Of Metal Detectors and Failed Policies

Secretary of State John Kerry was subjected to a metal detector before seeing the Egyptian President and military dictator General Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi on Wednesday, just like any schlub trying to pay a parking ticket at Wichita City Hall. Some lingering sense of patriotic pride is offended by the obviously deliberate insult to America’s highest-ranking diplomat, but when America’s highest-ranking diplomat is John Kerry it seems almost appropriate.
One labors mightily to imagine any previous Secretary of State being subjected to such taunting treatment, much less accepting it from the military dictator of a second-rate power with an apologetic “tweet” instead of a vigorous protest, but so much of America’s recent foreign policy is unprecedented that nothing really surprises any more. Kerry’s stop in inconsiderate Cairo was part of a trip to the Middle East to attempt negotiation of a cease-fire between Israel and the Hamas terror gang of Gaza, and nothing about it makes sense. The mission is unlikely to succeed, would be harmful to the region’s chances of lasting peace if it did, and will further weaken America’s standing the world in the process.
The Hamas terror gang, which makes no secret of its genocidal intentions toward world Jewry, has lately been murdering Israeli teenagers and launching thousands of deadly rockets randomly into Israeli territory. Israel has been able to keep its civilian casualties low by use of its remarkable “Iron Dome” missile defense system, but has responded by striking carefully targeted retaliatory strikes at the launch sites after warning the civilian to evacuate the areas, and has more recently launched a ground assault under unusually strict rules of engagement against the elaborate network of tunnels that Hamas has created since Israel’s evacuation of Gaza. Any previous Secretary of State would have ventured to the region only to offer unequivocal support for Israel’s restrained response, and urge that it continue until Hamas’ ability to kill innocent Israeli civilians had been thoroughly degraded, but Kerry is heading there to urge further restraint and end Israel’s efforts before they are satisfactorily concluded.
The effort also takes Kerry though Egypt, where his rude reception was predictable after America’s flailing foreign policy regarding that troubled land. Readers who have been sufficiently distracted by that homosexual football player and that racist basketball team owner can be forgiven for having forgotten, but President Barack Obama launched America’s bold new foreign policy in the Middle East by flying to Cairo for a much-ballyhooed speech offering an olive branch to the Islamic and insulted the then President and military-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak by insisting that the radical Islamist group The Muslim Brotherhood be given a seat of honor at the front of the audience. There’s no telling what Obama’s oration had to do with it, but a popular uprising backed by the Obama administration toppled Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood briefly seized power in the country. When the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule predictably proved devastating to the country’s economy and freedom the Obama administration continued to back it with both words and money, even after a military dictatorship that reverted to support for Israel and opposition to Islamist radicalism reasserted itself. Despite its many flaws, being a military dictatorship chief among them, the Egyptian military dictatorship has been laudably firm against a Hamas terror gang that is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, and it cannot be expected to extend the usual diplomatic protocols to a Secretary of State that represents America’s recent peculiar policies.
Kerry can expect more polite treatment from the Israelis on his next stop, but he shouldn’t expect them to take him any more seriously. The administration has been making all the obligatory statements about Israel’s right to defend itself against a terror gang that rains down rockets on its people, but the Israelis are savvy enough to have noticed all the added language about restraint and all the other code words for capitulation. Despite their extraordinary efforts to prevent civilian casualties even at the risk of Israeli soldiers, the Israelis are no doubt well aware that Kerry was overheard during a broadcast on the Fox News network sneering that their response was “A hell of a pinpoint operation.” The official line was that it the outburst was entirely inadvertent, as if such an experienced hand as Kerry would let loose in front of the microphones and cameras of the hated Fox News network, but in any case it is clear that he expects the Israelis to be even more restrained in their response to the thousands of rockets being lobbed into their country. They’ll also note that the Obama administration continues its generous subsidies to the Gaza government, even after the Hamas terror gang joined it as a partner, and that Kerry blamed the israelis for making his unlikely peace treaty “go poof” after Hamas become involved, and they could also be forgiven for subjecting him to a humiliating step through a metal detector.
Kerry might well claim that he’s going by that “international test” that he so ruinously proposed during his ill-fated presidential campaign, but at the moment he’s lagging well behind international opinion. Such fashionable western powers as France have expressed stronger support for Israel’s right to self-defense, and the kristallnacht-like rioting against the local Jewish populations seems only to have strengthened its resolve, and even the Sunni Arab countries are all offering off-the-record support for Israel’s against a terror gang backed by the Shi’ite Persian country of Iran that is cruising without meaningful American interference toward a nuclear bomb that will forever change the precarious balance of power in their powder keg regions.
None of these threatened countries will be reassured by America’s less-than-stalwart defense of its oldest allies, and none of America’s enemies will be placated. The Egyptians might as well have asked Kerry to empty his pockets, because America has relinquished its influence in the world’s most dangerous neighborhood.

