It was bad enough, two years ago, that Defense Secretary Robert Gates called fringe Florida pastor Terry Jones to ask him not to burn copies of the Koran, or last week, that chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey took his turn to call Jones to ask him to stop publicizing a YouTube video, The Innocence of Muslims. But then on Friday, White House spokesman Jay Carney told the world that the violent protests in Cairo and Benghazi and elsewhere were a “response not to United States policy, and not obviously the administration or the American people,” but were “in response to a video, a film we have judged to be reprehensible and disgusting.” Carney repeated the point for emphasis: “This is not a case of protests directed at the United States at large or at U.S. policy, but in response to a video that is offensive to Muslims.”
Carney’s comments lie outside the range of plausible spin, even by Obama administration standards, and if his bosses believe them—as we fear they do—are simply delusional. But they are not without consequence. Nor are Gates’s and Dempsey’s phone calls. They all send the message to America’s enemies that if you kill our diplomats and lay siege to the our embassies, the first move the American government will make is to denounce . . . Americans. Our leaders apparently believe that the way to protect Americans from extremists and terrorists abroad is to tell other Americans to shut up.
What’s next? Where does it go from here? There are more than 300 million ways in which Americans expressing themselves might give offense to those who make it their business to be offended. Maybe it’s some other film, maybe it’s a book or even just a tossed-off phrase that our enemies might seize on to galvanize support for their causes. Is the White House going to put every American crank on speed-dial so it can tell them to shut up whenever a mob gathers outside a U.S. embassy or consulate?