Chuck Fleischmann: Obama's Middle East errors

Chuck Fleischmann: Obama's Middle East errors

September 28th, 2012 By Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in Opinion Columns

The recent attacks on our nation's embassies in response to a video called "The Innocence of Muslims" have raised serious challenges to our nation's position in the Middle East. This week, we saw Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad call for Israel's elimination while visiting New York for a United Nations summit. In the post Arab spring landscape, the sands are clearly shifting, and the trends have become quite ominous.

While these challenges demand a serious and clearheaded response from American policymakers, the Obama Administration appears to have its head in the sand. The State Department has given muddled answers to the murder of our Libyan Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other diplomats, taking nearly two weeks to acknowledge that the murder was the result of a well coordinated terrorist attack. Additionally, in his speech at the United Nations, President Obama failed to vigorously defend our values and our allies.

Although disappointing, these actions are not surprising. They are the result of a policy of outreach and appeasement in the Middle East, as well as a failure to take into account some of the more troubling developments of the Arab spring.

The attacks on our embassies, which occurred under recently elected governments in Libya and Egypt, need to be viewed in this light. Both governments have shown themselves to be either unable or unwilling to defend our embassies. The sanctity of an embassy is one of the oldest and most sacred diplomatic traditions in the world. For a government to be unable to defend an embassy shows an inability to maintain order and indicates a potential failed state. For a government to disregard centuries of diplomatic custom demonstrates contempt for international norms and respect between nations.

Lawmakers need to be realistic about what we can accomplish in the current political climate. The rioting at our embassies and Iran's continued saber rattling demonstrate the failures of President Obama's policy of outreach. The President's speech at the U.N., where he condemned those "who slander the prophet of Islam," did little but project weakness. This is the last thing our leaders should be doing in the current environment.

First, we must robustly defend American values, especially our freedom of speech and freedom of religion. While I found "The Innocence of Muslims" to be distasteful, the filmmaker has every right to make the film under the 1st Amendment. Apologizing for the film gives veto power over our speech to Islamist radicals, and caving to demands simply encourages further violence. Islamic nations are pushing a ban on "defamation of religions" at the U.N., which would severely curtail free speech. American lawmakers must oppose this vigorously. We also must call attention to Christians in Egypt, Pakistan, Iran and elsewhere who often find themselves the victims of state suppression or mob violence. It is outrageous that those who protest offensive depictions of Mohammed seem to have no issue with imprisoning Christians for their faith in Iran or mob violence against Coptic Christians in Egypt.

Also of critical importance is our relationship with our closest ally in the Middle East, Israel. It is unfortunate that relations with Israel have fallen to a new low under President Obama, as we have similar values, share many of the same goals, and face many of the same threats.

We have to be realistic about our position in the Middle East. Many of the citizens of Middle Eastern nations don't like us, share few of our values such as freedom of religion or speech, and are often hostile to our interests. This is not the President's fault, but it is the reality of the situation. While I wish we could have better relations, we cannot compromise our freedoms or values in order to do so, and you can expect me to vigorously defend our nation when challenged.

Congressman Chuck Fleischmann is a Republican who represents the 3rd District of Tennessee.