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Opinion

What next in Egypt and Libya?

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Opinion,Op-Eds

The assassination of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and the murder of three other embassy personnel in Libya, along with the riot at our embassy in Egypt, were carefully planned attacks meant to challenge America's presence and influence in both nations. They weren't spontaneous protests against the otherwise-unnoticed video mocking Islam. The film was an excuse, not a reason for the attacks.

There is no coincidence that the Egyptian rioters tore down an American flag inside our embassy compound and raised the black flag of al Qaeda in its place on the 11th anniversary of 9/11. Though Americans still remember 9/11, the date's significance is far greater now to our enemies than it is to us. The brother of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was reportedly present at the Cairo riot.

The Obama administration's response did not defend Americans' First Amendment rights. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that religions cannot be honored by violence, but neither she nor President Obama said what needed most to be said. The First Amendment is intended to protect speech that is politically unpopular. The fact that radical Islamists in Libya and Egypt may be offended by Americans' exercise of that right should be met with a strong rebuff which has yet to be made.

Mitt Romney's condemnation of the attacks and criticism of the administration's apologetic response was on point, but he failed to make clear what a president Romney might do differently. President Obama said that the perpetrators of the assassination and murders would be brought to justice. But that is an empty threat. We lack the power in Libya to do anything more than rely on the Libyan government to capture and punish the killers. Remember -- this is the nation that welcomed the return of Lockerbie terrorist bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi as a hero.

President Obama has ordered a force of about 50 Marines to reinforce diplomatic security in Libya. Whether this force will be able to protect anything depends on the rules of engagement the Obama administration establishes for them. We don't know what those rules will be, but the Marines shouldn't be put in the position of defending against thousands of rioters. The Marines' lives shouldn't be offered up as a sacrifice to Obama's failing policies. The president should, instead, demand that the Libyan and Egyptian governments post their own military forces to protect our diplomatic outposts and threaten to withdraw all American personnel if they don't act immediately to do so.

At this point, there is no reason for either the Egyptians or the Libyans to do that. Obama needs to give them that reason.

In March, the Obama administration released about $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt, despite the new Egyptian government's crackdown on political opponents. Since the uprising against Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi began last year, U.S. aid to Libya has amounted to about $135 million, including an additional $11 million released by Clinton last fall. This aid is the only leverage we have against these nations. It should be used immediately and decisively.

Aid to both nations should be cut off immediately and for an indefinite period. Unless the two governments act to suppress the rioters, there is no reason America should be funding anything they are doing.

America has a limited national security interest in Egypt and Libya. If those nations are to move toward democracy -- which at this point neither is doing -- we should help and encourage them. If not, our interest is to isolate, condemn and defeat the radical Islamists who now hold power in both nations.

Jed Babbin was appointed deputy undersecretary of defense by President George H.W. Bush. He is the author of such best-selling books as "Inside the Asylum" and "In the Words of Our Enemies."

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