— Bud Norman

Enemies Foreign and Domestic

The Obama administration has offered an “open hand” to the mad mullahs running Iran, a friendly “re-set” of relations with the kleptocracy in charge in Russia, and F-16s to the Muslim Brotherhood, but warned those pesky Republicans that “If they bring a knife to a fight, we bring a gun.”
We can’t recall the last occasion when any Republican brought a knife to a political dispute, or even any rhetorical sharpness, but such an unaccountable inconsistency is a peculiar characteristic of the modern progressive movement. In the properly progressive view of things any foreign foe is merely a insufficiently placated friend, no matter how theocratic or kleptocratic or female-genital-mutilating it might be, while anyone who espouses certain ideas about balanced budgets or individual liberty or the advisability of letting Kathleen Sebelius micro-manage America’s health care system is to be regarded as a dangerous lunatic and treated accordingly. This is a common refrain of our liberal friends and fellow bar patrons, who will wax poetic about the sincere religious convictions and ancient cultural authenticity of the fellow who is swinging a scimitar around his head and shrieking “Allahu Akbar” but worry that the lawn-mowing Baptist down the street is plotting a fascist conspiracy, and for the past five years or so it has been a consistent policy of the government.
Lately the administration has been talking tougher to America’s geo-political foes, but only because it has become necessary given the failure of all that open-handedness and re-setting friendliness to sufficiently placate them into friendship, and we don’t expect that our foes are any more impressed by the bluster than we are. Secretary of State John Kerry just assured the Israeli-American Public Affairs Council that “We will not permit Iran to obtain a nuclear bomb, period,” but even the Iranians are well aware that his boss used the same emphatic “period” to assure Americans that if they liked their health plan they could keep their health plan, and that it turned out to be as reliable as his declaration of a “red line” against Syria’s use of chemical weapons. Similarly tough talk has been deployed against Russia after its annexation of a large chunk of Ukraine, which has re-re-set relations with that old adversary to Cold War days, but it’s all about standing with the international community and imposing sanctions and ignoring the reality that the relevant members of the international community won’t go along with sanctions because they’re more reliant on Russian natural gas than on America’s gaseous promises. There’s no longer any talk of supplying the Muslim Brotherhood with advanced military aviation, Allah be praised, but only because a military coup has conveniently removed them from power in Egypt.
However weak the Obama administration might seem in foreign affairs, however, any domestic opponents should remained warned that it is far more ruthless in domestic matters. There are no rhetorical open hands or offers of a re-set to the Republicans, who are routinely derided for wanting dirty air and water an the worst possible outcomes for the poor, and of waging a war on women that stops just short of clitoridectomies but will go so far as to withhold subsidies for contraception. Although the administration eschews any of Nicolo Machiavelli’s pragmatic prescriptions for foreign affairs it eagerly embraces Saul Allinsky’s even more ruthless “Rule For Radicals” when dealing with domestic matters, and anyone who makes a sizeable donation to a Republican candidate or reports a story unfavorable to the administration is likely to soon hear from the Internal Revenue Service o the Department of Justice or some suitably scary regulatory agency.
The IRS operative who has invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid nosy questions about her agency’s harassment of Ocala’s political opponents is being called back to a congressional hearing this week, and although we’ll be interested to hear to what she will or won’t say we expect it will be largely overlooked by a media suddenly interested in events abroad. This seems a shame, as her testimony or lack thereof will likely shed light on how very imposing the administration can be when it puts its mind to it. When Obama unleashes the IRS on Vladimir Putin or the Iranians or any of the other increasingly troubles regimes abroad it will suggest that he’s at last ready to rumble.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, in the Rest of the World

