrow window and found Mr. Stevens.

The compound’s landlord, Jamal al-Bishari, said that while watching from nearby he saw some people climb through the broken window and emerge soon after, carrying Mr. Stevens.

The wing where Mr. Stevens had sought refuge contained at least three rooms and two bathrooms, and aside from the extensive smoke damage it appeared on Friday to be largely undamaged.

Very shortly after Mr. Stevens was seen carried out of the window, he arrived at Benghazi’s main hospital, brought by a group of Libyan civilians, according to Ziad Abu Zeid, a doctor there. In a separate interview he said that the civilians did not seem to know that the American they were helping was the ambassador, a well-known and popular figure locally but now covered in dark soot. Dr. Abu Zaid said that Mr. Stevens was dressed and did not suffer any trauma, aside from the smoke inhalation. Because of the soot covering his face, the doctor said, he also initially failed to recognize Mr. Stevens. He said he eventually did so from photographs posted by admiring residents on Facebook.

The doctor said he tried for at least 45 minutes to resuscitate Mr. Stevens. He said he believed that officers from the Libyan Interior Ministry transported the body to the airport and into United States custody.

State Department officials have said they do not know Mr. Stevens’s whereabouts during the battle, who took him to the hospital or who carried his body to the airport and into United States custody.

“We don’t know what happened with Chris Stevens,” Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, said Thursday. “We also had, we believe, acts of mercy and generosity later at the hospital in Benghazi. We very, very much appreciate this.”

American officials were also still trying to get more clarity on the arrests of four men said to be involved in the attacks. But as they continue sorting through intelligence, they have disputed suggestions floated in Washington and abroad that the attack in Benghazi was premeditated.

“We have no indication that that’s the case,” an administration official said. The current information available to the White House suggests that the protests in Benghazi were spontaneous and spurred by the Cairo protests but evolved over time as Islamic extremists took advantage of the situation, called in reinforcements and weaponry and mounted an attack.

When Mr. Stevens’s coffin arrived at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington on Friday, along with those of the three other Americans killed in the attack, President Obama said: “Four Americans, four patriots — they loved this country, and they chose to serve it and served it well. They had a mission, and they believed in it. They knew the danger, and they accepted it. They didn’t simply embrace the American ideal; they lived it, they embodied it.”

Mr. Obama called Mr. Stevens “everything America could want in an ambassador.”

Of the three others killed in the attack, he said Sean Smith, a Foreign Service officer and an Air Force veteran, had “lived to serve.” Tyrone S. Woods, a former member of the Navy SEALs providing diplomatic security, was “the consummate quiet professional.” And Glen A. Doherty, also a former member of the SEALs providing security, “never shied from adventure.”

“Even in our grief we will be resolute, for we are Americans,” Mr. Obama said. “And we hold our head high, knowing that because of these patriots, because of you, this country that we love will always shine as a light unto the world.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who looked stricken and seemed to be fighting her emotions, echoed those sentiments. “We will wipe away our tears, stiffen our spines and face the future undaunted,” she said. All four worked for her, and she spoke slowly and with evident grief. She knew Mr. Stevens personally, she said, praising his “goofy but contagious” smile, his “California cool” and, mostly, his dedication and courage.

“What a wonderful gift you gave us,” she told his family. “Over his distinguished career in the Foreign Service, Chris won friends for the United States in far-flung places. He made those people’s hopes his own. During the revolution in Libya, he risked his life to help protect the Libyan people from a tyrant, and he gave his life helping them build a better country.”

Her voice grew stronger again as she called on leaders in the Middle East to fulfill their obligations to protect diplomatic posts. “The people of Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia did not trade the tyranny of a dictator for the tyranny of a mob,” she said. “Reasonable people and responsible leaders in these countries need to do everything they can to restore security and hold accountable those behind these violent acts.”


Peter Baker reported from Washington,

David D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo and Suliman Ali Zway from Benghazi, Libya.

Steven Lee Myers contributed reporting.

    Diplomats’ Bodies Return to U.S., and Libyan Guards Recount Deadly Riot, NYT, 14.9.2012,






As Violence Spreads in Arab World,

Google Blocks Access to Inflammatory Video


September 13, 2012
The New York Times


SAN FRANCISCO — As violence spread in the Arab world over a video on YouTube ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad, Google, the owner of YouTube, blocked access to it in two of the countries in turmoil, Egypt and Libya, but did not remove the video from its Web site.

Google said it decided to block the video in response to violence that killed four American diplomatic personnel in Libya. The company said its decision was unusual, made because of the exceptional circumstances. Its policy is to remove content only if it is hate speech, violating its terms of service, or if it is responding to valid court orders or government requests. And it said it had determined that under its own guidelines, the video was not hate speech.

Millions of people across the Muslim world, though, viewed the video as one of the most inflammatory pieces of content to circulate on the Internet. From Afghanistan to Libya, the authorities have been scrambling to contain an outpouring of popular outrage over the video and calling on the United States to take measures against its producers.

Google’s action raises fundamental questions about the control that Internet companies have over online expression. Should the companies themselves decide what standards govern what is seen on the Internet? How consistently should these policies be applied?

“Google is the world’s gatekeeper for information so if Google wants to define the First Amendment to exclude this sort of material then there’s not a lot the rest of the world can do about it,” said Peter Spiro, a constitutional and international law professor at Temple University in Philadelphia. “It makes this episode an even more significant one if Google broadens the block.”

He added, though, that “provisionally,” he thought Google made the right call. “Anything that helps calm the situation, I think is for the better.”

Under YouTube’s terms of service, hate speech is speech against individuals, not against groups. Because the video mocks Islam but not Muslim people, it has been allowed to stay on the site in most of the world, the company said Thursday.

“This video — which is widely available on the Web — is clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube,” it said. “However, given the very difficult situation in Libya and Egypt we have temporarily restricted access in both countries.”

Though the video is still visible in other Arab countries where violence has flared, YouTube is closely monitoring the situation, according to a person briefed on YouTube’s decision-making who was not authorized to speak publicly. The Afghan government has asked YouTube to remove the video, and some Google services were blocked there Thursday.

Google is walking a precarious line, said Kevin Bankston, director of the free expression project at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a nonprofit in Washington that advocates for digital civil liberties.

On the one hand, he said, blocking the video “sends the message that if you violently object to speech you disagree with, you can get it censored.” At the same time, he said, “the decision to block in those two countries specifically is kind of hard to second guess, considering the severity of the violence in those two areas.”

“It seems they’re trying to balance the concern about censorship with the threat of actual violence in Egypt and Libya,” he added. “It’s a difficult calculation to make and highlights the difficult positions that content platforms are sometimes put in.”

All Web companies that allow people to post content online — Facebook and Twitter as well as Google — have grappled with issues involving content. The questions are complicated by the fact that the Internet has no geographical boundaries, so companies must navigate a morass of laws and cultural mores. Web companies receive dozens of requests a month to remove content. Google alone received more than 1,965 requests from government agencies last year to remove at least 20,311 pieces of content, it said.

These included a request from a Canadian government office to remove a video of a Canadian citizen urinating on his passport and flushing it down the toilet, and a request from a Pakistan government office to remove six videos satirizing Pakistani officials. In both cases, Google refused to remove the videos.

