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Obama must stand up for U.S. values at U.N.

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi speaks  news conference Cairo Egypt July. He’s New York for United Nations General Assembly meetings

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi speaks at a news conference in Cairo, Egypt, in July. He’s in New York for United Nations General Assembly meetings this week. | Ahmed Abdel Fattah~AP

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Updated: October 26, 2012 6:11AM

Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsi says the United States must change its thinking and policies about the Middle East and demonstrate more respect for Arab values and culture. Maybe Morsi was napping when President Barack Obama made his famous 2009 Cairo speech promising “a new beginning” between America and the Muslim world.

Or maybe Morsi used his New York Times interview to rub Obama’s nose in the failure of his policies as demonstrated by the anti-American rioting across the Middle East and North Africa. The Obama administration’s first response was to call it a spontaneous uprising ignited solely by an obscure Internet video and unrelated to U.S. policy. But polling done by Gallup before the rioting showed approval of U.S. leadership in the region has fallen since 2009 to 20 percent.

Only in Libya was approval of America slightly above 50 percent. And that’s where U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in a coordinated terrorist attack.

The administration’s handling of the Stevens murder threatens to erupt into a foreign policy scandal. Claims by officials, led by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, that it was all about the video were absurd from the get-go as every rational observer noted that rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns aren’t typical of spontaneous protests.

Then it became apparent that the video about the Prophet Mohammed had languished in obscurity for weeks on YouTube until it was broadcast with the clear intention of stirring up trouble by an Egyptian television station, which, according to the Atlantic, was bankrolled by Saudi Arabia and associated with the ultra-conservative Islamist Salafist movement. In all the riots, the evidence is that few rioters have seen the video but were incited to mayhem by Islamist firebrands.

Worse for the administration, CNN found in the wreckage of the consulate a seven-page journal written by Stevens. According to CNN, Stevens “talked about being worried about what he called the never-ending security threats, specifically in Benghazi” and “said he was on an al-Qaida hit list.” The State Department accused CNN of invading Stevens’ privacy while the network responded that the journal raises “questions about why the State Department didn’t do more to protect Ambassador Stevens.”

These threats of course look crystal clear in hindsight. We should be disinclined to cast blame at the White House. But the record of ludicrously claiming Stevens died in a protest leaves the administration open to an interpretation that it has something to hide.

Morsi was blatantly unapologetic for Egypt’s slow response in coming to the defense of the U.S. embassy in Cairo when it was under siege by rioters. And he appeared to talk about Egypt’s peace agreement with Israel as more important to Washington than Cairo. America has sent billions in foreign aid to Egypt, and Morsi’s lecture to America only renewed suspicions that it’s money not well spent.

Obama is to speak to the United Nations on Tuesday. He should use it as a forum for a vigorous defense of American values, including free speech, and stop expressing regret about the video. About $70,000 spent on advertising that regret in Pakistan didn’t stop rioting there. Instead of more fruitless appeasement of fanatics, Obama should let Morsi know the road to better relations between the America and the Arab world is a two-way street.

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