All of the attention is currently focused on the continuing train wreck that is Obamacare, naturally enough, but it is worth noting that America’s foreign policy is also going off the rails.
The last time Americans took notice of the rest of the world was when President Barack Obama tried unsuccessfully to whip up some enthusiasm for a bigger-than-a-pinprick-but-still-“unbelievably-small” war in Syria, and when that crisis was outsourced to Russian President Vladimir Putin and receded from the headlines the country happily resumed its inward gaze. Without an imminent threat of war, even an unbelievably small one, most people assumed that except for the unpleasantness in that Kenyan shopping mall and the usual massacres of Christians in Pakistan and Nigeria all was once again well with the world. Our international relations have actually been going so badly, though, that the results are starting up in the midst of all those horror stories about Obamacare.
Even The Washington Post, which is usually loathe to report anything embarrassing to the administration, seems alarmed by America’s recent estrangement from Saudi Arabia. The paper’s veteran foreign affairs writer David Ignatius likens the situation to a car wreck, the train wreck metaphor apparently having been reserved for the Obamacare stories, and although he allots some of the blame to the Saudis he does not spare the Obama administration his criticism. He notes that in the past week Saudi Arabia has declined to take a seat on the United Nations’ Security Council as a deliberate affront to America, and notes that the former Saudi intelligence chief publicly expressed “a high level of disappoint” in America’s stands on Syria and Palestine. There’s also a great deal of Saudi disappointment in America’s weak response to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which threaten all of the Arab and Sunni Islam world, and in Obama’s support for the radical Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere, and a “knowledgeable Arab official” is quoted as saying that the Saudi monarch “is convinced the U.S. is unreliable.”
The Saudi monarch is a terror-loving tyrant running a backwards and troublesome land with typical Middle Eastern brutality, but his country has been a cornerstone of American foreign policy in the region since Franklin Roosevelt started sucking up to it back in the ‘30s. Losing Saudi Arabia to the Russian sphere of influence, along with its considerable economic clout and central position in the Muslim world, is a worrisome development. Worse yet, this time the Saudi’s concerns are all quite reasonable, except for the lack of appreciation for America’s Israel-bashing attempts to coddle the Palestinians, and are shared by such essential allies as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and of course Israel, which has its own reasons to worry about Iranian nuclear bombs and American fecklessness. Throw in the reports that Secretary of State John Kerry is facing the same sort of dissent within his own State Department over the still-lingering-despite-the-news-blackout Syrian civil war, and America’s Middle Eastern policy seems in complete disrepair.
Crucial allies in other parts of the world have also been dissatisfied with America’s conduct in recent years. In Germany, where Obama was treated as a sort of messiah when he spoke to an adoring throng while campaigning there for some reason or another during the ’08 campaign, the big story if Chancellor Angela Merkel’s anger at the revelation America had been listening in on her cell phone conversations. White House spokesman Jay Carney has huffily denied that America is doing any such thing, but he conspicuously declined to deny that America has done in the past, and the omission did not go unnoticed in Germany. Revelations about the National Security Agency’s extensive data-gathering outraged many of the Americans whose phone records and internet use were being monitored, even if the press politely let the topic drop from the news, but Germans who are still smarting from the snoopiness of the Stasi secret police in communist East Germany and the Gestapo of an earlier era are understandably even touchier about such things. The rest of Europe seems miffed, too, and its Parliament has now threatened to stop cooperating with American intelligence efforts.
Obama won the presidency and wowed those naïve German crowds by promising to make America the most popular kid in the international school cafeteria, but that seems to be going about as well as the promises that Obamacare would lower your insurance premiums, allow you to keep your coverage, and be a model of bureaucratic efficiency.