But it did block access in Turkey to videos that exposed private details about public officials because, in response to Turkish government and court requests, it determined that they violated local laws.

Similarly, in India it blocked local access to some videos of protests and those that used offensive language against religious leaders because it determined that they violated local laws prohibiting speech that could incite enmity between communities.

Requests for content removal from United States governments and courts doubled over the course of last year to 279 requests to remove 6,949 items, according to Google. Members of Congress have publicly requested that YouTube take down jihadist videos they say incite terrorism, and in some cases YouTube has agreed.

Google has continually fallen back on its guidelines to remove only content that breaks laws or its terms of service, at the request of users, governments or courts, which is why blocking the anti-Islam video was exceptional.

Some wonder what precedent this might set, especially for government authorities keen to stanch expression they think will inflame their populace.

“It depends on whether this is the beginning of a trend or an extremely exceptional response to an extremely exceptional situation,” said Rebecca MacKinnon, co-founder of Global Voices, a network of bloggers worldwide, and author of “Consent of the Networked,” a book that addresses free speech in the digital age.


Somini Sengupta contributed reporting.

    As Violence Spreads in Arab World, Google Blocks Access to Inflammatory Video, NYT, 13.9.2012,






‘Our Condolences,’ the Muslim Brotherhood Says


September 13, 2012
The New York Times

To the Editor:

Today’s world is a global village; nations are closer than ever before. In such a world, respect for values and figures — religious or otherwise — that nations hold dear is a necessary requirement to build sustainable, mutually beneficial relationships.

Despite our resentment of the continued appearance of productions like the anti-Muslim film that led to the current violence, we do not hold the American government or its citizens responsible for acts of the few that abuse the laws protecting freedom of expression.

In a new democratic Egypt, Egyptians earned the right to voice their anger over such issues, and they expect their government to uphold and protect their right to do so. However, they should do so peacefully and within the bounds of the law.

The breach of the United States Embassy premises by Egyptian protesters is illegal under international law. The failure of the protecting police force has to be investigated.

We are relieved that no embassy staff in Cairo were harmed. Egypt is going through a state of revolutionary fluidity, and public anger needs to be dealt with responsibly and with caution. Our condolences to the American people for the loss of their ambassador and three members of the embassy staff in Libya.

We hope that the relationships that both Americans and Egyptians worked to build in the past couple of months can sustain the turbulence of this week’s events. Our nations have much to learn from each other as we embark on building the new Egypt.


Deputy President, Muslim Brotherhood
Cairo, Sept. 13, 2012

    ‘Our Condolences,’ the Muslim Brotherhood Says, NYT, 13.9.2012,






Egypt May Be Bigger Concern Than Libya for White House


September 13, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — For all the harrowing images of the deadly attack on the American mission in Benghazi, the Obama administration is grappling with the possibility that its far bigger long-term problem lies in Egypt, not Libya.

Hours before the attacks in Benghazi on Tuesday, the American Embassy in Cairo came under siege from protesters. While the violence there did not result in any American deaths, the tepid response from the Egyptian government to the assault gave officials in Washington — already troubled by the direction of President Mohamed Morsi’s new Islamist government — further cause for concern.

President Obama telephoned Mr. Morsi and the president of Libya’s National Assembly, the White House said early on Thursday, in calls that seemed different in tone, suggesting dissatisfaction with Cairo’s response as opposed to Tripoli’s.

To Mohammed Magarief, the leader of Libya’s National Assembly, Mr. Obama “expressed appreciation for the cooperation we have received from the Libyan government and people in responding to this outrageous attack,” the White House said in a statement.

To Mr. Morsi, there was no mention of appreciation. Instead, the White House said in a separate but parallel statement that Mr. Obama “underscored the importance of Egypt following through on its commitment to cooperate with the United States in securing U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel.”

President Obama, speaking in the Rose Garden on Wednesday, pointedly noted that Libyan authorities had tried to help the American effort to protect diplomats in Benghazi. “This attack will not break the bonds between the United States and Libya,” Mr. Obama said. The Libyans “helped some of our diplomats find safety, and they carried Ambassador Stevens’s body to the hospital, where we tragically learned he had died,” he added, referring to the envoy J. Christopher Stevens.

The president found less reason to be pleased with Egypt, historically the second-largest recipient of American foreign aid after Israel, at $2 billion a year. Mr. Morsi issued only a mild rebuke of the rioters — and on Facebook — while his movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, has called for a second day of protests against the lurid anti-Muslim video that set off the riots. And though the Egyptian police coordinated with American officials, Mr. Morsi waited 24 hours before issuing his statement against the militants who stormed the embassy; Libyan authorities issued immediate, unequivocal statements of regret for the bloodshed in Benghazi.

On Thursday, Mr. Morsi said in a televised statement that while he supported peaceful protests, it was wrong to attack people or embassies, Reuters reported. “Expressing opinion, freedom to protest and announcing positions is guaranteed but without assaulting private or public property, diplomatic missions or embassies,” he said. Reuters also said that he condemned the ambassador’s killing.

Mr. Obama seemed to indicate that the American relationship with Egypt is evolving. “I don’t think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy,” he said in an interview with Telemundo that was broadcast Wednesday night on The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC. “I think it’s still a work in progress, but certainly in this situation, what we’re going to expect is that they are responsive to our insistence that our embassy is protected, our personnel is protected.”

For the United States, “politically the bigger issue is Egypt,” said Martin S. Indyk, a former United States ambassador to Israel. “On the one hand, you didn’t have Americans getting killed, but this was the fourth time an embassy was assaulted in Cairo with the Egyptian police doing precious little,” Mr. Indyk said. “And where was President Morsi’s condemnation of this?”

Several foreign policy experts said they worried that Mr. Morsi was putting appeasement of his country’s Islamist population ahead of national security. That comes on top of other moves by his government, including restrictions on press freedom and squabbling with Israel over how to crack down on terrorists taking root in the Sinai Peninsula.

While the killing of Mr. Stevens is a “tragedy,” said Robert Malley, Middle East and North Africa program director at the International Crisis Group, “in the longer term, Libya mainly is a problem for Libyans.” What happens in Egypt, by contrast, from “popular attitudes toward the U.S., to its domestic economy, to relations between the Muslim Brotherhood and the army, to relations between Cairo and Jerusalem, to the situation in Sinai, will profoundly affect the region, and so will profoundly affect America’s posture in the region,” he said.

What makes Egypt’s uncertain course so vexing for the White House is that Mr. Obama, more than any other foreign leader, has sided again and again with the Arab street in Cairo, even when it meant going expressly against the wishes of traditional allies, including the Egyptian military, the Persian Gulf states and Israel.

As recently as June, Mr. Obama was calling on the Egyptian military to quickly hand over power to the democratically elected civilian government — a move that helped Mr. Morsi, whose movement has called for greater use of Islamic law, assume power. At the same time, the administration was chastising the military, which has for 30 years served as the bulwark of a crucial American strategic interest in the Middle East: the 1979 Camp David peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

For anti-American unrest to erupt in Egypt after all that could reflect a deeper divergence of a once-staunch ally from the United States. Mr. Morsi’s belated reaction came after other actions that have troubled American officials, from his decision to attend a meeting of nonaligned countries in Tehran to his choice of China for one of his first overseas trips. Mr. Obama has pledged to forgive $1 billion in Egyptian debt.

