September 13th, 2012
01:12 PM ET

Ex-ambassador: No time for accusers, apologists or political gamesters

Editor's note: Daniel Kurtzer is the S. Daniel Abraham Professor of Middle East policy studies at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. During a 29-year career in diplomacy, he served as the U.S. ambassador to Egypt and to Israel. The views expressed are his own.

By Daniel Kurtzer, Special to CNN

Some years ago, while on a trans-Atlantic flight, I was reading a thriller novel when I came across a stunning passage: the American ambassador in Cairo was assassinated by the villains in the novel. What was so disconcerting personally was that I was the American ambassador at that time!

The novel got me thinking about the day after such an assassination: that is, the reactions of family, friends, colleagues and American government. Surely, there would be favorable obituaries and fond remembrances. There would be outrage over the murder and calls for bringing the perpetrators to justice. Over time, the personal sense of loss among family members would linger, while the professional friends would naturally move on.

These ruminations of long ago came back to me upon hearing the news of the assassination of Chris Stevens and three of his colleagues in Benghazi at the hands of heavily armed militants. This was an act of terrorism — horrific, inexcusable, intolerable assaults against a prominent diplomat — and a message to all Americans. Chris was a first-rate diplomat, who many of us of a certain age knew would be the “next generation” of our diplomatic leaders. His death stings us all.

Today is the day after his assassination. Besides the outpouring of emotions from family and friends, we also hear from our leaders and from editorialists about the need for resolve and steadfastness against terrorism. This is, of course, right, as are the calls for bringing the perpetrators to justice. Our diplomats and our embassies cannot become targets of choice for fanatics of any stripe.

But, on this day after, we are also hearing the voices of apologists, accusers and political gamesters, those who are intent on exploiting these acts of terrorism to advance narrow agendas. The apologists trot out familiar, offensive arguments that seek to blame us: they say that Muslims have a right to feel offended because of American attitudes or American policy, or because of a racist pastor in Florida who burns Qurans, or because of a hate-spewing filmmaker. This is a classic case of blaming the victim, and it reveals a measure of self-hate that is unflattering to those who make these arguments.

The accusers blame all Muslims for terrorism. They quote selectively from the Quran to “prove” that all Muslims are liars, murderers or deceivers. They seek to create a wedge between a self-proclaimed Christian United States or Europe and the Muslim hordes who are seen as waiting at the gates of Vienna to overrun the West. This is a case of the accusers trying to foment a civilizational clash that Christians, Jews and Muslims all reject and fear.

And then there are the political gamesters, trying to gain an advantage during this American political season. They are quick to blame the administration for what it says, does or doesn’t do. They miss the point, of course, by turning the “us-them” struggle against terrorism into an “us-them” struggle against the opposite political party.

The apologists, the accusers and the political gamesters are the last people we should listen to for answers at a time like this. The reality is that some militant fanatics decided to attack American government facilities, planned and bided their time, and carried out their act of terrorism on the anniversary of 9/11. They chose a pretext — a bigoted anti-Muslim film — to “justify” their action, just as fanatics have done in the past. They deserve no understanding on our part; they do not represent all Muslims, and they certainly do not deserve the political satisfaction of dividing Americans further from each other, widening the divide in an already dangerously polarized American society. If we allow this to happen — if we allow the apologists, the accusers, and the politicians to define what happened in Benghazi, Cairo or Sanaa according to their own narrow agendas — we will give the terrorists a political victory they do not deserve.

It is instead a moment to unite behind our government as we mourn the victims and stand up for our diplomats serving abroad. It is a time to join together to try to understand a region where long-held assumptions — assumptions that have been shared and have guided the policies of Republicans and Democrats alike — have been shattered.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got it right when she said the attack in Libya was perpetrated by a small and savage group, not by the Libyan government. We should expect that government, as well as the Egyptian and Yemeni governments, to search for, apprehend and punish those responsible for these heinous crimes against our diplomats and our embassies. We should work with them as they do so. This is the American way of pursuing justice for those who attack us.

Topics: Diplomacy • Egypt • Libya

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soundoff (147 Responses)
  1. XYZ

    I like the article. I think, Obama should condemn the Qumran burning pastor and fanatics of all religious groups, either christian or muslims or whatever. People who want to be taken seriously as actors, carricaturists and film-makers should know, that their production could violate feelings of believers and religious fanatics. It wasn't in any way acceptable to provokate muslims with a film that wasn't at least satirical or art. Freedom of speech isn't a good argument, because a democratic society doesn't come up and is changing people's way of thinking just with elections. It takes time. The freedom and liberty of one group, is sometimes surpressing the liberty/ freedom of the other. But I can't understand the bad taste of the film-maker! Even if religious thinking is narrowing the diplomatic agenda, such a crass movie is absolute tasteless. Romney made himself a fool – again! If american people want to go on war, they should vote for him!

