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 probably were necessary to safeguard American diplomatic personnel in that country.
Four of them already have died at the hands of Islamic extremists who attacked the U.S. embassy in Benghazi earlier this week.
U.S. officials are investigating whether the assault and rioting at the American embassy in Cairo were part of a campaign of violence organized by Muslim terrorist groups. If so, it will be 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 in Libya 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. There are indications the Libyan government attempted to do so 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 by diplomats, not soldiers, who should not be exposed to unnecessary danger.