“How does the president go to the Hill and say, ‘We need to forgive $1 billion in Egyptian debt?’ “ said Steven A. Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The complication is that this is happening six weeks before the election. The things that the administration wants to do in Egypt have become a heavier lift.”

David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said: “There are some real serious questions about the direction of the Egyptian government. Some of this will be submerged because of the election, but it is likely to come back later.”

The violence in Libya and Egypt reinforces what has been true from the start of the Arab uprisings last year: These are homegrown popular movements over which the United States has at best limited influence.

The odds of success may be greater in Libya, some analysts said, since that country’s problems are rooted in a lack of effective governance and security problems with a heavily armed populace, rather than in a newly empowered movement with a long history of suspicion of the United States.

The killing of Mr. Stevens sets back American efforts to help Libya with its transition, officials said, but only because he was such a tireless figure in this work.

“Libya’s public is quite pro-American, so it might produce a backlash against those responsible,” said Dennis B. Ross, a former senior adviser on the Middle East in the White House.

In Egypt, by contrast, Mr. Ross said: “Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood continue to live according to their own reality. If they want to attract any amount of economic support and investment from the outside, they’re going to have to create an environment of security.”


Peter Baker contributed reporting from Washington, and Richard Berry from Paris.



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: September 15, 2012

An article on Thursday about diplomatic repercussions from attacks on the embassy in Egypt and the mission in Libya referred imprecisely to Egypt’s ranking among recipients of American foreign aid. While Egypt has usually ranked second, behind Israel, since the Camp David Accords in 1978, in recent years military assistance, reconstruction and other spending relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have moved those countries along with Pakistan into the top five recipients. Counting this war-related spending as foreign aid, Egypt now ranks fifth, not second.

    Egypt May Be Bigger Concern Than Libya for White House, NYT, 13.9.2012,






In Libya,

Chaos Was Followed by Organized Ambush,

Official Says


September 13, 2012
The New York Times


BENGHAZI, Libya — The mayhem here that killed four United States diplomatic personnel, including the ambassador, was actually two attacks — the first one spontaneous and the second highly organized and possibly aided by anti-American infiltrators of Libya’s young government, a top Libyan security official said Thursday.

The account by the official, Wanis el-Sharif, given to a few reporters here, was the most detailed yet of the chaotic events on Tuesday in this eastern Libyan city that killed J. Christopher Stevens, the first United States ambassador to be killed on duty in more than 30 years.

The deaths occurred amid a wave of anti-American protests convulsing the Middle East, inspired by an inflammatory anti-Islamic video, “The Innocence of Muslims,” that has spread on the Internet in recent days since it was publicized in Egypt. Protests expanded on Thursday to at least a half-dozen other countries, including Iran.

Mr. Sharif, a deputy interior minister, said Mr. Stevens and a second American diplomat, Sean Smith, were killed in the initial attack, which began as a disorganized but angry demonstration by civilians and militants outside the American Consulate on Tuesday, the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The protest escalated into an assault by as many as 200 people, some armed with grenades, who set the building on fire.

The second wave, Mr. Sharif said, was hours later, when the consulate staff was being spirited to a safe house a mile away. At that point, a team of Libyan security officials was evacuating them in a convoy guarded by Marines and Libyan security officials who had been flown from Tripoli to retrieve them.

Mr. Sharif said the second attack was a premeditated ambush on the convoy by assailants who were armed with rocket-propelled grenades and apparently knew the route the vehicles were taking. The other two Americans — identified on Thursday as Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty, both former members of the Navy SEALs — were killed in that assault. At least 12 Americans and 18 Libyan security officials were wounded, Mr. Sharif said.

“The first part was chaotic and disorganized. The second part was organized and planned,” he said. The ambushers in the second assault, he said, apparently “had infiltrators who were feeding them the information.”

Parts of Mr. Sharif’s account were not consistent with what other Libyan witnesses have said, and his version has not been corroborated by American officials, who have said it remains unclear how and where Mr. Stevens was killed. Many Libyans considered Mr. Stevens a hero for his support of their uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

Two Libyans who were wounded while guarding the consulate said that, contrary to Mr. Sharif’s account, there was no indication within the consulate grounds that a mass protest, including members of armed groups, had been brewing outside. The guards spoke on condition of anonymity for their personal safety, and one of them said he realized the dangers only about 9:30 p.m., when protesters crashed through the gate and “started shooting and throwing grenades.” The other guard said that he had been drinking coffee inside the compound just before the attack, and that it was so quiet “there was not even a single ant.”

Mr. Sharif spoke as Libyan officials said at least four people were in custody. The Obama administration, which has vowed to bring the killers to justice, has sent 50 Marines and two warships to Libya, and the F.B.I. has joined the investigation. But it remains unclear precisely what American military firepower can do. If the attackers were not part of a larger international plot, there are no obvious targets for American retaliation.

“These are not the kind of guys with training camps and caravans to hit,” said Michael W. S. Ryan, an expert on Islamic militants at the Jamestown Foundation, a research group in Washington.

The worst of the video-inspired violence on Thursday was in Yemen, where at least five Yemenis were killed as hundreds of protesters stormed the American Embassy in Sana and were repulsed by Yemeni security forces. The embassy’s staff, sensitive to the danger, had been safely evacuated hours before, and Yemeni leaders apologized to President Obama for the mayhem.

The attackers set cars on fire and plundered offices of their equipment, including computers. They also burned an American flag and hoisted their own standard proclaiming fealty to Islam. By nightfall, witnesses said, smoke was still rising from the embassy compound in the eastern part of the capital as a protest raged 400 yards away.

In Egypt, where the anti-American anger began on Tuesday, protesters scuffled with police officers who were firing tear gas, and news agencies reported that as many as 200 people might have been hurt. Demonstrations were also reported outside United States diplomatic missions in Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia — where the police fired tear gas to disperse the crowds — and an anti-American protest was held in Gaza.

In Iran, where nearly all large protests must get government approval, witnesses and news reports said 500 people screaming “Death to America!” converged at the Swiss Embassy, which handles American diplomatic interests, and were restrained by hundreds of police officers.

The authorities in Afghanistan, where deadly violence has repeatedly flared over perceived insults to Islam, scrambled to keep the video, which portrays the Prophet Muhammad as a perverted buffoon, from being seen. Afghanistan officials said they pressed to indefinitely suspend access to YouTube, where the video, promoted by a shadowy assortment of right-wing Christians in the United States, had been viewed more than 1.6 million times by Thursday.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Mr. Woods and Mr. Doherty — the two victims identified on Thursday — had served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan before going to work as contract security officers for the American diplomatic mission in Libya. Mr. Woods, she said in a statement on Thursday night, was married and had three sons and was a registered nurse and a certified paramedic.

He and Mr. Doherty died “helping protect their colleagues,” she said.

Mrs. Clinton also delivered a strongly worded denunciation of the video in what her spokeswoman later said was an effort to quash the belief in some parts of the Arab world that the United States government had somehow sponsored or condoned it.

“To us, to me personally, this video is disgusting and reprehensible,” Mrs. Clinton said at a briefing with Morocco’s foreign minister. “It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose: to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage.”

The killings in Libya led to a major political flare-up in the United States on Wednesday, when Mr. Obama’s Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, issued a harsh critique of the president’s handling of the protests and accused him of apologizing for the United States. The administration rejected the accusation, and even some Republicans distanced themselves from Mr. Romney’s criticism as inappropriate under the circumstances.

