In a sober Rose Garden appearance with the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton at his side, President Barack Obama today vowed to seek out and punish those responsible for the killing of four US diplomats in Benghazi last night, including US Ambassador Christopher Stevens. “Justice will be done,” he promised.
Condemning the attack by a mob enraged by a US-made film seen to have poked fun at Islam, Mr Obama said: “Make no mistake. We will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people”. But the implication was clear: if the Libyan authorities don’t find the perpetrators the United States will.
Earlier, Ms Clinton said the attack should “shock the conscience of people of all faiths around the world” adding that it had been carried out by a “small and savage group of militants” and not by the people or government of Libya. She also reflected on how it had occurred in a country the US had helped set free from dictatorship last year.
“I ask myself, how could this happen? How could this happen in a country we helped liberate, in a city we helped save from destruction?” she said, making her own remarks in the State Department. “This question reflects just how complicated and, at times, how confounding the world can be.”
The killings and an earlier assault on the US embassy in Cairo will catapult foreign policy back to centre-stage in the US elections, hitherto dominated by domestic issues. Mitt Romney scrapped a planned campaign appearance in Florida and gave a press conference during which he stood by criticism he had made overnight of a statement issued by the US embassy in Cairo that seemed to equally condemn the makers of the film and the assault.
“I think it’s a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values, instead when our grounds are being attacked, being breached, the first response of the United States is to be outraged,” Mr Romney said. “The statement was akin to an apology and I think was a severe miscalculation.”
That Mr Romney chose to respond to the tragedy by further berating Mr Obama over what he called his “hit-or-miss” foreign policy approach may or may not pay him dividends. What is sure, however, is that he and his team will not welcome the focus swinging away from his preferred turf of the US economy. At the same time, Mr Obama confronts huge risks of his own as he weighs America’s response to the unexpected crisis.
As a first step, Mr Obama yesterday ordered enhanced security for diplomatic posts around the world. Minutes later the Pentagon revealed it was sending an elite corps of anti-terrorism Marines to Libya. Their most urgent task, however, is likely to be hunting down the killers of Ambassador Stevens so that Mr Obama’s promise to bring to them to justice can be swiftly honoured, perhaps even before Americans vote in early November.
Holed-up at a secret location in California yesterday, the creator of the “Innocence of Muslims” film used telephone interviews to capitalise on his newfound notoriety, declaring: “Islam is a cancer, period.”
The death-threats directed at Sam Bacile are very real. But little else seems straightforward about the man, who is completely unknown in Hollywood, despite his claims to have written and directed a $5m independent movie involving 59 actors and 45 technical staff.
An interviewer from the Associated Press described him a as 56-year-old Israeli real-estate developer based in California. But there appears to be no record of his involvement in the region’s property market. Another, from the Wall Street Journal put his age at 52. The Times of Israel dubbed him a Jewish US citizen who is “familiar” with the Middle East.
Whatever Mr Bacile’s provenance, it seems inconceivable that a two-hour film that appears so low-budget can have cost $5m, as he currently alleges. And did 100 Jewish donors really finance this eccentric project? He has yet to provide supporting evidence.
Sam Bacile – if that is his real name - is not apologetic. Asked if he’d learned anything from the affair, he told a reporter: “I feel the security system [at embassies] is no good. America should do something to change it.”