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

Fiscal Cliff Notes

After careful consideration of all the possible “fiscal cliff” outcomes we have concluded there is no way that President Obama can lose or the congressional Republicans can win.If your only rooting interest is for the country at large, well, that also doesn’t look good.
For those who have been blissfully unaware of the goings-on in Washington, the fiscal cliff is what the country will fall off of if the Bush-era tax rates are allowed to expire at the beginning of next year. This would mean a tax increase for nearly everyone who actually pays federal income taxes, which almost every conservative economist believes would result in a severe recession, and it would also cut $1.2 trillion from the federal budget over the next 10 years, which every liberal economist believes would not only cause a recession but also push the earth out of its orbit and send it hurtling into the sun.
With such near-unanimity of opinion that the fiscal cliff is not something any sane nation would want to go over one might expect a quick agreement on the matter, but alas, this nation is insane. The original sticking point was on taxes, with Republicans preferring to retain the current rates for everyone and Democrats absolutely hell-bent on a tax hike for the hated top 2 percent of earners, but now comes word that the president’s list of demands has grown to include $255 billion in “stimulus” spending and no more congressional authority over the government’s credit limit. Although the demands might seem outrageous, if you consider the president’s personality and political position it is more surprising he didn’t insist on an immediate repeal of the twenty-second amendment and a new constitutional arrangement along the lines of what his pal Mohamed Morsi has decreed for himself in Egypt.
Why not? If the Republicans capitulate, always a distinct possibility, Obama will enjoy unprecedented spending power to buy all the votes needed for that third term. If the Republicans resist even at the price of going over the fiscal cliff, they’ll be widely blamed for the dire economic consequences.
That the Republicans would lose in the court of public opinion is a foregone conclusion. Not because of Obama’s vaunted rhetorical powers, which have proved wildly overrated, but because the still-powerful Washington news media and their colleagues on the comedy shows will constantly reiterate that Republican intransigence forced the country into an avoidable recession. The newly unemployed will get louder and more sympathetic than at any time in the past four years, with every sob story conveying the familiar message that Republicans care only for the rich. What little there is of conservative media will argue on the Republicans’ behalf that it would have been irreparably disastrous to hand Obama an unlimited line of credit, but they made the same sensible argument during the election and the result is what has led the country to its current sorry condition.
Nor should the Republicans doubt that Obama is entirely willing to take the country over the fiscal cliff, a destination that looks quite acceptable from his unique perspective. Taking the fiscal cliff dive would allow Obama to raise taxes on everybody, a Democrat’s dream, and do so without political consequences, something beyond the Democrats’ wildest dream. The automatic budget cuts will come mainly from national defense, which Obama has always wanted to gut anyway, and the rest of the spending can quickly restored by the Democratic House that is installed 2014. Spending cuts can always be rectified, but the tax money will never be returned.
The estimable Charles Krauthammer has argued that Obama won’t want his second term marred by a deep recession, but we fear that on this rare occasion he gives the president too much credit. A lousy economy that persisted through his first term didn’t prove sufficiently harmful to Obama’s political standing to prevent his re-election, and he has no reason to believe that his uncanny luck will change now. What’s more, a second recession will give him the same opportunities that the first afforded to push pork-laden stimulus spending and extraordinary money-printing to pay off his loyal constituencies.
There are the millions of Americans who will suffer greatly from the loss of jobs and wealth if the fiscal cliff recession comes to pass, but we doubt their plight will trouble Obama much during his upcoming multi-million dollar vacation. If their suffering helps the president achieve his dream of expanding the welfare state even further he can always console himself that it was well worth the price. We realize this is a very harsh assessment of an American president, but four years of watching his actions, rather than just listening to his lofty speeches, have led us to this conclusion.
No matter the outcome of the current negotiations, the country will continue its headlong rush toward financial insolvency. If the government can’t stop short of this relatively shallow fiscal cliff, don’t expect it will avoid that grand canyon.

— 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