The Yemen protests came hours after a Muslim cleric, Abdul Majid al-Zindani, urged followers to emulate the protests in Libya and Egypt, residents in Sana said. Mr. Zindani, a onetime mentor to Osama bin Laden, was named a “specially designated global terrorist” by the Treasury Department in 2004.

The crowd in Sana gathered a day after the embassy warned Americans in a posting on its Web site that “in the wake of recent events in Libya and Egypt, there is the possibility of protests in Yemen, and specifically in the vicinity of the U.S. Embassy, in the coming days.”


Suliman Ali Zway reported from Benghazi, Libya, and Rick Gladstone from New York.

Reporting was contributed by Nasser Arrabyee from Sana, Yemen;

Alan Cowell from London; Ramtin Rastin from Tehran; David D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo;

Kareem Fahim from Beirut, Lebanon;

and Steven Lee Myers, Scott Shane and Michael S. Schmidt from Washington.

    In Libya, Chaos Was Followed by Organized Ambush, Official Says, NYT, 13.9.2012,






American Muslim Leaders Condemn Attacks


September 12, 2012
The New York Times


American Muslim leaders and organizations rushed on Wednesday to condemn the attacks on American diplomatic outposts in Libya and Egypt, issuing news releases and giving interviews that seemed aimed as much at an American audience as at Muslims overseas.

Referring to the anti-Muslim video at the center of the attacks that is believed to be American-made, they said that no matter how offensive the film, violence was unjustified and even un-Islamic. They stressed repeatedly that the film did not represent Americans’ attitudes toward Islam and Muslims. And they said they were appalled that a film that they said was so clearly intended to incite hatred and anger toward the United States had succeeded in doing so.

Imam Mohamed Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America, an umbrella group of American mosques, denounced the violence at a news conference in Washington, appearing alongside a rabbi, a Baptist minister and the Libyan ambassador to the United States, Ali Aujali.

Mr. Magid said in a telephone interview that he and other American Muslim leaders had been contacting Muslim scholars in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Mauritania to tell them that those who made the film “do not represent the American people.”

He said, “Those who did this act of violence fall into the trap of the people who want them to act that way.”

Representative Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota and the first Muslim to be elected to Congress, said in a statement that the video at the center of the attacks was “amateurish and stupid” and “deeply offensive” — not just to Muslims, but to “anyone who respects the faith of others.”

However, he said: “People need to understand that the United States government had no role in creating this film. In fact, the government has condemned it and the American people have rejected it; it violates the American value of religious tolerance.”

He added: “Responding with violence is never justified. And those who think they are doing so in the name of Islam are wrong and ill informed.”

Salam al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, an advocacy group based in Los Angeles, said in a statement: “America is our home and is home to Islam, like so many other religions. Anyone who attempts to promote the misconception that Muslims are not integrated into America is fomenting more fear and destructive behavior.”

    American Muslim Leaders Condemn Attacks, NYT, 12.9.2012,






Libya Attack Brings Challenges for U.S.


September 12, 2012
The New York Times


CAIRO — Islamist militants armed with antiaircraft weapons and rocket-propelled grenades stormed a lightly defended United States diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, late Tuesday, killing the American ambassador and three members of his staff and raising questions about the radicalization of countries swept up in the Arab Spring.

The ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens, was missing almost immediately after the start of an intense, four-hour firefight for control of the mission, and his body was not located until Wednesday morning at dawn, when he was found dead at a Benghazi hospital, American and Libyan officials said. It was the first time since 1979 that an American ambassador had died in a violent assault.

American and European officials said that while many details about the attack remained unclear, the assailants seemed organized, well trained and heavily armed, and they appeared to have at least some level of advance planning. But the officials cautioned that it was too soon to tell whether the attack was related to the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Fighters involved in the assault, which was spearheaded by an Islamist brigade formed during last year’s uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, said in interviews during the battle that they were moved to attack the mission by anger over a 14-minute, American-made video that depicted the Prophet Muhammad, Islam’s founder, as a villainous, homosexual and child-molesting buffoon. Their attack followed by just a few hours the storming of the compound surrounding the United States Embassy in Cairo by an unarmed mob protesting the same video. On Wednesday, new crowds of protesters gathered outside the United States Embassies in Tunis and Cairo.

The wave of unrest set off by the video, posted online in the United States two months ago and dubbed into Arabic for the first time eight days ago, has further underscored the instability of the countries that cast off their longtime dictators in the Arab Spring revolts. It also cast doubt on the adequacy of security preparations at American diplomatic outposts in the volatile region.

Benghazi, awash in guns, has recently witnessed a string of assassinations as well as attacks on international missions, including a bomb said to be planted by another Islamist group that exploded near the United States mission there as recently as June. But a Libyan politician who had breakfast with Mr. Stevens at the mission the morning before he was killed described security, mainly four video cameras and as few as four Libyan guards, as sorely inadequate for an American ambassador in such a tumultuous environment. “This country is still in transition, and everybody knows the extremists are out there,” said Fathi Baja, the Libyan politician.

Obama Vows Justice

President Obama condemned the killings, promised to bring the assailants to justice and ordered tighter security at all American diplomatic installations. The administration also sent 50 Marines to the Libyan capital, Tripoli, to help with security at the American Embassy there, ordered all nonemergency personnel to leave Libya and warned Americans not to travel there. A senior defense official said that the Pentagon sent two warships toward the Libyan coast as a precaution.

“These four Americans stood up for freedom and human dignity,” Mr. Obama said in a televised statement from the White House Rose Garden with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. “Make no mistake, we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people.”

In Tripoli, Libyan leaders also vowed to track down the attackers and stressed their unity with Washington.

Yussef Magariaf, president of the newly elected Libyan National Congress, offered “an apology to the United States and the Arab people, if not the whole world, for what happened.” He pledged new measures to ensure the security of foreign diplomats and companies. “We together with the United States government are on the same side, standing in a united front in the face of these murderous outlaws.”

Obama administration officials and regional officials scrambled to sort out conflicting reports about the attack and the motivation of the attackers. A senior Obama administration officials told reporters during a conference call that “it was clearly a complex attack,” but offered no details.

Col. Wolfgang Pusztai, who until early August was Austria’s defense attaché to Libya and visited the country every month, said in an e-mail that he believed the attack was “deliberately planned and executed” by about a core group of 30 to 40 assailants who were “well trained and organized.” But he said the reports from some terrorism experts that the attack may be linked to the recent death in drone strikes of senior Qaeda leaders, including Abu Yahya al-Libi, were unsupported.

A translated version of the video that set off the uprising arrived first in Egypt before reaching the rest of the Islamic world. Its author, whose identity is now a mystery, devoted the video’s prologue to caricatured depictions of Egyptian Muslims abusing Egyptian Coptic Christians while Egyptian police officers stood by. It was publicized last week by an American Coptic Christian activist, Morris Sadek, well known here for his scathing attacks on Islam.

Mr. Sadek promoted the video in tandem with a declaration by Terry Jones — a Florida pastor best known for burning the Koran and promoting what he called “International Judge Muhammad Day” on Sept. 11.

