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What do the New Attacks on U.S. Embassies Mean?

Protesters stormed the U.S. Embassy in Yemen today and set fire to a building. Like the mob in Egypt on Tuesday, they tore down the American flag. Reports are also circulating of a separate protest in Tehran today with about 500 Iranians chanting “Death to America.” Meanwhile, a onetime mentor of Osama bin Laden called on his followers to replicate what happened in Libya and Egypt.

Following the deaths of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other embassy staff, it is realistic to fear other attacks on U.S. diplomats. “Our men and women—in and out of uniform—are out there every day, protecting us and our interests. And that will always make them a tempting target,” Heritage expert Jim Carafano reminds us, commenting on the attacks in Libya and Egypt. Heritage’s Jim Phillips wrote in June about a larger Iranian campaign to assassinate foreign diplomats, including Israeli and Saudi diplomats, in at least seven countries over 13 months.

At this time, America’s first priority is the security of our personnel, and President Obama has ordered heightened security at America’s posts around the world.

We cannot allow terrorists and rioters to dictate U.S. missions and policy, and Washington must avoid knee-jerk reactions, such as yanking foreign aid, before we know the facts on the ground. As Phillips explained, the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Egypt reflects the internal divisions in that country. At the same time, while there are dangerous anti-American factions in Libya, there are also many that appreciate the U.S. assistance and, and according to some reports, fought to help protect the U.S. compound before it was overrun.

There are still too many questions to be answered about the origins of the attacks, the state of security at the U.S. facilities, and the responses of the host governments. We should get the facts before we draw too many conclusions about what happened and why, much less what this should mean for the future of U.S. policy.

That said, this is no cause for declaring a moratorium on debate about U.S. policy in the region. There is plenty worth debating.

President Obama has consistently shown more enthusiasm in engaging hostile regimes in the Middle East than in protecting the interests of allies such as Israel. He has shown more concern about restraining Israel from acting than stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

In fact, this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. is “not setting deadlines” for Iran and still considers negotiations “by far the best approach” to prevent the Islamic Republic from developing nuclear weapons. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s public response was that “Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.”

President Obama made matters worse by declining an offer from Netanyahu to meet when Netanyahu visit the U.S. later this month—despite the fact that Obama found time in his schedule for an appearance on David Letterman’s late-night comedy show and an interview with Miami rapper and radio personality DJ Laz.

The United States’s dysfunctional engagement with Israel and Iran is not the only problem. From North Africa through sub-Saharan Africa, al-Qaeda and its affiliates seem determined to plant the flag for new Afghanistans. Across the Middle East, the Arab Spring is far from unfinished business. Current U.S. policies clearly aren’t working. It is time to change course.

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