— Bud Norman

A Fine Mess

The world was so much simpler just five years ago. Back in that heady era of hope and change all the smart people assured us that any unpleasantness anywhere in the world — but especially with those nice folks in the Islamic world — was surely the fault of George W. Bush and the mean old western civilization that he had somehow come to lead, and all could be put right simply by smarter and more soft-spoken and culturally sensitive diplomacy. The mere presence in the White House of Barack Hussein Obama, by virtue of his dark hue, exotic nomenclature, Islamic education, and soaring oratory, was all that was needed to usher in a new age of global cooperation.
Things are now more complicated, judging by a cursory glance at the latest headlines. In the very same Cairo where President Obama gave a much-ballyhooed speech that was supposed to solve everything there is a sort of civil war underway, with forces of the military regime killing hundreds of backers of the recently deposed democratically-elected government that took power after Obama helped bring down a longtime dictator. It all sounds very much like a simple case of authoritarian forces crushing the legitimate aspirations of the freedom-yearning people, just the sort of clear-cut good-versus-evil scenario that Obama was elected to rectify, but the democratically-elected government was run by a fanatical Islamist group with no intention of allowing anything like a real democracy to exist and even while out of power is on a murderous rampage against the country’s Christian minority and anyone else that opposes its unrestrained power. The American response has been similarly muddled, with Obama condemning only the Egyptian government’s actions but refusing to call it a military coup and continuing to offer it substantial aid, and the result has been that both sides now regard America as the bad guy.
Further complicating the situation is the continued deterioration of the entire region. An all-out civil war continues to rage in Syria despite the American president’s insistence that country’s odious dictator must step down and despite American aid to the equally odious Islamist nutcases who are fighting him. A slightly different variety of Islamist nutcases in Iran continue their steady progress toward acquiring a nuclear weapon they have vowed to use against Israel, which is shrewdly bolstering its missile defenses even as it releases terrorists to play along with the latest American goose chase after an elusive peace accord with the Palestinians, who have no unified government to negotiate with and are quite uninterested in peace in any case. Yet another collection of Islamist nutcases are biding their time until a promised American withdrawal from Afghanistan to re-assume power in that troublesome country, while still more Islamist nutcases are causing so much mischief in Iraq that its government is asking America to reconsider its arbitrary withdrawal of troops from that nation. Emboldened by the various American retreats and strangely resistant to American efforts to “reset” relations, Russia has further roiled the region with its meddling on behalf of Syria and Iran and its newfound friendship with a meddlesome Saudi Arabia. Oh, and we’re pulling people out of embassies across the region for fear of terrorism, too.
We offer no easy solutions to this mess, nor do we ascribe the greatest measure of blame to any party except for the Islamist nutcases who are intent on imposing a totalitarian theocracy on the region and eventually the world, but that is our point. The naïve idealism of five years has been exposed as a dangerous lie, and the administration’s unwillingness to repudiate it is making a sensible response impossible. At this point only bad guys and bad options are available, and the least worst of these should be chosen without regard to any five-year-old fantasies about soft power and America’s supposed sins. Letting the Egyptian military rout the dangerous Muslim Brotherhood while maintaining peace with Israel and protecting the country’s Christians might well prove in America’s interests, no matter how brutal the methods, and the administration’s absurd fiction that those Islamist nutcases represent democracy should not trump such considerations. There is an understandable temptation to simply stand back on the let the entire Islamic world descend into the murderous madness that it seems to relish, with the secular west satisfied to let the region’s dwindling numbers of Christians and Jews suffer whatever fate that entails, but even if America’s conscience were to be untroubled by the slaughter the economic consequences would be harder to ignore. America could mitigate the economic calamity of the Middle East’s oil production shutting down by more fully exploiting its own energy resources, but the administration’s naïve idealism about carbon footprints and big oil wouldn’t allow that.
Still, we are assured that peace is at hand because “that’s what our democracy demands,” so all that unseemly and provocative defense spending can thus be used to fund Obamacare and other programs that will transform American into utopia. The same western left that condemns its own civilization for its racism, sexism, homophobia, and religious intolerance hails as democracy the rise of an Islamist movement that condones slavery, subjects its women to genital mutilation, and executes homosexuals by the most brutal methods, and openly declares its murderous intent against infidels. Let the Islamists have the Middle East and they will leave us alone, we are told, just as the British and French were told that the Nazis would be satisfied with the Sudetanland. In a simpler world, it would all be true.