The video began attracting attention in the Egyptian news media, including the broadcast of offensive scenes on Egyptian television last week. At that point, American diplomats in Cairo informed the State Department of the festering outrage in the days before the Sept. 11 anniversary, said a person briefed on their concerns. But officials in Washington declined to address or disavow the video, this person said.

By late afternoon Tuesday, hundreds had gathered in mostly peaceful protest outside the United States Embassy here, overseen by a large contingent of Egyptian security forces. But around 6 p.m., after the end of the workday and television news coverage of the event, the crowd began to swell, including a group of rowdy young soccer fans.

Gaining Entrance

Then, around 6:30 p.m., a small group of protesters — one official briefed on the events put it around 20 — brought a ladder to the wall of the compound and quickly scaled it, gaining entrance to the ground. Embassy officials asked the Egyptian government to remove the infiltrators without using weapons or force, to avoid inflaming the situation, this official said. (An embassy official said that contrary to reports on Tuesday, no one fired weapons in the air.) But it took the Egyptian security officers five hours to remove the intruders, leaving them ample time to run around the grounds, deface American flags, and hoist the black flag favored by Islamic ultraconservatives and labeled with Islam’s most basic expression of faith, “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his prophet.”

It is unclear if television images of Islamist protesters may have inspired the attack in Benghazi, which had been a hotbed of opposition to Colonel Qaddafi and remains unruly since the Libyan uprising resulted in his death. But Tuesday night, a group of armed assailants mixed with unarmed demonstrators gathered at the small compound that housed a temporary American diplomatic mission there.

The ambassador, Mr. Stevens, was visiting the city Tuesday from the United States Embassy compound in Tripoli to attend the planned opening of an American cultural center, and was staying at the mission. It is not clear if the assailants knew that the ambassador was at the mission.

Interviewed at the scene on Tuesday night, many attackers and those who backed them said they were determined to defend their faith from the video’s insults. Some recalled an earlier episode when protesters in Benghazi had burned down the Italian consulate after an Italian minister had worn a T-shirt emblazoned with cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad. Ten people were reportedly killed in clashes with Colonel Qaddafi’s police force.

That assault was led by a brigade of Islamist fighters known as Ansar al-Sharia, or the Supporters of Islamic Law. Brigade members emphasized at the time that they were not acting alone. On Wednesday, perhaps apprehensive over Mr. Stevens’s death, the brigade said in a statement that its supporters “were not officially involved or were not ordered to be involved” in the attack.

At the same time, the brigade praised those who protested as “the best of the best” of the Libyan people and supported their response to the video “in the strongest possible terms.”

Conflicting Accounts

There were conflicting accounts of how Mr. Stevens had died. One witness to the mayhem around the compound on Tuesday said militants chased him to a safe house and lobbed grenades at the location, where he was later found unconscious, apparently from smoke inhalation, and could not be revived by rescuers who took him to a hospital.

An unidentified Libyan official in Benghazi told Reuters that Mr. Stevens and three staff members were killed in Benghazi “when gunmen fired rockets at them.” The Libyan official said the ambassador was being driven from the mission building to a safer location when gunmen opened fire, Reuters said.

Five American ambassadors had been killed by terrorists before Tuesday’s attack, according to the State Department. The most recent was Adolph Dubs, killed after being kidnapped in Afghanistan in 1979. The others were John Gordon Mein, in Guatemala in 1968; Cleo A. Noel Jr., in Sudan in 1973; Rodger P. Davies, in Cyprus in 1974; and Francis E. Meloy Jr., in Lebanon in 1976.

Witnesses and State Department officials said that the attack began almost immediately after the protesters and the brigade arrived around 10 p.m. Witnesses said the brigade started the attack by firing a rocket-propelled grenade at the gate of the mission’s main building. American officials said that by 10:15 the attackers had gained entrance to the main building.

A second wave of assailants arrived soon after and swarmed into the compound, witnesses said.

“They expected that there would be more American commandos in there. They went in with guns blazing, with R.P.G.’s,” said Mohamed Ali, a relative of the landlord who rents the building to the American mission and who watched the battle.

Libya’s deputy interior minister, Wanis al-Sharif, made somewhat contradictory and defensive-sounding statements about the attack.

He acknowledged that he had ordered the withdrawal of security forces from the scene in the early stages of the protest on Wednesday night. He said his initial instinct was to avoid inflaming the situation by risking a confrontation with people angry about the video.

He also said he had underestimated the aggression of the protesters. But he criticized the small number of guards inside the mission for shooting back in self-defense, saying their response probably further provoked the attackers.

The small number of Libyans guarding the facility, estimated at only six, did not hold out long against the attackers, who had substantial firepower, the interior minister and State Department officials said. Defending the facility would have been a “suicide mission,” Mr. Sharif said.

Mr. Sharif also faulted the Americans at the mission for failing to heed what he said was the Libyan government’s advice to pull its personnel or beef up its security, especially in light of the recent violence in the city and the likelihood that the video would provoke protests. “What is weird is that they refrained from this procedure, depending instead on the simple protection that they had,” he said. “What happened later is beyond our control, and they are responsible for part of what happened.”

When the attack began, only Mr. Stevens, an aide named Sean Smith and a State Department security officer were inside the main building. As the building filled with smoke, security officers recovered Mr. Smith’s body but were driven out again by the firefight, senior administration officials said. Mr. Stevens, however, could not be found and was lost for the rest of the night.

It took another hour — until 11:20 — before American and Libyan forces recaptured the main building and evacuated the entire staff to an annex nearly a mile away. The militants followed and the fighting continued there until 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, when Libyan security reinforcements arrived and managed to gain control of both compounds.

A freelance photographer took pictures of Libyans apparently carrying Mr. Stevens’s ash-covered body out of the scene that were distributed worldwide by Agence France-Presse. A doctor who treated him at the Benghazi hospital told The Associated Press that Libyans had brought him in but were unaware of his identity. The doctor said that he tried for 90 minutes to revive Mr. Stevens but that he died of asphyxiation, The A.P. reported.

A senior administration official said it was not clear how or when Mr. Stevens was taken to the hospital — or by whom. “We frankly don’t know how he got from where Americans last saw him,” the official said.

On Wednesday night, residents of both Tripoli and Benghazi staged demonstrations to condemn the attack and express their sorrow at the loss of Mr. Stevens. Stationed in Benghazi during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi, Mr. Stevens, who was fluent in Arabic and French, had become a local hero for his support to the Libyan rebels during their time of greatest need. Benghazi residents circulated photographs online of Mr. Stevens frequenting local restaurants, relishing local dishes, and strolling city streets, apparently without a security detail.

On Wednesday, some friends of Mr. Stevens suggested that his faith in his bond with the people of Benghazi may have blinded him to the dangers there. “Everybody liked him,” said Mr. Baja, who ate breakfast with Mr. Stevens on Tuesday. “He is a good man, a friendly man, he knows lots of the sheiks in town and a lot of the intellectuals have spent some good times with him.”

“The people in Benghazi, I think, are very sad right now.”


David D. Kirkpatrick reported from Cairo, and Steven Lee Myers from Washington.

Reporting was contributed by Osama Alfitory

and Suliman Ali Zway from Benghazi, Libya; Mai Ayyad from Cairo;

Eric Schmitt and Scott Shane from Washington; and Alan Cowell from London.



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: September 12, 2012

An earlier version of this article misstated Mohammed Magarief’s position.