    September 14, 2012 at 4:59 am | Reply
  2. fiftyfive55

    muslims riot and hillary aologizes ! why ? does she realize how weak she makes us look ?its a sad day when muslims dictate what kind of movies people can make.

    September 14, 2012 at 6:50 am | Reply
  3. Scott B

    "This was an act of terrorism — horrific, inexcusable, intolerable assaults against a prominent diplomat — and a message to all America"

    Exactly what message is that other than GTFO of our country?

    "It is instead a moment to unite behind our government as we mourn the victims and stand up for our diplomats serving abroad."

    To be perfectly honest, no. I will never unite behind our corrupt government. Maybe when it concerns itself with our country and its people rather than playing little games overseas, I'll change my opinion.

    September 14, 2012 at 7:26 am | Reply
    • MG


      September 14, 2012 at 7:48 am | Reply
  4. aldo mcmannus

    Anyone who writes for Fareed "Plagarist" Zakaria's Global Public Square is a muslim apologist terrorist who needs not live in America. All Muslims are animals and thus need to be treated like the animals they are. Collar them and beat them all into submission. Islam is NOT a religion of peace, it's a religion of violence.

    September 14, 2012 at 8:47 am | Reply
    • Critical Thinker

      Ignorance is not a justification for hating Muslims.

      September 14, 2012 at 9:10 am | Reply
      • Gene

        muslim ignorance is not justification for killing Americans, Brits,Germans, French...

        September 15, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
  5. crazytimes

    Why when someone makes fun of Jesus Christ no one riots? Why when the Christian GOD is slandered no one cuts off peoples heads? I am tired of people trying to protect or make excuses for these people. Spin it anyway you want but the Muslims and their religion is full of hate and always looking for a reason to kill. I watched the video and there is NO reason to think any other thing than how stupid it is. MY GOD says that Vengeance is His.

    September 14, 2012 at 8:50 am | Reply
    • Paddymurphy

      "Your God" thinks you ought to read his book again. You apparently did not pay too much attention the first time you read it.

      September 14, 2012 at 9:05 am | Reply
      • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

        He is right actually.


        September 14, 2012 at 9:29 am |
  6. Critical Thinker

    NO ONE APOLOGIZED. This makes Kurtzer is a biased hack just like Romney.

    September 14, 2012 at 9:05 am | Reply
  7. ana

    So sad for the English-speaking world that this author, the CNN headline generator, and most of those commenting don't even know what the word 'apologist' actually means.

    September 14, 2012 at 9:07 am | Reply
    • Gene

      okay genius, go ahead and educate us.

      September 15, 2012 at 10:24 pm | Reply
  8. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    The accusers blame all Muslims for terrorism. They quote selectively from the Quran to “prove” that all Muslims are liars,

    In other words the Quaran is just as contradictive as the Bible. And the author is just another cherry picking religious type that likes to ignore the parts of their “holy book” that don’t match their world view.

    September 14, 2012 at 9:28 am | Reply
  9. Reprinted With Permission ©


    A recent report by United Press trust of India (UPI) stated that during the past three years more than 2,500 young boys and girls were sacrificed to goddess Kali in India. Another of AFP's recent reports say: hundreds of young boys and virgin girls are sacrificed every month for the deity Kali. In one case Rama Sewak hacked his eight year old son to death in broad daylight in Delhi because goddess Kali had told him he would come back to life and bring him good fortune. Bloodthirsty Kali is worshipped openly the length and breadth of India. Kali's statue stands naked astride the inanimate body of the Hindu deity Shiva, tongue stuck out with blood dripping from fang-like teeth. She holds a noose, a skull-topped staff, a blood-encrusted sword and a severed head. She is also known as Durga, Devi, Shaktima, Uma and Parvathi in other manifestations. The priest of Delhi, Kali Bari, says that a child sacrificed to Kali ensures a man the birth of a son. Human sacrifices are also made to these gods or goddesses, either to appease them or to ask favours of them.

    September 14, 2012 at 9:28 am | Reply
  10. Ain't No Boy Young Enough


    Mahatma Gandhi and Jerry Sandusky: Strange Bedfellows

    What do these two have in common???? Terrorizing boys !!!! Shame. Let us bring their memories down and their legacies trashed. Let us knock their statues down and their thoughts erased.

