This morning the US Embassy in Cairo put out a shameful statement in response to anger over an anti-Muslim film:
The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others
A stand against those who “abuse” their right to free speech is best suited to authoritarianism, and it’s absolutely grotesque to see American diplomats embracing it. The effort at appeasement was as inefficacious as it was depraved: The protests against the film in question turned more violent after the statement was issued, when the embassy wall was scaled and the American flag was torn down and burned.
By late this evening this was obvious at the White House: “The statement by Embassy Cairo was not cleared by Washington and does not reflect the views of the United States government,” a source characterized as a “senior administration official” tells Politico‘s Byron Tau.
That’s all well and good; the statement does indeed look like it wasn’t carefully vetted (the missing period after “others” above isn’t my error — that’s how it is on the embassy website). But a not-for-attribution walk-back is hardly sufficient here. Somebody needs to be fired. Given that the embassy’s Twitter account spent the day defending the statement, it’s likely to be more than one somebody that needs to go, perhaps including Ambassador Anne Patterson herself.
It’s not enough to say, after the fact, that a diplomatic statement isn’t the position of the government; if the same diplomats remain on the job, the views that led them to make that statement will lead them to make similar statements in the future. This is a case where personnel is policy, and the clarification of White House policy cannot be taken seriously unless it’s accompanied by a change in personnel.