He is the president of Libya’s National Assembly, not Libya’s interim president.

    Libya Attack Brings Challenges for U.S., NYT, 12.9.2012,






For Veteran Envoy, Return to Libya Was Full of Hope


September 12, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — J. Christopher Stevens arrived in Benghazi, Libya, in April 2011 aboard a Greek cargo ship carrying a dozen American diplomats and guards and enough vehicles and equipment to set up a diplomatic beachhead in the middle of an armed rebellion.

Even then, the polarized views about the NATO-led intervention were on display, as were the dangers of diplomacy in a turbulent nation. The rebels fighting Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi had hoisted American, British and French flags in the plaza in Benghazi that they renamed Freedom Square, Mr. Stevens often recalled, but a car bomb later exploded in the parking lot of the hotel where he had settled.

That forced him to move into the villa in Benghazi where, more than a year later, he died Tuesday. Mr. Stevens, 52, and three other State Department employees were killed during a prolonged assault on the consulate, which he was visiting to inaugurate a cultural center as part of his efforts to deepen ties in a new Libya.

He became the first United States ambassador killed in an attack while on duty since Adolph Dubs was kidnapped and killed in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1979. The circumstances of the attack — including the motives and any security lapses — are still not known.

“It’s especially tragic that Chris Stevens died in Benghazi,” President Obama said in the White House Rose Garden on Wednesday, “because it is a city that he helped to save.”

Mr. Stevens, who was fluent in Arabic, knew better than most diplomats in the American Foreign Service the opportunities and travails facing Libya after the fall of Colonel Qaddafi, and was undaunted.

“The image of the striped-pants ambassador who goes to cocktail parties and steeples his hands — that was not Chris Stevens,” said Jeffrey D. Feltman, a former assistant secretary of state and now under secretary general at the United Nations, who worked closely with him.

After having served as the deputy ambassador during Colonel Qaddafi’s rule, Mr. Stevens became the Obama administration’s main interlocutor to the rebels based in Benghazi who ultimately overthrew Colonel Qaddafi with the help of NATO airstrikes. Mr. Obama rewarded Mr. Stevens with the nomination to become the first ambassador in a post-Qaddafi Libya, and he arrived in May with indefatigable enthusiasm for the country’s prospects as a free, Western-friendly democracy.

“The whole atmosphere has changed for the better,” he wrote in an e-mail to friends and family in July. “People smile more and are much more open with foreigners. Americans, French and British are enjoying unusual popularity. Let’s hope it lasts.”

For those who knew him, Mr. Stevens was an easygoing, accessible, candid and at times irreverent diplomat, with a deep understanding of Arab culture and politics that began when he was a Peace Corps volunteer, teaching English in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco.

“The thing that struck me was that he had a level of candor that was unusual for a diplomat,” said Sidney Kwiram, who conducted research for Human Rights Watch in Libya during the revolution and afterward and often met with him. She last spoke with him two weeks ago after her own visit to Benghazi, spending two hours on the telephone discussing Libya’s new political forces. “There was no formality to his rank,” she said. “He didn’t take himself too seriously, but he took his job very seriously.”

He also earned bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, recalled twice visiting him in Libya, most recently in July, when Mr. Stevens “insisted on personally making me a cappuccino, a task that he carried out with as much pride and proficiency as his diplomatic mission.”

Mr. Stevens, a native of California and graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, joined the Foreign Service in 1991. He spent much of his career in the Middle East, serving in Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel, where he focused on the Palestinian territories, and in State Department offices overseeing policy in the region. In Syria in 2001 and 2002, he courted Iraqi exiles before the American overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s government the next year. When the embassy in Damascus, Syria, held his farewell party, he insisted on it being in a disco and invited all the Iraqis, who were fractious even then. “This was probably the only time the Iraqis sat at one table — before or since,” said a State Department diplomat who served with him.

His return to Libya took place in circumstances that would challenge any diplomat. Mr. Feltman said he was surprised by the network of contacts Mr. Stevens established in Benghazi in weeks, shaping the administration’s understanding of the rebellion’s leaders. As he prepared to take up his post as ambassador this year, Mr. Stevens appeared in an introductory video recalling the United States’ Civil War as an example of overcoming strife. “We know that Libya is still recovering from an intense period of conflict,” he said. “And there are many courageous Libyans who bear the scars of that battle.”

He developed a reputation as a keen observer of Libya’s politics, and, as Ms. Kwiram noted, a patient listener who eagerly sought out activists, diplomats and journalists. He also kept up his routine of daily runs through goat farms, olive groves and vineyards nearby.

In his e-mail to family and friends, he joked about the embassy’s Fourth of July party.

“Somehow our clever staff located a Libyan band that specializes in 1980s soft rock,” he wrote, “so I felt very much at home.”

By Wednesday afternoon, the wall on Mr. Stevens’s Facebook page had turned into a memorial as friends from high school, college, the Peace Corps and the State Department posted photos and eulogies. “In our 1983 Peace Corps training in Morocco, there was a tall, blond kid who was known, among other things, as the one with the unfailing old-school courtesy toward all,” wrote Valerie Staats, who is now the Peace Corps director in Sierra Leone. Mr. Stevens, she recalled, “always said he wanted to be an ambassador, and we didn’t doubt him.”

Mervat Mhani, an activist for the Free Generation Movement in Libya, said she could “no longer hold my head up high as a Libyan.”


Harvey Morris contributed reporting from London;

Kareem Fahim from Beirut, Lebanon;

and Michael S. Schmidt from Washington.

    For Veteran Envoy, Return to Libya Was Full of Hope, NYT, 12.9.2012,






Origins of Provocative Video Are Shrouded


September 12, 2012
The New York Times


LOS ANGELES — The film that set off violence across North Africa was made in obscurity somewhere in the sprawl of Southern California, and promoted by a network of right-wing Christians with a history of animosity directed toward Muslims. When a 14-minute trailer of it — all that may actually exist — was posted on YouTube in June, it was barely noticed.

But when the video, with its almost comically amateurish production values, was translated into Arabic and reposted twice on YouTube in the days before Sept. 11, and promoted by leaders of the Coptic diaspora in the United States, it drew nearly one million views and set off bloody demonstrations.

The history of the film — who financed it; how it was made; and perhaps most important, how it was translated into Arabic and posted on YouTube to Muslim viewers — was shrouded Wednesday in tales of a secret Hollywood screening; a director who may or may not exist, and used a false name if he did; and actors who appeared, thanks to computer technology, to be traipsing through Middle Eastern cities. One of its main producers, Steve Klein, a Vietnam veteran whose son was severely wounded in Iraq, is notorious across California for his involvement with anti-Muslim actions, from the courts to schoolyards to a weekly show broadcast on Christian radio in the Middle East.

Yet as much of the world was denouncing the violence that had spread across the Middle East, Mr. Klein — an insurance salesman in Hemet, Calif., a small town two hours east of here — proclaimed the video a success at portraying what he has long argued was the infamy of the Muslim world, even as he chuckled at the film’s amateur production values.

“We have reached the people that we want to reach,” he said in an interview. “And I’m sure that out of the emotion that comes out of this, a small fraction of those people will come to understand just how violent Muhammad was, and also for the people who didn’t know that much about Islam. If you merely say anything that’s derogatory about Islam, then they immediately go to violence, which I’ve experienced.”

