Dispatching Navy vessels armed with cruise missiles to take station off the coast of Libya and sending 50 more Marines to protect the U.S. embassy in Tripoli earlier this month probably were necessary to safeguard American diplomatic personnel in that country.
Four of them had already died at the hands of Islamic extremists who attacked the U.S. embassy in Benghazi.
U.S. officials have been investigating whether the assault and rioting at the American embassy in Cairo were part of a campaign of violence organized by Muslim terrorist groups. It is nothing new. Terrorists such as those in al-Qaida have made scores of attacks and claimed hundreds of victims throughout the world since Sept. 11, 2001.
But the military response to violence at embassies must be a limited one. Even if the United States had the military resources to send such forces to embassies in every country where Islamic terrorists might attack, the sovereign nations involved would not tolerate such presences for long.
Traditionally, it has been the responsibility of countries hosting embassies from other nations to keep them and their personnel safe, and, in fact, Libyans tried to do that in Benghazi but failed in the face of an enormous, well-armed mob.
Still, U.S. policy should rest on a demand that countries where we have embassies take their safety seriously. If that is not done, the embassies should be closed. They are staffed not by soldiers but by diplomats, who should not be exposed to unnecessary danger.