Given the mysteries of the Benghazi attacks on the US consulate (not an embassy, and not an entity that was guarded by Marines, apparently), I’m going to step lightly before attributing any Middle East incident to anything else in a direct through-line. But we do know that riots/protests/attacks are proliferating. Today they have spread to the US Embassy in Yemen and possibly Iran.
News reports also spoke of a separate protest in Tehran, where around 500 Iranians chanting “Death to America” tried to converge on the Swiss Embassy, which handles United States interests in the absence of formal diplomatic relations with Washington. Hundreds of police officers held the crowds back from the diplomatic compound, witnesses said.
For a third straight day at the American Embassy in Cairo, protesters scuffled with police firing tear gas, witnesses said, and the state news agency reported that 13 people were injured. In Iraq, a militant Shiite group, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, once known for its violent attacks on Americans and other Westerners, reportedly said the video “will put all American interests in danger.” Protests were also reported at American missions in Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia, where the police also fired tear gas to disperse crowds.
In Sana, the capital of Yemen, witnesses said government security forces tried to disperse a crowd at the fortified American Embassy compound in the eastern part of the city. But protesters succeeded in breaking through an outer perimeter protecting the embassy, clambering over a high wall and setting fire to a building.
They were forced to retreat after trying to plunder furniture and computers, the witnesses said.
And don’t expect this to subside for a while; the Muslim Brotherhood has called for a Million Man March after Friday prayers tomorrow.
Maybe this has to do with a badly produced movie. Maybe that’s a pretext for anti-American sentiment bubbling to the surface. Maybe they were pre-planned events waiting for their moment. Maybe they were copycat attacks pushed by anti-American elements inside the respective countries. Maybe the high price of food is leading to riots that have gravitated toward the global version of the 1%. I honestly don’t know.
I do know that this is a dangerous time for Americans in these Arab capitals, despite being fed a line that we are more respected around the world. In fact, our actions in the uprising countries have not been entirely noble, and especially in a country like Yemen, which we’ve littered with drone attacks for the past several months. Of course, our foreign policy apparatus will act like the world began yesterday, ignoring the long history leading up to these attacks, and will seek to retaliate. The President talked yesterday of “justice.” The New York Times reports that Marines and naval vessels are on their way to Libya. A reporter yelled out at yesterday’s press conference whether this was an act of war.
Once those war drums start to beat, things become unpredictable. Obviously there are political overtones to this crisis, coming less than 60 days before a Presidential election. But there ought to be geopolitical overtones as well. Maybe our foreign policy isn’t as virtuous as people in Washington seem to think. Maybe there hasn’t been a 180 from the Bush years. Maybe we actually don’t know what we’re doing in this part of the world.
OK, I’ll erase the maybe on that one.
More from Anthony Castellano and Kevin Dolak.