Mr. Klein has a long history of making controversial and erroneous claims about Islam. He said the film had been shown at a screening at a theater “100 yards or so” from Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood over the summer, drawing what he suggested was a depressingly small audience. He declined to specify what theater might have shown it, and theater owners in the vicinity of the busy strip said they had no record of any such showing.

The amateurish video opens with scenes of Egyptian security forces standing idle as Muslims pillage and burn the homes of Coptic Christians. Then it cuts to cartoonish scenes depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a child of uncertain parentage, a buffoon, a womanizer, a homosexual, a child molester and a greedy, bloodthirsty thug.

Even as Mr. Klein described his role in the film as incidental, James Horn, a friend who has worked with Mr. Klein in anti-Muslim activities for several years, said he believed Mr. Klein was involved in providing technical assistance to the film and advice on the script. Mr. Horn said he called Mr. Klein on Wednesday. “I said, ‘Steve, did you do this?’ He said, ‘Yep.’ ”

As the movie, “Innocence of Muslims,” drew attention across the globe, it was unclear whether a full version exists. Executives at Hollywood agencies said they had never heard of it. Hollywood unions said they had no involvement. Casting directors said they did not recognize the actors in the 14-minute YouTube clip that purports to be a trailer for a longer film. Production offices had no records for a movie of that name. There was a 2009 casting call in BackStage, however, for a film called “Desert Warrior” whose producer is listed as Sam Bassiel.

That name is quite similar to the one that Mr. Klein, in the interview, said was the director of his film. He spelled it Sam Basile, though he added that was not the director’s real name. Mr. Klein said he met Mr. Basile while scouting mosques in Southern California, “locating who I thought were terrorists.”

An actress who played the role of a mother in the film said in an interview that the director had originally told cast members that the film was “Desert Warriors” and would depict ancient life. Now, she said, she feels duped, angry and sad. “When I looked at the trailer, it was nothing like what we had done. There was not even a character named Muhammad in what we originally put together,” said the actress, who asked that her name not be used for fear of her safety.

She said she had spoken on Wednesday to the film’s director, whose last name she said was spelled Basil. She said he told her that he made the film because he was upset with Muslims killing innocent people.

The original idea for the film, Mr. Klein said, was to lure hard-core Muslims into a screening of the film thinking they were seeing a movie celebrating Islam. “And when they came in they would see this movie and see the truth, the facts, the evidence and the proof,” he said. “So I said, yeah, that’s a good idea.”

Among the film’s promoters was Terry Jones, the Gainesville, Fla., preacher whose burning of the Koran led to widespread protests in Afghanistan. Mr. Jones said Wednesday that he has not seen the full video.

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called Mr. Jones on Wednesday and asked him to consider withdrawing his support for the video. Mr. Jones described the conversation as “cordial,” but said he had not decided what he would do because he had yet to see the full film.

The Southern Poverty Law Center said Mr. Klein taught combat training to members of California’s Church at Kaweah, which the center described as a “a combustible mix of guns, extreme antigovernment politics and religious extremism” and an institution that had an “obsession with Muslims.”

Warren Campbell, the pastor of the church, said that Mr. Klein had come to the congregation twice to talk about Islam. He said the law center’s report on his church was filled “with distortions and lies.” The center also said that Mr. Klein was the founder of Courageous Christians United, which conducts demonstrations outside abortion clinics, Mormon temples and mosques. Mr. Klein also has ties to the Minuteman movement.

Mr. Horn said Mr. Klein was motivated by the near-death of his son, who Mr. Horn said had served in the United States Army in Iraq and was wounded in Falluja. “That cemented Steve’s feelings about it,” he said.

Although Mr. Horn described Mr. Klein as connected to the Coptic community in Los Angeles — and Morris Sadek, the leader of a Washington-based Coptic organization, had promoted the film on the Web — Bishop Serapion of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles said he did not know of Mr. Klein. “We condemn this film,” he said. “Our Christian teaching is we have to respect people of other faiths.”


Reporting was contributed by Brooks Barnes, Michael Cieply

and Ian Lovett from Los Angeles; Jason Henry from Gainesville, Fla.;

Lizette Alvarez from Miami; Serge F. Kovaleski and Andrea Elliott from New York;

and Elisabeth Bumiller from Washington.

Kitty Bennett and Jack Styczynski contributed research from New York.



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: September 12, 2012

An earlier version of this article mispelled the name of a bishop

of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles. It is Serapion, not Serapian.

    Origins of Provocative Video Are Shrouded, NYT, 12.9.2012,






Afghan Leader Condemns Anti-Islam Film


September 12, 2012
The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai condemned an anti-Islam film that has been backed by the American pastor Terry Jones, issuing a statement on Wednesday that said his office “strongly and resolutely denounces this desecrating act and declares its serious abhorrence in the face of such an insult.”

The president’s statement did not call for any action other than preventing the release of the film. It also did not explicitly appeal for calm, although it emphasized that Mr. Jones and the creator of the film, identified as Sam Bacile, and their supporters “represent a small radical minority.”

In 2011, 24 people were killed in the first three days of rioting and attacks on foreign installations in Afghanistan after the Koran was subject to a mock trial and burning at Mr. Jones’ small Florida church, which had only 20 to 30 parishioners. The mock trial was held March 20 and largely ignored by international and Afghan news media until Mr. Karzai denounced it in early April; the next day, rioting began.

“This heinous act has created outrage and anxiety for all peace-loving humans who support the idea of peaceful coexistence,” Mr. Karzai’s statement said. “Desecration is not part of freedom of expression but a criminal act that has now greatly hurt the righteous sentiments of 1.5 billion Muslims all over the globe.”

The president’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, issued a Twitter post denying rumors that the Afghan government had blocked access to YouTube to prevent people from seeing the video, and many Afghans reported that they were able to access it.

A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabiullah Mujahid, e-mailed a statement blaming the American government for the film, claiming it was shown in a cinema “with the permission of the United States government.”

“This disgusting act is not the act of one person, indeed this heinous act has been done with the consent, even direct support, of the government,” the Taliban statement said. The statement called on religious mullahs to publicly denounce the movie; such condemnations in the past have led to violent riots, particularly after Friday Prayer.

“Mujahedeen must take revenge here in the battleground in Afghanistan,” Mr. Mujahid said in the statement.

    Afghan Leader Condemns Anti-Islam Film, NYT, 12.9.2012,






In China We (Don’t) Trust


September 11, 2012
The New York Times


Hangzhou, China

One of the standard lines about China’s economy is that the Chinese are good at copying, but they could never invent a Hula-Hoop. It’s not in their DNA, we are told, and their rote education system reinforces that tendency. I’m wondering about that: How is it that a people who invented papermaking, gunpowder, fireworks and the magnetic compass suddenly only became capable of assembling iPods? I’m wondering if what’s missing in China today is not a culture of innovation but something more basic: trust.

When there is trust in society, sustainable innovation happens because people feel safe and enabled to take risks and make the long-term commitments needed to innovate. When there is trust, people are willing to share their ideas and collaborate on each other’s inventions without fear of having their creations stolen. The biggest thing preventing modern China from becoming an innovation society, which is imperative if it hopes to keep raising incomes, is that it remains a very low-trust society.