— Bud Norman

Anti-Americanism in the Age of Obama

“Wake up, America,” said one of the signs waving amidst Sunday’s massive protest on in the streets of Cairo, “Obama backs up a fascist regime in Egypt.”
Outraged anti-Americanism has long been a staple of these Middle Eastern protest movements, and such slogans, always written in English for the benefit of an American audience, are usually easily ignored. This time around is different, though, because now the sloganeers are right. President Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood-backed government is indeed a fascist regime, at least in the sense that it is totalitarian and supremacist and imposes its will with a vicious brutality, and it is indeed backed up by Obama, at least in the sense that he ushered it into power by withdrawing support from the previous Hosni Mubarak government, offered rhetorical support and official recognition of the succeeding Morsi government, and has provided it considerable financial and military support. The hundreds of thousands of protestors who filled the streets of several Egyptian cities on Sunday clearly believe the American policy is harmful to their country, and it is hard to see how it is doing ours any good.
Although one must concede the possibility that it was all well-intentioned, and based on the most admirably anti-colonial and sensitive idealism, the administration’s Egyptian policy has been a series of catastrophic missteps. Mubarak was a dictator by any definition, and the same sorts of slogans as we cited above would have undoubtedly appeared in the inevitable protests if America had continued its support of his regime, but he was relatively benign by regional standards, kept the country’s hopelessly inefficient economy more or less afloat, and was resigned to a tense peace with Israel, so at least the Arab street would have been angry at America for acting in its national interest. By pushing Mubarak out and helping to usher in the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that proudly proclaims “Jihad is our way, and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations,” the administration now has the Arab street hating us for supporting a government that also hates us.
This was also entirely predictable and widely predicted. The Muslim Brotherhood’s program of religious fanaticism, bellicose xenophobia, and medieval nostalgia was never going to modernize Egypt’s moribund economy or corrupt social institutions enough to provide a tolerable life for its citizens, making the current uprising inevitable, and no amount of American money or appeasement could have prevented the country’s slide into its current sorry state. The current protests might be brutally squashed by the Muslim Brotherhood’s famously vicious thugs or perhaps the country’s seemingly ambivalent military, with America getting much of the blame in either case, or it will lead to a new government that comes into power with a deep-seated mistrust of America’s promises. There’s no guarantee that any new government will not be any friendlier to western interests, as the current unrest is due to economic conditions and an Islamist party with promises of hope and change and a stimulus package might win the day, and it’s highly unlikely that they’ll fare any better than their predecessors.
There was no course Obama might have steered that would endeared America to Egypt’s unfortunate citizens, but he should have figured that out back when he was constantly criticizing the Bush administration for every anti-American sign that was waved in a Middle Eastern protest rally. At least America was hated for acting in its own self-interest in those dark days, and not for its ill-advised support of a government that hated us all along. Wake up, America, indeed.

