We're seeing a bid for power by Sunni fundamentalist groups from Libya to Syria. The oldest trick in the fundamentalist playbook is to mobilize violence against some insult to the faith. It's the trick that was attempted with the Danish cartoons; before that by the Ayatollah Khomeini with Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses," and by a long line of ambitious mullahs and imams before Khomeini.
This time, the trick took the life of outstanding American public servants, a terrible sadness for their families and for the country they gallantly served. We mourn and honor Ambassador Chris Stevens and the three other embassy officials who died in Benghazi.
We also understand why they were attacked, and why the Cairo embassy was attacked: these attacks are mobilized by bad local political actors for bad local political ends - to use anti-Americanism to take power within their local governments. If we don't want to help those bad local actors, we ought to be careful about doing things that aid their plans.
That's why President George W. Bush was always careful not to be drawn into these mini-controversies - and why President Obama is following the familiar Bush method in response to this latest boneheadedness from Pastor Jones, the promoter of the video used as an excuse for the anti-American attacks.
It will be the same approach that will be used by a President Romney if he should confront a similar scenario.
It's an approach based on the insight that these insult-to-Islam moments are very rarely if ever spontaneous reactions. They are mobilizations, and the question for Americans is: will we cooperate?