I’ve been struck at how many Chinese businesspeople and investors have volunteered that point to me this week. China is caught in a gap between its old social structure of villages and families, which created its own form of trust, and a new system based on the rule of law and an independent judiciary. The Communist Party destroyed the first but has yet to build the second because it would mean ceding the party’s arbitrary powers. So China has a huge trust deficit.

To see what happens when you introduce just a little more trust in this society, spend a day, as I just did, participating in the “AliFest” — the annual gathering of thousands of Chinese entrepreneurs who are linked together in the giant Chinese e-commerce Web site Alibaba.com. Founded in 1999, Alibaba says its sales this year could top eBay and Amazon.com combined. This happened, in part, because it has built trusted, credible markets of buyers and sellers inside China, connecting consumers, inventors and manufacturers who would have found it hard to do transactions before.

Alibaba has three major businesses: Taobao.com and Tmall.com, which together constitute a giant online marketplace where anyone in the world can go to buy or sell anything — from Procter & Gamble selling toothpaste to Chinese companies offering their engineering prowess. The Tao companies this year are expected to move some $150 billion in merchandise between buyers and sellers, mostly in China.

The second is Alibaba.com, where, if you want to make rubber sandals that play “The Star Spangled Banner,” you click on Alibaba and it will link you with dozens of Chinese shoemakers that will compete for your business.

And, lastly, there is Alipay, a Chinese version of PayPal that can enable, for example, a small Chinese manufacturer in the hinterland to sell its goods to a Chinese consumer in Shanghai. The buyer puts his money in escrow with Alibaba and it is released to the seller only when the buyer says he got the goods he ordered. Presto: trust. What has been the impact? There are more than 500 million Chinese Taobao users and 600 million Alipay accounts.

While here in Hangzhou, I visited the workshop of Robert Luo, the president of Classic-Maxim, a firm he started to make kitschy wall art for hotels, using foreign designs. Luo used to drum up sales by flying to trade shows, but, in 2006, he got a huge American order through the Alibaba platform, enabling him to greatly expand his business. He has since shifted from doing outsourced artwork for others to hiring Chinese and foreign artists to produce his own original designs. “We design so much now” — outdoor art, solar art — and “we’ve applied for so many U.S. patents,” he said.

There are two trends to watch from all this: One, argued Ming Zeng, Alibaba’s chief strategist, is that Alibaba — which now serves more than 100 million consumers daily, through 6.5 million retail shops connected to 20 million manufacturers — is, in effect, creating “a virtual combination industrial park and online marketplace,” where anyone in China or abroad can come to invent, collaborate or buy and sell goods or services.

Alibaba, Zeng predicted, will eventually connect in some way with Facebook, Amazon, eBay, Apple, Baidu, LinkedIn and others to create a giant trusted virtual “global commercial grid,” where individuals and companies will offer their talents and buy and sell products, designs and inventions.

Eventually, Zeng argued, “every individual will have to find a way to succeed” on this global grid. “National boundaries will offer you no protection.”

The other trend is that the Chinese will be big players on this grid. The creation of global trusted business frameworks like Alibaba is starting to enable a new generation of Chinese innovators — who are low cost, but high skilled — to extend their reach. We’ve seen cheap labor out of China; now we’re going to see more cheap genius.

Which is why Phillip Brown and Hugh Lauder, in a recent essay on Eurozine.com, argued that a big shift of the global labor market is under way, in which “many of the things we thought could only be done in the West can now be done anywhere in the world, not only more cheaply but sometimes better.”


Maureen Dowd is off today.

    In China We (Don’t) Trust, NYT, 11.12.2012,






Pushed by Obama,

Democrats Alter Platform Over Jerusalem


September 5, 2012
The New York Times


CHARLOTTE, N.C. — President Obama, seeking to quell a storm of criticism from Republicans and pro-Israel groups, directed the Democratic Party on Wednesday to amend its platform to restore language declaring Jerusalem the Israeli capital.

The change, approved in a voice vote that had to be taken three times because of a chorus of noes in the arena, reinstated the line “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel” in a section that describes Mr. Obama’s policy toward the country. That sentence was in the 2008 platform, but the Democrats removed it this year, saying that they wanted to spotlight other elements of Mr. Obama’s policy and that the platform should reflect a sitting president rather than a candidate for office.

After a day of protests, however, and the prospect of an onslaught of Republican attack ads, the president and the Democrats abruptly reversed course. The chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, said in a statement that the change was made to “maintain consistency with the personal views expressed by the president and in the Democratic Party platform in 2008.”

A senior administration official emphasized that the president had intervened to bring the platform in line with his own views. “The president expressed his view in 2008, and it hasn’t changed,” the official said. “The party platform has not changed from 2008. And the position of the United States government hasn’t changed in decades as it relates to Israel’s capital and peace negotiations.”

Delegates also voted to put “God” back in the platform, amending a section about the government’s role in helping people reach their “God-given potential.” The removal of “God-given” had left the platform without any references to God, giving Republicans a target to paint the party as out of touch with family values.

The changes were meant to be a routine bit of business, conducted by the convention’s chairman, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles. But they turned into a minor spectacle after the hall seemed balanced between yes and no votes, providing an unruly start to an evening meant to showcase attacks on Mitt Romney by former President Bill Clinton and others.

The Romney campaign pounced, saying that “Mitt Romney has consistently stated his belief that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.” Claiming that Mr. Obama had refused to state his position, Andrea Saul, a Romney spokeswoman, said, “Now is the time for President Obama to state in unequivocal terms whether or not he believes Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.”

The restoration of Jerusalem puts the platform, a largely symbolic document, at odds with the official position of the government, which is that the city’s status should be determined in a negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the nation’s most powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, proposed including language about Jerusalem’s status as the Israeli capital in written testimony to the platform drafting committee. People close to the group said it was troubled by the omission of Jerusalem.

“We welcome reinstatement to the Democratic platform of the language reaffirming Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” the group said in a statement after the vote.

The political status of Jerusalem is one of the most contentious issues in any potential peace settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, with both the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority asserting that the holy city is their capital.

Among those shouting “no” on the convention floor was a delegate from Washington State, Majid al-Bahadli, who said, “Jerusalem is Arab and Jewish and Christian; it cannot be for one country.” Mr. Bahadli, an Iraqi-American who said he had been in a prisoner of war camp under Saddam Hussein, said the vote process was undemocratic.

The drafting committee held two public hearings on the text, a Democratic official said, and none of the Jewish advocacy groups in attendance, including Aipac, proposed inserting language on Jerusalem. People close to the advocacy groups said that the committee shared only “flashes” of the language with them.

The Democrats have accused Republicans of making Israel a political football by painting Mr. Obama as an unreliable partner. But it is the Democrats who have tripped up on Israel at their convention this week.

On Tuesday, Ms. Wasserman Schultz got into a dispute with Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael B. Oren, when she told a Democratic training group that Mr. Oren had accused Republicans of endangering Israel by criticizing Mr. Obama’s record on it.

Mr. Oren issued a statement saying: “I categorically deny that I ever characterized Republican policies as harmful to Israel. Bipartisan support is a paramount national interest for Israel, and we have great friends on both sides of the aisle.”


Jim Rutenberg contributed reporting.

    Pushed by Obama, Democrats Alter Platform Over Jerusalem, NYT, 5.9.2012,




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