How Should We Respond to Embassy Stormings?

Doug has already posted on the protests and stormings of our embassies in Libya and Egypt over the posting of a video the protesters found offensive to Islam. I’d like to ask a more pointed question than those Doug raised. How should we respond to these events?

I think that these events are very serious, indeed, and threaten the possibility of continued diplomacy with these countries. I’m open to other views but here’s what I think we should do.

I think that we should remind the host countries of their obligations under the Vienna Convention and request that they come into compliance within a reasonable timeframe, at most 24 hours. If the host countries fail to do so, we should withdraw our embassies, by force if necessary, and terminate diplomatic relations with them until such time as they have governments which will honor their obligations on responsibilities to diplomats.

I hope that other OTB editors, especially John Burgess, our resident diplomat, would chime in on this subject and update this post with their own observations.

FILED UNDER: Open Forum, , , , , ,
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. Of some concern to me is that, so far at least, there doesn’t seem to be any statement at all coming from the Egyptian Government.

  2. I think, at a minimum, all in-country consular services for non-US citizens (primarily visa interviews) should be suspended immediately in Egypt and Libya for a period of at least 6 months. If they want a US visa, they can schlep to Tunis or Tel Aviv or another city where the local authorities provide credible security for consulates and embassies.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    For me the key point is that providing external security for our embassies is the responsibility of the host country under the Vienna Convention. If Egypt or Libya is unable or unwilling to live up to its obligations under the convention, diplomacy is impossible.

    I also think that we should seek a Security Council resolution reminding host countries of their obligations to diplomats.

  4. TastyBits says:

    Libya is a European mess. They broke it, and they are responsible for it.

  5. With regard to Libya, there have been attacks on Western targets in Benghazi for months. The Red Cross has apparently seen multiple attacks on its facilities. How much the central government is in control there seems to be a question.

  6. Chris Berez says:

    Dave, I agree with you fully about giving them notice to comply with the Vienna Convention immediately or else withdraw our personnel, close our embassies, and sever diplomatic relations until such a time as the Convention is adhered to. That’s what I was thinking last night and this morning. I’m glad to see that view being vocalized by others too. Not sure if that means it will actually happen; but this is an outrage beyond words and it needs a very strong and decisive response.

  7. JKB says:

    @Doug Mataconis: With regard to Libya, there have been attacks on Western targets in Benghazi for months.

    So your saying the Libyan intervention was more a debacle?

    If the side we supported can’t provide security in the town they held for the longest time, then I’d say we backed the wrong side and probably should have stayed out of the mess.

  8. JKB says:

    We cut off all US foreign aid going into those countries until it is demonstrated that the host governments can meet their diplomatic obligations. Reduce our diplomatic presence to the minimum and maintain the carrier group in the MED on alert for forcible extraction.

  9. Franklin says:

    Assuming that we implemented Schuler’s basic response, I’m curious to know how much they would even care. I’m sure they would care about JKB’s next step of stopping all foreign aid.

  10. stonetools says:

    Apparently, the Egyptians have massively beefed the security around the embassy. That’s a good start. Now there should be a statement.

  11. Just saw this:

    U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens was killed along with three other diplomats Wednesday in Benghazi when a rocket-propelled grenade struck their vehicle.

  12. Just Me says:

    What is concerning about the Ambassador’s death is it appears the security force actually helped with the murders by pointing out where he would be. That isn’t just a failure of security in a volatile situation. Libya though is a mess anyway-and I agree that it isn’t clear exactly how much control the government has.

    We cut off all US foreign aid going into those countries until it is demonstrated that the host governments can meet their diplomatic obligations. Reduce our diplomatic presence to the minimum and maintain the carrier group in the MED on alert for forcible extraction.

    I think this makes a lot of sense. Cut off the purse strings, cut off most diplomatic duties, and if need be withdraw.

    I think what is concerning is that neither Egypt or Libya seem to provide a security force that can be trusted and is capable of maintaining security. Not sure I would be too keen on staying in either country or working at either embassy.

  13. michael reynolds says:

    Egypt and Libya are not the same. The Libyan government immediately denounced the attacks. The Libyan people seem well-disposed to the US, as does the government, and we should avoid over-reacting.

    Egypt is a very different situation. This silence from them is at the least disturbing. If they haven’t issued a full apology, a full condemnation, and moved to take security measures, all within 24 hours then we should yank our embassy and our money.

  14. @JKB:

    As you may recall I opposed the Libyan intervention

  15. @michael reynolds:

    The Libyan government immediately denounced the attacks.

    I’m sure they were absolutely shocked to discover there was gambling going on in here.

  16. michael reynolds says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    I don’t think there’s any basis for that particular sort of cynicism re: Libya at this point. Egypt is a whole different matter.

    The focus is on Libya because we lost lives, but Libya is a side show. Egypt is the main event.

  17. PJ says:

    Invade both countries and install puppet regimes?

  18. Rob in CT says:

    Too early to tell. Really.

    Emotionally, the idea of stopping all aid and withdrawing our people has great appeal to me. If the responses of the two governments continue to be unsatisfactory (particularly if it turns out government forces were involved in the attacks!), then absolutely that’s an appropriate response. At a minimum.

  19. grumpy realist says:

    Not to go too far off topic, but now there’s some evidence that the original film was actually constructed out of dubbing something totally unrelated.

  20. John Burgess says:

    I think breaking relations is too big a step at this point.

    For Libya, it’s grossly excessive. The government can barely protect itself and really doesn’t have much control over Benghazi. Offering that government assistance could actually be beneficial to both them and us.

    Egypt is quite different. The government is sitting on a fence, or to switch metaphors, trying to have its cake while eating it. That government should be reminded first of their international obligations and told that better is expected. If better does not materialize, then it’s time to get tougher. Deducting $1 million/day from foreign aid for each day in which it does not meet its obligation wouldn’t be a bad start.

    Mursi is in a tough spot. He’s a religious conservative who doesn’t know how to deal with attacks from his right, i.e., the more radically conservative. He doesn’t at all want to engage in a physical crackdown, but he may not have any other options. He’s made some moves in that direction (e.g. the extremists in Sinai), but will have to do it in the cities. He really doesn’t want to. He may need a serious kick to get him moving in that direction.

    If he cannot comply, then the US should immediately start ratcheting down the relationship in a very public manner. That will get other Arab states to pile on him, asking him just how stupid he is.

    BTW: Amb. Stevens was a very high profile ambassador who did a lot of his work in public. It’s entirely likely that he announced where he was going to be — Benghazi rather than Tripoli — and his attackers just staked out the consulate there.

    While not all the names of those Americans killed have been released, I’d be willing to bet that the two who so far are unnamed will turn out to be either Diplomatic Security (DS) personnel or contract guards.

  21. Dave Schuler says:

    That sounds like very prudent advice, John. My concerns, of course, are three-fold:

    – the safety of the embassy personnel
    – the plain possibility of diplomacy in the environment
    – the message that unanswered attacks on embassies sends

  22. mattb says:

    @John Burgess:
    Thanks for adding your experience to this thread. I would humbly suggest that this list of grounded recommendations probably deserves to be a post in it’s own right — especially as it presents a pragmatic response rather than the sabre rattling that is all too common in the wake of these acts.