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As Middle East rages, Obama must offer real leadership

Like all Americans, I was shocked to learn that four of our diplomats had been killed by Islamist radicals outside the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on the anniversary of 9/11. The victims included Air Force veteran Sean Smith and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods. Another victim was Ambassador Christopher Stevens, a longtime Foreign Service officer with years of experience working in Libya.

Ambassador Stevens was there during the Qaddafi regime; he was there during the 2011 revolution; and he was there during the ongoing transition to democracy. This was a man who spent his life promoting American influence and American values in the Middle East.

Upon hearing the news of these murders, along with the news that protestors had attacked our embassies in Egypt, Yemen, and other countries, Americans felt outrage and despair. Once again, the Middle East appears to be an irredeemable cauldron of anger and violence.

Americans want to know what the Obama administration is doing to beef up security at US embassies and consulates around the world. For that matter, they want to know why security wasn’t stronger prior to the attacks. They also want to know whether the Libyan massacre was a pre-planned terrorist act -- and, if so, how our intelligence community missed it.

Now is a time for moral and rhetorical clarity. The administration should affirm that failing to protect American diplomats will have real consequences for foreign governments. It should demand that the Muslim Brotherhood stop encouraging wild protests over a ridiculous amateur movie. And it should remind Arab officials that Americans enjoy a constitutional right to free speech.

Meanwhile, the administration should repair recent damage to the U.S.-Israel alliance and stop trying to embarrass Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. After all, if we want to be respected by our rivals and enemies, we must be seen as loyal to our allies. And Israel remains the truest and closest US ally in the Middle East.

In a larger sense, President Obama should tone down the rhetoric about a “Pacific pivot.” While I applaud the administration for recognizing the threat posed by China and for bolstering our security partnerships throughout Asia, I reject the idea that we must reduce our influence in the Middle East in order to increase our influence in the Far East.

Indeed, the Middle East has never needed US leadership more than it does today. Beyond the challenges in Libya and Egypt, there is ferocious violence raging in Syria, where the Assad regime has used a steady supply of Russian weaponry to commit mass murder. 

In Iraq, sectarian tensions have reached dangerous levels after a wave of terror bombings. Yemen is battling against the Al Qaeda affiliate that tried to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day 2009. 

Last, but certainly not least, the Iranian dictatorship is plowing ahead with its nuclear program, convinced that the Obama administration is not serious about “all options” being on the table.

To the extent that President Obama discusses Middle Eastern affairs on the campaign trail, he likes to tell Americans that “the tide of war is receding.” But events suggest otherwise. I fear that our hasty departure from Iraq has jeopardized hard-fought security gains and emboldened Iran.As for Afghanistan, it was foolish of the president announce a withdrawal date at the same moment he announced a troop surge. Taliban fighters now have every incentive simply to wait us out and prepare for a post-2014 bloodbath.

Taken together, many of our recent decisions on Middle East policy have signaled weakness and exhaustion, fostering the impression that America is a declining power. The embassy attacks call for a renewed demonstration of strength and resolve.

Republican John Cornyn represents Texas in the United States Senate where he serves on the Judiciary Committee. He is a former state attorney general.