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Film Protests Show New Challenges for US in Middle East

  • Kent Klein

The killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and the protests at U.S. facilities in numerous Islamic countries are prompting questions about how the United States can protect against future attacks.

The release of a video that many consider insulting to Islam has sent thousands of people to the streets to protest in countries such as Yemen and Sudan. Some protests became violent attacks on Western embassies...... including the assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other American embassy staff dead.

Amid the turmoil, U.S. officials and foreign policy experts have struggled to find ways Washington can best work with Middle Eastern countries that are working to establish democracies.

Many say the overthrow of authoritarian governments in the Middle East will present new challenges for the United States that will continue for years.

“If you think this week was difficult, expect more of this for the rest of this decade,” saud Brian Katulis, a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress.

Foreign policy experts say one challenge for U.S. officials is to hold to a consistent message.

Hisham Melhem, the Washington bureau chief for the Al-Arabiya News Channel says the administration should emphasize the criminal nature of the attacks on U.S. diplomats, and avoid being forced to defend religious freedom.

“Every time an idiot in the United States uses his camera, or tells me he wants to burn a copy of the Quran, that this becomes an international issue that forces the president of the United States, the secretary of state of the United States, to give you a lecture about Islam, or to give you a lecture about religion, and to give you a lecture about the American political system and how much it tolerates religion," Melhem said.

Katulis says the U.S. should reject calls to withdraw from the Middle East or cut aid because of the protests.

He says Washington has the unique ability to help Middle Eastern countries build their democracies.

“It is essential that the U.S. is the undisputed leader in the region. Nobody has the will or the capability to do what we can do in the Gulf region. China is not going to do it. Russia certainly is not going to do it,” he said.

Katulis advocates investing more heavily in what he calls smart power -- building U.S. power and influence in the Middle East by understanding its politics, economy and social dynamics .just as Christopher Stevens did as ambassador to Libya.

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