When embattled Col. Moammar Gadhafi was slaughtering his citizens in a desperate effort to hold on to power, Americans led the effort to stop the carnage and defang the tyrant.
After he was killed, this country has helped the long-suppressed nation adjust to more freedom.
So it is infuriating that J. Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya, and three other diplomats were killed at least in part because of a movie.
It was a barbarous reaction.
Stevens, who has been an envoy to the Libyan rebels, was trying to help his staff evacuate. His death underscores the unsung courage of our diplomatic corps.
But the killings, which occurred on the 11th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, also underscore the fragility of our Middle East relationships.
The fatal attack with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades occurred as a mob rioted outside the consulate in Benghazi over an anti-Muslim film produced in the United States. The producer said he wanted to show Islam as a hateful religion.
The movie was widely reported in Egypt, as if to intentionally fan anti-American sentiment. Protests also took place outside our embassy in Cairo.
The Obama administration suspects the murders may have been the result of a plot that perhaps took advantage of the anti-film demonstrations. It's possible al-Qaida was involved.
It's despicable to make a film aimed at insulting others' religious beliefs, but there is no law that ties freedom of speech to good judgment.
And it is important to remember there is no parallel between the offenses: making an offensive film no one is forced to watch and murdering Americans solely because of their nationality.
President Barack Obama promised to bring the killers to justice, albeit "working with the Libyan government."
We can't let extremists dictate our foreign policy or limit our freedoms. But if their goal is to discourage our direct help and support, they may just succeed.