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US should handle ambassador’s death carefully – former diplomat

Published time: September 13, 2012 02:29
Edited time: September 13, 2012 06:29

A demonstrator holds placard during a rally to condemn the killers of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya and the attack on the U.S. consulate, in Benghazi September 12, 2012 (AFP Photo / Esam Al-Fetori)

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The small number of Islamic militias in Libya will use any opportunity to hurt American interests in the Arab World, John Graham, who began his diplomatic career in the American Embassy in Tripoli, told RT.

­Washington must be very careful with its rhetoric when addressing the recent attack on diplomatic mission in Benghazi, he said, in order to prevent the spread of anti-American sentiment.

Commenting on the recent killings of US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others in Benghazi, Libya, and the outrage against the anti-Islamic, American-made film "Innocence of Muslims," Graham told RT that Washington is “simply playing into the hand of the opportunistic mullahs and perhaps the al-Qaeda operatives who would see this as a wonderful opportunity to enrage the Arab street against the United States.”  


RT: Has the anger directed towards Americans who are based there shocked you?

John Graham: No, no. There is enormous tumult in the Arab world ever since the Arab Spring, and there’s all kinds of factions and all kinds of unresolved issues in both Libya and in Egypt, as your viewers well know. So anything that happened out there – it’s the Wild West out there – no, it does not shock me. What does shock me is, quite frankly, is the fodder that some are using in the United States in terms of our current presidential campaign, using it as a domestic political issue. That does shock me.

RT: Are we talking about a select few, or is the discontent much more widespread? What is the scope that you’re talking about in Libya?

JG: Well, I think what President Obama and the Secretary of State Hilary Clinton were trying to do with their statements was not to inflate the entire Arab world, because they recognize perfectly well that most Arab nations are trying to do the right thing, to build their nations. Most Muslim people have a good deal of respect for the United States, even if they do no not agree with all of our policies. There is great incentive to tread extremely carefully, which Obama's statement did. So what we’re dealing with, I think, are Islamic opportunists. Who knows? Some say that this incident in Benghazi could have been planned even by them; I think most likely they simply took advantage of it. And there are a lot of opportunistic militias and Islamists who see this great chance in order to further their anti-American aims, but they’re a small minority.  The danger is that the American policy will not be sensitive enough in order to condemn these extremists, find and punish the perpetrators and still not enrage the entire Arab world.

RT: Did you know Christopher Stevens?

JG: I did not, I confess that I’m a bit older than his rank of diplomats, but still he was an American Foreign Service officer.  I’m outraged by the killing and my sympathy goes to the families of the fallen.

RT: This is the first time a US ambassador has been killed while in the job since 1979. What does this mean for Washington?

JG: I think all of us recognize, and certainly I did when I was in the Foreign Service, it can be a dangerous occupation. You have American Foreign Service officers in Afghanistan – when I was in Vietnam, I was a Foreign Service officer; it is a dangerous occupation. So, we regret the fact that four more names are on our remembrance wall, but it does happen. I think Obama made the right statement in saying we won’t rest until we find and punish the perpetrators.

RT: This film has sent shockwaves through the Arab world, with another anti-US protest in Tunisia Wednesday. Do you fear further unrest spreading now in the region?

JG: It could, it could. That is why the situation has to be handled so extremely carefully. And while I’m glad to see some of Obama’s opponents in the Unites States recognizing that and getting behind him in this moment of national crisis, it has to be handled extremely carefully. If it is not handled carefully, we are simply playing into the hand of the opportunistic mullahs and perhaps the al-Qaeda operatives who would see this as a wonderful opportunity to enrage the Arab street against the United States.  

RT:It depends how you may look at it, but I think one YouTube clip alone has made a bigger impact, it seems, on the region's attitude towards America than all those billions spent on the Arab Spring.

JG: Well, I would not agree with that. I think what goes on on YouTube, on Twitter and Facebook – we will not know for several years that it has enormous influence from Iran to Tunisia. And what Mr. Bacile, the California filmmaker… I mean it was outrageously irresponsible but in the United States it is his First Amendment right for this man to make such a film, so there’s little we can do to stop him.

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