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Vol. 76/No. 36      October 8, 2012

US rulers spar over White House’s
foreign policy after Islamist attacks
(front page)
Over the past two weeks, anti-U.S. protests and attacks by Islamists on U.S. diplomatic offices have taken place from North Africa to Asia, ostensibly fueled by anger against a video on YouTube that denigrates Islam.

The origins of these actions and the response by the Obama administration have become a major issue in U.S. politics.

From the outset, administration officials claimed the film—which first appeared as a trailer online in July—was the cause of the actions, including the death of U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens.

“This is not an expression of hostility in the broadest sense towards the United States or to U.S. policy,” Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told Fox News Sept. 16. “It’s proximately a reaction to this video and it’s a hateful video—that had nothing to do with the United States—which we find disgusting and reprehensible.”

Comments by officials in the Obama administration give the impression that the fact that the initial attacks took place on Sept. 11, the anniversary of the al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001, is mere coincidence.

“For nine days, the Obama administration made a case that virtually everyone understood was untrue: that the killing of our ambassador with three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya, was a random, spontaneous act of individuals upset about an online video,” Stephen Hayes wrote in the Weekly Standard, “that had nothing to do with the eleventh anniversary of 9/11.”

Among the consequences of the attack on the Benghazi embassy was that the U.S. lost the spy center it was building up there. Dozens of CIA operatives had to be evacuated from the city. “We got our eyes poked out,” one U.S. official said, speaking to the New York Times on condition of anonymity.

The protests, including the attack on the embassy building in Benghazi, were organized and led by reactionary bourgeois Islamist forces. The ruling Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was among the initial forces calling for protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo before pulling back under Washington’s pressures.

Taking advantage of not having any governmental responsibilities, opponent Salafist parties used the protests to present themselves as more anti-U.S. than the Brotherhood-led governments in Tunisia and Egypt and the pro-Brotherhood one in Libya.

While all these forces appeal for support by posing as radical opponents of imperialism, they act to close down political space for workers and farmers, restrict labor rights and deal blows to freedom of speech and the rights of women.

In June, Salafist forces firebombed three regional offices of the General Union of Tunisian Workers.

Debate over restrictions to free speech

These events have sparked a sharp debate over whether restrictions on free speech are required to protect “religious sensibilities.”

As part of opening this fall’s session of the United Nation’s General Assembly, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged nations to consider limiting freedom of speech when it is “used to provoke or humiliate”—that is, to outlaw speech that incites to violence, like the denigration of Islam.

In addition to many majority-Muslim countries, a number of countries in Europe have so-called blasphemy laws, including Greece, the Netherlands and Ireland.

Last month the courts under President Vladimir Putin in Russia convicted Pussy Riot of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” for carrying out an anti-Putin protest in a church—one among many steps the regime has taken recently to silence its opponents.

Some officials in the U.S. administration held open the option to adopt restrictions on anti-Muslim speech. Appearing before the House Constitution Subcommittee, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez repeatedly refused to answer when asked by Chair Trent Franks whether “this administration’s Department of Justice will never entertain or advance a proposal that criminalizes speech against any religion.”

Under pressure, President Barack Obama backed off from such a step. “The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression,” he said, speaking to the U.N. General Assembly Sept. 25. “It is more speech—the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy.”

Democratic administration’s foreign policy

As part of the bourgeois debate in the 2012 presidential elections, the Obama administration has come under criticism for its conduct of foreign policy.

“There have been indications over the last four years,” William Kristol wrote in the Weekly Standard, “that, in its heart of hearts, the Obama administration blames America first for many of the ills of the world.”

“Obama used to pretend that the end of the wars [in Iraq and Afghanistan] would be accompanied by all kinds of positive developments in the Muslim world,” Kristol adds. “No longer. Now we’re just heading for the exits, lobbing drones as we go.”

While the president boasts about his personal role in the assassination of Osama bin Laden, “he goes many months without speaking substantially about the war in Afghanistan,” Robert Kaplan wrote this week in Stratfor, a newsletter published by a U.S.-based intelligence and news service, “even as tens of thousands of uniformed Americans are fighting there.”

Obama sees his role in the world, the Times said Sept. 24, based on “his sense of himself as a historic bridge-builder who could redeem America’s image abroad.”

As developments in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan show, neither the current Democratic Party policies of “leading from behind” nor Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s call for pushier international relations will end hostilities in today’s world capitalist crisis.

Both lead to growing conflicts and instability, including for working people.  
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