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Ambassador Chris Stevens killed in Libya: Is Arab Spring turning against US?

The flareup of violence in which Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in Libya shows how the Arab Spring has unleashed forces that are vehemently opposed to America and its ideals.

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Speaking in the White House Rose Garden Wednesday, President Obama eulogized the four lost Americans as exemplary agents of “freedom and human dignity,” even as he insisted that “no acts of terrorism will ever … eclipse the light of the values we stand for.”

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The US government is working with the Libyan authorities to “bring to justice” the perpetrators of the deadly attack, Mr. Obama said, adding, “Make no mistake: Justice will be done.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who stood with Obama for the statement, reported earlier that in addition to Stevens, Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith was killed in the attack. The names of the other two Americans killed were not immediately released.

Obama also insisted in his statement that “this attack will not break the bonds between the United States of America and Libya,” but it is hard to see how it won’t affect US relations with Libya, the Arab Spring countries, and the wider Muslim world.

The anti-American protests and deadly assault on the Benghazi consulate occurred on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, as Obama noted, saying Tuesday was “already a painful day” for Americans even before the events in Egypt and Libya.

The reminder of Islamist extremists’ hatred for America will only darken the clouds that many Americans already saw building over the countries of the Arab Spring. The events will likely feed doubts about Egypt and the intentions of its new president, Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood. Mr. Morsi will make a White House visit later this month, and the threat of Islamic extremism – and how Morsi plans to address it – will now rise higher on the agenda.

The death of a US ambassador in a country he played a part in liberating will very likely reinforce the Obama administration’s reservations about the disparate rebel forces fighting Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. One reason the US has not officially recognized the opposition forces arrayed against the Assad regime is lingering doubt about the degree to which extremist Islamist forces, including Al Qaeda, are involved in the anti-Assad fight.

Libya’s deputy prime minister, Mustafa Abushagour, condemned Stevens’ killing as “an attack on America, Libya, and the free world,” but WINEP’s Mr. Clawson says he doubts those reassuring words will be backed up by action.

Libya’s new authorities did nothing to stop violence earlier this year directed against the country’s moderate Sufi sect by Muslim extremists, he notes, much as attacks on manifestations of Western influence in Tunisia have gone unpunished.

“If the Libyan authorities do nothing when those under attack are Libyans,” Clawson says, why should we expect that they will when the attacks are against us?”

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