    September 14, 2012 at 9:30 am | Reply
  11. Akram

    There has been ample precedence to predict the response of the Muslim Nations once provoked by insulting Islam. While all violence is condemned as means of resolving conflict, the outrage that contributed to the death of four Americans in Libya is neither surprising nor unforeseen. The film is produced in the United States, by an Israeli whose allegiance is to a state –Israel- that is engaged in ethnic cleansing in Palestine as we speak and who admits that Islam is a “cancer”, both him and that state are coddled by the United States! Nakoula Basseley Nakoulaa Coptic Egyptian is part of another fringe separatist group with deeply rooted animosity against Islam that the United States also coddles! And not to forget Terry Jones of course, who shamelessly burned the Quran right here in America.
    While we are inundated with moderate Muslims and apologists on either side on the issue, in this instant, it is not sufficient to quietly observe and revel in the nobility of Islam as we know it and as philosophers and writers might have noted. It is not sufficient to hear and read the apologies and outcries from Presidents and Secretaries of states. Those responsible must be held responsible by law, and those moderates, must deliver a clear and resounding condemnation. And to those who belittle the incident, worry not about the heads of state in Muslim Nations, it is the people who changed regimes that need to be taken into account, they have a point, at least five and a half.., or need I count, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Tunisia and Jordan being the half point.
    The sooner we –collectively- learn and learn to respect the expressed red lines of all civilization living on this planet, the sooner we can achieve peace, otherwise, we cannot lament that which we had ample precedence to stand up for and prevent. There are two ways to build and empire, one based on self-preservation, self-interest and embracing of all forms of mutant contradictions, or, one built on a foundation justice. I choose justice.

    September 14, 2012 at 10:09 am | Reply
    • tiggerwoodsy

      agreed, so we will ramp up the droning to wipe out your thinking, you don't get it, you are wrong- you believe killing over your feelings re justified but then you are agasth that a racist in the world believes the same thing about you except the racist does not follow through with the act because they know it is wrong, illegal, against a human right to live.... i hope everyone sees that even though the ex ambassador has so eloquently written this piece, that there are still uneducated muslim buffons in existence even in our society!!! get them out of our society!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      September 14, 2012 at 10:49 am | Reply
  12. saukrhiann

    For all that he says, and even acknowledges that the film was a "bigoted, anti-Muslim film", he ignores the fact that the film itself was only just published on YouTube, triggering these assaults and possibly choosing the date of release specifically for the purpose of triggering them on September 11th.

    Yes, I will agree that Muslim extremists took advantage of the situation and I'm quite certain they helped stage that first one in Libya. As yet, you don't see the same level of violence at the others (though it's still severe enough to warrant some serious precautions) but I can bet that the extremists will be working overtime to stretch this outrage to all Americans; painting us with the same stripe that one extremist Christian roundly deserves. If you ask me, that one individual should be given over to them for their form of Justice–ours won't do a thing despite the fact that he may have caused an all-out war against the U.S.

    September 14, 2012 at 11:06 am | Reply
    • saukrhiann

      Our country was founded on the idea of Freedom of Religion. That means ALL religions, not just one. Be careful what you wish for; you might just get it. You might be surprised at what you've reaped.

      September 14, 2012 at 11:09 am | Reply
  13. VinceProfessor

    It is easy to be outraged every time they kill one of our own. Where were you when our own government assasinated their leader Qaddafi, and let thugs drag his body through the desert? Where was your outrage? Or is it OK when we kill their political leaders, and it is an outrageous act of terrorism when they kill one of our own? I guess I am one of those unflattering apologists. If you kill their people, they will kill ours. Go ahead, do not apologize, be outraged, kill more of them, and be prepared to be outraged even more.

    September 14, 2012 at 11:41 am | Reply
    • Gene

      I thought the whole thing was barbaric, what do you expect from muslims?

      September 15, 2012 at 10:35 pm | Reply
  14. John Geheran

    A generally well-balanced piece – with the exception of one assertion: the inference that a small number of fanatics are responsible for the violence attributed to Muslims. While technically accurate, the big picture is that even a "small minority" when expressed as a percentage of the whole belies the fact that at only 15% equals an army of upwards of 200 thousand. While the components of this number may be at odds with each other, they are united when it comes to their hatred of the West and all that it stands for. Only when the politically elite come to grips with this fact will the West have a chance of overcoming this "militant faction" of a totalitarian philosophy that masquerades as a religion.

    September 14, 2012 at 11:50 am | Reply
    • pliny

      Thank you for your post.