— Bud Norman

Bad Guys, Worse Guys, and the Middle East

Perhaps there is some coherent reasoning behind America’s recent foreign policy, which now finds the country backing a bunch of al Qaeda-affiliated Islamist nutcases in the bloody Syrian civil war. If so, it would be nice if someone from the Obama administration could provide the explanation.
To be fair to the Obama administration, not backing the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamist nutcases was also a bad option. The Assad regime that the rebels are trying to overthrow is also quite nasty and a threat to American interests, its continued survival would strengthen the position of a troublesome Iranian regime that is rapidly closing in on a nuclear weapons capability, Assad’s use of chemical weapons has exacerbated an already dire humanitarian situation, and after Obama’s declaration of a “red line” against the use of chemical weapons inaction would further erode America’s credibility in a region where it has already been ceding influence. At this point, with no good guys left in the fight, backing a bunch of al Qaeda-affiliated Islamist nutcases is arguably the least-worst option.
Lest one be too fair, though, it should also be noted that it was a series of blunders that led us to this point. The Obama administration spent years that could have been used bolstering a more democratic and pro-western resistance in a futile attempt to flatter Syria into compliance with international standards of behavior, with the past Secretary of State praising Assad as a “reformer,” which was part of an equally futile effort to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions by the force of sheer niceness, and the “red line” declaration was a bit of too-little, too-late bluster that only boxed the administration into its current lousy options. An conspicuously equivocal relationship with Israel, precipitous withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, the betrayal of a friendly regime in favor of a Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, the “lead from behind” toppling of a dictator who had already bowed to American in Libya, the tragic debacle that followed in Benghazi, and a generally apologetic tone all further encouraged defiance from the likes of Assad, and all of the tinpot satraps of the Middle East are probably as a confounded by American foreign policy as we are.
It could get even worse, of course, if American aid to the rebels fails to topple Assad and he and his Iranian allies are able to trumpet their victory over the imperialist crusaders. It could also get worse if the rebels prevail, and they provide yet another model to provoke Islamist uprisings elsewhere and provide state support to terrorism against their former imperialist crusader allies. Things might get better, we suppose, but it’s hard to see how.
There will be the inevitable “wag the dog” theories that Obama is concocting a foreign military adventure to distract attention from the myriad scandals that have suddenly beset his administration, but as much as we are inclined to believe the worst of him it seems implausible. Something is always going on to justify such speculation, which arises with every foreign crisis, and Obama is at least shrewd enough to realize that another war won’t placate a left-wing base smoldering over revelations of an invasive National Security Administration and backing a bunch of al Qaeda-affiliated Islamist nutcases won’t please a right-wing opposition infuriated by the Internal Revenue Service’s harassment. After winning re-election on the argument that al Qaeda has been routed, and telling an audience at the National Defense University that the war on terror is winding down because “That’s what democracy demands,” we suspect that Obama would prefer a juicy celebrity scandal as a distraction rather than another war.
As appealing as the conspiracy theories might be, the more likely explanation is that a combination of bad luck, bad choices, and the inherently dangerous nature of the world have led us to this unpleasant situation. We’ll hope it all works out, somehow, but that’s not how we’ll bet.

— Bud Norman

More Morsi, More Problems

Possibly the least surprising development in the news lately has been Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s self-awarded promotion to dictator.
Morsi insists he’s not a dictator, as dictators always do, but with his recent decree that he can impose any law of his choosing on his people without any judicial constraint he meets any definition of the term. The decree has not been universally popular in Egypt, of course, with the more independent-minded judges voicing their disapproval in strongly worded letters, businessmen signaling their concerns with a disastrous drop in what’s left of the national economy, and the more recalcitrant citizens expressing their disdain with the traditional Egyptian rioting in Tahrir Square. None of it is likely to matter, though, as strongly worded letters have little effect on dictators, like all Islamists he cares just as little about economics, and his backers in the powerful Muslim Brotherhood will soon be sending a sufficient number of pro-dictatorship rioters to win the inevitable street brawls.
All of which was completely predictable. Morsi is a product of the Muslim Brotherhood, after all, and that organization has never made a secret that it prefers a religious dictatorship based on Islamic law to democracy. That Morsi and his allies would seek absolute power was not only predictable, it was widely predicted by numerous pundits and publications including this one.
It is alarming, therefore, that so many smart and powerful people failed to see it coming. The elite media all celebrated the demonstrations that unseated the unsavory but generally friendly dictator Hosni Mubarak and brought Morsi to power as an “Arab Spring” of democracy and modernity, even as one of their correspondents was being gang-raped by the mob of alleged democrats and modernists. Credentialed experts with the ear of the president assured that the Muslim Brotherhood were really a very reasonable bunch with democratic instincts, even though its motto states that “Allah is our objective, the Koran is our law, the Prophet is our leader, Jihad is our way, and death for the sake of All is the highest of our aspirations.” Apparently susceptible to such bad advice, President Obama called for Mubarak’s resignation despite warning that the Muslim Brotherhood would assume his power and more recently bolstered Morsi’s standing in the Islamic world by hailing his role in brokering a temporary and tactical cease-fire in Hamas’ terror war against Israel.
Which is not to say that anybody in America could have sustained Mubarak’s unpopular reign forever, or prevented the Muslim Brotherhood’s ascendancy, but surely it would not have been too much to ask that they not ushered things along. Propping up Mubarak long enough to have helped Egypt’s pro-democracy forces might have worked, and even if it didn’t the Islamists wouldn’t enjoy the legitimacy of western support.
An Islamist Egypt is going to be an ongoing problem not only for the brutalized citizens of that unfortunate country but also for the rest of the world.

