Beginning two weeks ago and going on for 12 days, the White House was adamant that the horrific Sept. 11 attacks on our embassies in Egypt and Libya, which resulted in four dead Americans (one an ambassador) and included burnings of Barack Obama in effigy, were caused by outrage at a 14-minute "film" that had been made by an obscure private citizen and seen only by a handful of people on YouTube.
The film, about as offensive to Muslims as "Piss Christ" is to most Christian (and many non-Christian) Americans, was seen by the administration as a perfectly plausible reason for these riots (and murders) to have happened. "Piss Christ," meanwhile, which received an award and a $15,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant when it was first exhibited, is on display in a gallery in Manhattan this week.
Though Obama and Hillary Clinton have yet to be heard on this depiction of Jesus submerged in a jar filled with urine, they have been filled with remorse at the insult to Muslims. So remorseful, in fact, that they spent $70,000 on ads airing in Pakistan. As the wonderful Mark Steyn informs us, "Obama and Clinton are currently starring as the Siskel & Ebert of Pakistani TV, giving two thumbs down to 'Innocence of Muslims' in hopes that it will dissuade local moviegoers from giving two heads off to consular officials."
"The United States government had absolutely nothing to do with this video," Clinton insisted, and Obama and other officials roundly denounced it. Incredibly, this did not work, and riots in Pakistan left 17 people dead.
Eventually, they were forced to discard this defense. It was really just a pretense, to deny that a resurgent al Qaeda had launched an attack; that Arabs and Muslims hate the United States just as they did when George W. Bush was president; and that the Obama doctrine of "lead from behind" was kaput.
But the very fact that this pretense was bruited so earnestly and for so long is leaving the White House with a whole new problem: If an obscure and shoddy 14-minute "film," made by unknowns, disowned and denounced by the United States government, could cause so much outrage, what could a real film do -- a multimillion-dollar, star-studded extravaganza, made and marketed by a big, professional studio, with the full cooperation of the United States government?
As it happens, just such a movie exists. "Zero Dark Thirty," directed by Academy Award winner Kathryn Bigelow, is scheduled to open Dec. 19. It tells the exciting tale of how U.S. special forces arranged the demise of Osama bin Laden, giving Obama, as it now appears certain, the single unquestioned success of his life.
Planned at first as a rose tossed in Obama's direction, the movie has now become problematic for two reasons. First, if the attacks in Egypt and Libya are (as it seems) an al Qaeda production, then bin Laden's execution was merely revenge, and not a game changer. Second, the Obama administration has now posited that provocative films are excuses to riot -- and what could be more provoking of riots than the Great Satan dancing on Osama's watery grave?
Perhaps the administration should say it had "nothing to do" with both the film and the mission. Perhaps it should denounce both as "offensive" and "hateful." Perhaps the government should beef up security at foreign embassies (and local cinemas). Perhaps local police should call on Ms. Bigelow. Perhaps the State Department should write its apologies in advance, now.
Examiner Columnist Noemie Emery is contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."