      I cannot agree more.

      We need to wake up and see that we are in a culture war with islam.

      And until we in the west come to realize that being politcally correct is not a solution, it will be a one-sided war....and we shall be the targets.

      September 14, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Reply
  15. ISLAME

    Such a PEACEFUL day in the world of ISLAME!!

    September 14, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Reply
  16. Mo Montana

    The message the muslims are sending is very clear. Don't fuk with them otherwise they will come after you. Period. So drone 'em, bomb 'em ....whatever you may wanna do.... but they will will keep on coming at ya.

    September 14, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Reply
    • Karl from Wash DC

      Just don't mess with muslims. Simple.
      Time to focus on hindus instead. Their values are more in line with the western world (wink wink ). LMFAO !!

      Bizarre child-burying Hindu ceremony in India
      Indian police have charged 80 people for burying children alive in an ancient Hindu ceremony known as "the festival of pits."
      The ceremony, in which children - some less than a year old - are buried alive.

      Every two years, parents who have vowed to bury their first-born if they are blessed with a child, take part in the Kuzhimattru Thiru Vizha ceremony.
      The children are drugged to make them unconscious and placed in shallow "graves" in temple courtyards.
      The pits are covered with leaves and dirt and the children are pulled out after Hindu priests chant a brief prayer - lasting up to a minute.

      September 14, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Reply
    • Karl from Wash DC

      ARE INDIANS UBER TERRORISTS OR WHAT???? Forget the GDP, focus on these murder statistics.
      In India, millions of girls are strangled, slowly starved or simply tossed in the trash. Moreover, in India, at least 1,370 girls are aborted every day. As a comparison, some 250 Indians die every day in road accidents. Terrorists killed about six people, on an average, every day in 2009. In the last two decades of economic progress, 10 million girls have died as such in India.

      September 14, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Reply
    • Gene

      Muslims will come after infidels no matter what we do.
      What is your point Zippy?

      September 15, 2012 at 10:37 pm | Reply
  17. mike58

    Stop all aid
    get Americans out and
    Launch the Bombers

    September 14, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Reply
  18. thelastindependent

    All this has become a case of mutual disappointment. Muslims are justly angered at the lack of respect and dignity shown by the filmmaker(s) who made that stupid movie. However, I'm at the very least, disappointed by the violence and lack of respect for our democratic values, especially our 1st Amendment rights, shown by a lot of people throughout the Arab and Muslim world. No one should worry that, by saying, doing, or showing something, no matter how offense or controversial it might be, it might start a riot on the other side of the world.

    September 14, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Reply
  19. mardjan

    This movie is in itself hate speech and should be treated as such. I am amazed that nobody focuses on the political affiliations of these Americans, who have engaged in this heinous behavior. Honestly this looks like a deliberately provocative act aiming at influencing the US election by creating chaos abroad. It has spinned so out of control that nobody wants to claim it as theirs. Americans expect the countries to apologize for the hooligans that attack embassies. Why not apologize for the heinous act of a few americans who have attacked what muslims hold so sacred and dear?

    September 14, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Reply
  20. WorldPeace

    Some warn that the recent event could potentially run into another Arab-Spring style of uprising, this time against American. Yet, there is a big different between Arab Spring and this recent event. The former was a huge explosion of discontents that have been suppressed for decades by dictatorial regimes across Middle East and affected a large percentage of the population. The recent event is simply a burst of emotion among a tiny crowd fueled by hatred of US influence. If you notice, the crowd that attacked the embassies are more or less than 1000 people, while the vast silence majority of Arab nations offers some quiet level of understanding and tolerance as most religions do. We should base our foreign policy on the silence majority.

    I hope our government keep a cool head, not over-react and do the radical elements a big favor by unintentionally fueling the fire further....

    September 15, 2012 at 3:00 am | Reply
    • rzarc

      Right now we have a "cool head" running our government. That could all change after November 6th.

      September 15, 2012 at 7:48 pm | Reply
    • Gene

      If this silent muslim majority does not stand up and be counted, then they are part of the problem.

      September 15, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Reply
  21. crystal

    I think this piece too detached. I'm Canadian, yet I grieve for losses felt round the world. I extend my heartfelt sypathies to the families of those lost; and offer my steadfast support to my big brother Americans in their time of pain and confusion. Please stand tall and know you are still respected and loved by right thinking people across the globe. I wish you peace and comfort in trying times.

    September 15, 2012 at 3:15 am | Reply
    • Gene

      Recent Canadian?

