The Obama administration is reportedly preparing a military operation against the militants who attacked the diplomatic mission in Libya last month, resulting in the death of the U.S. ambassador, and ideally the White House will enjoy the same success it had against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida's top operatives in Afghanistan. There are limits, however, to what the United States and any Western nation can do against Islamic militants whose actions reflect the failings of the international Muslim community to exist in and contribute to the civilized world.
The White House acted wisely in assisting Libyans in the overthrow of brutal dictator Moammar Gadhafi, so the attack against the diplomatic mission in Libya is particularly galling. It did not reflect the feelings of a majority of Libyans, as ambassador Christopher Stevens was well-respected. He did know, however, that he and his staff were in peril because of militants who scapegoat the West for their own institutional failings and whose default position in reaction to real or imagined insults is violence.
Mature societies don't respond to an insult to their religion in an offensive cartoon or video by looting, destroying and murdering. The amateur video that provoked this reaction was also a pretext for Islamic militants to respond to their many grievances against the United States and the West, but these militants pick their spots too carefully to be taken seriously.
Middle Eastern governments, when not aligned with militants, are too often afraid to stand up to them. The new Libyan government has warned the White House not to enter its territory in pursuit of those who assaulted the U.S. embassy. However, if the government does not bring these people to justice the U.S. has every right to do so. Libya is behaving in the same manner as Pakistan, which protested American drone attacks and other aggressive actions while refusing to deal with al- Qaida itself. Ultimately, Osama bin Laden was found and eradicated by Navy SEALS in the heart of a Pakistani community.
As Thomas L. Friedman of The New York Times writes below, the complexities and volatility of much of the Arab world requires a deft touch on the part of Washington, the ability to know when to use force and when to rely on diplomacy and a refusal to succumb to self-defeating bluster. What is also necessary is for the Arab world, situated in what used to be the cradle of civilization before religious intolerance, paternalism, opposition to education and fear of independent thought stopped progress in its tracks, to join the 21st century and grasp that bloodshed is never an appropriate action.