— Bud Norman

A Bad Week at the UN

Several of the world’s leaders addressed the United Nations this week, and it was a frightening spectacle.

The president of Iran delivered an eschatological rant about the coming return of both Jesus Christ and the Twelfth Imam, called for a new world order organized in opposition to the west, predicted that the Islamist uprising known as the “Arab spring” will spread across the globe, and later told reporters that Israel will eventually be “eliminated.” The newly-installed president of Egypt demanded that freedom of expression be restricted to prevent criticism of Islam, and the president of Yemen echoed the call. Continuing in a disconcertingly similar vein, the president of the United States went so far as to say that “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.”

Obama went on to condemn the destruction of Christian churches and denial of the Holocaust, both of which are all-too-common forms of expression in the Middle East, and he also gave a brief defense of the first amendment to America’s constitution, which he noted is so permissive that it even allows for criticism of himself. Still, there was something unsettling about the specific deference to the prophet of Islam.

Along with some full-throated and harshly worded denunciations of the little-known home movie that the administration continues to blame for the outbreak of deadly rioting at American embassies around the world, the president’s concern for Islam’s reputation is clearly an attempt at placating a lunatic mob. Elsewhere the administration is now conceding the obvious fact that the deadly attack on the vulnerable American embassy in Libya was a long-planned terrorism attack that merely used the movie as a pretext, and the past weeks of thumbs-down reviews of the movie have not stopped the demonstrations, but the president’s faith in the power of appeasement apparently remains strong.

Even if the violence could be quelled by the submissive silence of all Americans, it would not be nearly worth the price. Better men that Barack Obama have fought and died to protect the right to free speech, and more of them stand ready to do the same..

Obama is now careful to tout the American tradition of protecting the right of free expression, but his words will surely ring hollow to the man who made that much-maligned movie, now residing behind bars after the administration found his work “reprehensible and disgusting.” Officially the filmmaker is being held for a violation of his probation on a charge of bank fraud, which reportedly forbade him to post anything on the internet, but the notion that his imprisonment has nothing to do with the administration’s desire to demonstrate its respect for the religious sensibilities of the howling mob is as far-fetched as the notion that numerous spontaneous riots against the months-old movie just happened to break out on the eleventh of September.

The cost of sacrificing free speech to the mobs of the Middle East would especially dear. Those mobs have made clear over the past centuries that anyone who doesn’t believe that Islam is the one true religion, which includes the vast majorty of Americans, is slandering its prophet by saying so. They also regard as slander any statement that takes issue with the misogyny, poverty, disease, illiteracy, technological backwardness, xenophobia, and brutality that prevail wherever the religion has become dominant. One can only hope that futures does indeed belong to those who are willing to take such a stand.

— Bud Norman

The World Out There

Most Americans paused Tuesday, however briefly, to remember and mourn the victims of the murderous terrorist attack launched by al Qaeda against the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and other unknown targets on the same date in 2001. In Libya and Egypt, angry mobs of radical Islamists marked the occasion by laying siege to the American embassies while chanting slogans and waving flags in support of al Qaeda.

Few Americans seem to pay attention to foreign affairs, but on days like Tuesday it becomes impossible to ignore that there remains a rest of the world out there. In addition to the attacks on the embassies, which left at least one American dead and several more injured in Libya, there was also the embarrassingly public spectacle of the American and Israeli leadership quarreling over the Iranian government’s ongoing nuclear weapons programs. All of it served as a disquieting reminder that the rest of the world remains a very troublesome place, and that America apparently no longer has the means or even the will to keep it under control.