      September 15, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Reply
      • crystal

        No – born and bred. And far more comfortable with a cool head and hand governing my next door neighbour. I don't want to live next to a country that would elect a Romney/Ryan ticket. Too scary for words....

        September 17, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
      • Gene

        You have no say what Americans do.
        If you do not like living next door to Americans, go live in the ME. That should make you happy!

        September 17, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
      • crystal

        Least I live next door to the good ole USA and love and support her. I have no say in how she's run – agreed. I have all the right in the world to comment on anything I choose. We have free speech in Canada as well, in case you were foggy about that. That aside, I would think you would prefer my comments of repect and solidarity to the comments of the Israeli Prime Minister actually mixing in your politics and trying to draw a red line in American soil suggesting you must support Romney or face a nuclear disaster.

        September 18, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  22. krm1007 ©™

    The one most successful aspect of recent American foreign policy has been the conquest of India without firing a bullet. That is the beauty of capitalism used as a Trojan Horse! Economic victory! Give them a taste of steak and they will never settle for hamburgers again. USA now owns India Inc. not only economically but also militarily as economic subjugation ultimately leads to military domination. The recent win for US multinationals has been pressuring the Indian Govt to open up majority ownership of domestic companies by foreign investors. US will now be virtually able to control the government policies in India via remote control in Wash D.C.
    The take away is that US needs to find a similar mechanism in Middle East/North Africa to control events without having to depend on military dictatorships to do the biding. Economic subjugation appears to be the way out but what may be applicable to hindus may not work in case of muslims. That poses the dilemma that we are struggling with. Israel may have to be the sacrificial goat to make this happen, I am afraid.

    September 15, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Reply
    • Saxby

      US Multinationals achieved in 20 years what took British East India Company hundreds of years.Your comments are invigorating and right on the money. Thanks for posting them.

      September 15, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Reply
      • artem

        LoL !! What a joke. The retail market will not be opened up anytime soon and the US consulate just got stoned in India. GM and Ford are making record losses unlike in China where they actually buy crappy american cars . US is kept out of any strategic defense deal (MMRCA), Nuke reactors, JV for missiles and they are instead given to France and Russia. US sure does have a lot of influence. US is a good market and the multinationals provide jobs to educated Indians. Beyond that there is hardly any influence especially given US militarily's closeness with pakis. The only area they seem to cooperate on are against the chinese for some reason.Hardly worth mentioning.

        September 16, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
      • I Am Not The One To Mince words

        We have invested a lot of resources in India over the past two decades and given a lot of aid to prop it up. There has been no investment on this return. Instead India has squandered all the resources in building nuclear weapons while poverty remains rampant in the country. We need to revisit our relationship with India. American taxpayers will not tolerate this anymore. We need to take care of our own populace going forward. We cannot be exporting jobs to India or giving it financial or technical handouts.It has become too big to govern or create any value for western countries or even for its own population. India needs to be carved up into smaller independent states to be a viable economically and geo politically.

        September 16, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  23. artem

    Lets see how long the govt lasts. Anyway the next govt will reverse this decision no matter what.

    September 16, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Reply
  24. kc

    Is anyone looking into Irianian involvement in these uprisings.Iran often works in a clandestine fashion through proxies or advisors. Iran itself just admitted to having advisors in neighboring countries involved in the ararb spring. How do we know if they are involved in embassey attacks ,direct or indirectly?They are currently claiming terrorists in the IAEA,and this could be a diversionary tactic.

    September 17, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Reply
  25. Hindu, Holocaust and Hitler: A Study In Commonality

    NEW YORK: Renowned Indian activist and novelist Arundhati Roy has decried the silence of the international community over the continued “brutal Indian occupation of Kashmir” and said Kashmiris should be given the right to self-determination……
    She said so little was known about the atrocities being committed by more than half a million Indian troops, the continuing repression and indignities let loose on Kashmiri men, women and children.
    More than 700,000 troops were concentrated in the tiny valley, with checkpoints at every nook and corner of Kashmiri towns and cities. The huge Indian presence, she added, was in sharp contrast with 160,000 US troops in Iraq.
    Ms Roy alleged that Indian army or security personnel were killing young children and women among others.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Reply
  26. In God We Trust

    On behalf of all Indian Hindus, I apologize for the moronic and hateful comments being posted by my fellow Indians. I am ashamed of it. It reflects the deep rot that exists in our decadent Indian society.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:23 am | Reply
  27. jaketonlinebandung

    News content CNN is very good and understand, thanks

    June 23, 2013 at 8:00 am | Reply
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