The embassy attacks were reportedly in response to a documentary film that is critical of Islam, although it is unclear what film they might be have in mind. The consensus of the press reports is that the crowd was enraged by a little-known worked called “Innocence of Muslims” which is being promoted by Terry Jones, a Florida-based pastor whose widely publicized threat to burn a Koran had previously sparked rioting in the Middle East. In any case there is nothing to be done about the offense without repealing the First Amendment and sacrificing the sacred right of free speech to an insane mob of theocratic rabble, and the embassy in Cairo did go so far as to an issue an apology to its attackers. “The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions,” an official statement said. “Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy.”

This was too much for Mitt Romney, who abandoned plans to refrain from criticizing the president in observance of the terror attack anniversary and issued a statement that “I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” The White House soon disavowed the embassy’s statement, replacing it with boilerplate language condemning the attacks in the “strongest terms,” but too late to change that fact our government’s first response had indeed been apologies and appeasement.

Similar instincts were on an all-too-public display in the spat between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who were unable to arrange a face-to-face meeting to discuss the Iranian nuclear weapons program. The White House helpfully explained that the president, who had spent much of the morning having a friendly radio chat with DJ Laz, “The Pimp With a Limp,” was simply too busy to accommodate the Israeli leader. There apparently will be time to roll out the red carpet for Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood-backed president of the one of the very countries that has just attacked American soil, and there seems to be room on the calendar for a sit-down with formerly funny talk show host David Letterman, but Israel and its increasingly likely war with Iran only rated a phone call.

War-weary Americans might find the lure of appeasement irresistible, hoping that it will somehow lead to peace in our time. The isolationist instinct is deeply embedded in the American psyche, but as days like Tuesday demonstrate, sooner or later the rest of the world intrudes.

– Bud Norman

Middle Eastern Deja Vu

There’s something eerily familiar about what’s going on in Egypt.

After finishing his 101st round of presidential golf on Sunday Barack Obama made a phone call to congratulate the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi on being officially declared the winner of Egypt’s first presidential election. Having done much to make Morsi’s election possible by withdrawing American support from longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak, Obama told the new Egyptian leader that he looks forward to “working together.”

Readers of a certain age will recall when President Jimmy Carter, motivated by a similarly high-minded idealism, withdrew America’s longstanding support for the Shah of Iran and thus ushered in the Islamist rule of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Although Khomeini made no secret of his harsh theocratic philosophy and strident anti-Americanism, Carter’s ambassador to the United Nations hailed the new dictator as a “kind of saint,” American ambassador to Iran William Sullivan called Khomeini a “Gandhi-like figure,” and White House advisor Bill James described the Ayatollah as a man of “impeccable integrity and honesty.” Numerous western intellectuals, including Michael Foucault, Jean Paul-Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir, also welcomed the Ayatollah’s rise to power.

History quickly made such intellectuals look foolish, of course. One of the new Iranian government’s first acts was to seize the American embassy and holds its staff hostage, a prolonged ordeal that did much to cause Carter’s departure from office, and Iran has been brutalizing its own people, fomenting Islamist uprisings, sponsoring terrorist organizations, arming anti-American insurgencies, waging wars against its neighbors, and basically tormenting the international community in general and America in particular ever since. Iran is now working diligently to build nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, so the worst of their mischief is most likely yet to come.

Morsi’s rise to power isn’t precisely the same as the Khomeini’s, but it’s close enough to be worrisome. Egypt’s new leader lacks the charismatic appeal of the Ayatollah, but Egypt is Arab and Sunni rather than Persian and Shiite and thus has the potential to be a more influential model for Islamist revolution. The military council that maintained Mubarak’s often ruthless rule will continue to assert power, but it will have to allow the country to become more Islamist in order to appease the massive crowds that are still jamming Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The new government coalition of the military and the Muslim Brotherhood will be forced to address the country’s dire economic conditions, but when they inevitably fail they will likely fall back on the time-honored Middle Eastern tradition of finding scapegoats and launching distracting conflicts with the rest of the world.

Much of the global news media and numerous western intellectuals are insisting that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is now a moderate, even secular, organization. This is a dangerous combination of wishful thinking and that peculiar occidental guilt that romanticizes dysfunctional third world cultures, and ignores the Muslim Brotherhood’s clearly stated theocratic agenda. The president, the press and all those western intellectuals are going to look foolish again, and one can only hope that they’re not tragically wrong.

— Bud Norman