Three Speeches Worth Reading

The United Nations has been celebrating its 70th year of existence with a week-long marathon of orations by world leaders. Most of it has been as pointless as the United Nations itself, but three of the speeches merit some consideration.
The first was by President of the United States Barack Obama, and it’s a remarkably mushy piece of work. He starts with the obligatory genuflections to the UN’s high ideals, segues into some blather about how “five years after the global economy collapsed, and thanks to coordinated efforts by the countries here today, jobs are being created, global financial systems have stabilized and people are once again being lifted out of poverty,” and he somehow keeps a straight face throughout. The rest is mostly a similarly silly defense of his foreign policy.
He boasts that “Together we’ve also worked to end a decade of war,” by which he means his unilateral retreat of all American troops from Iraq. That another war has since started up as a result of that decision, which is now the main topic of conversation at the UN and elsewhere, goes unmentioned until later. He also boasts that we will soon have affected a unilateral withdrawal from Afghanistan, “having its mission of dismantling the core of al-Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11,” and he sounded quite confident that will work out just as well. There are further boasts of “transferring detainees to other countries and trying terrorists in courts of law while working diligently to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay,” and he still kept that straight face while asserting that “As a result of this work and cooperation with allies and partners, the world is more stable than it was five years ago.” He humbly acknowledges that there’s still an awful lot of terrorism going on, and that core of al-Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11 “does pose threats to governments and diplomats, businesses and civilians all across the globe,” but with all the progress he’s made in releasing captured terrorists he doesn’t seem very concerned.
Eventually Obama does get around to that war that’s presently going on in Syria and Iraq and other jurisdictions of the Middle East, complete with beheadings and crucifixions and chemical weapons attacks and Russian anti-aircraft equipment that seems an odd thing to have against a terrorist army lacking an air force, and is now causing an invasion of Europe by hundreds of thousands potentially millions “refugees” from even the jurisdictions that aren’t under fire, and he’s willing to concede that “The international community recognized the stakes early on, but our response has not matched the scale of the challenge.” His dismissal of the beheading and crucifying Islamic State as a “jayvee team” of terrorism and his past praise of the Syrian dictator as a “reformer” presumably occurred before that early on date when international community recognized the stakes.
We also note he’s still insisting that “the situation spiraled into civil war” as “many retreated to their sectarian identities” of “Alawites and Sunni, Christian and Kurd,” as if each of those groups shared the same blame. Such moral equivalency is perhaps required at a United Nations assembly, at least if you’re a properly educated liberal such as Obama, but the world is full of more practical people who will recognize that it’s nonsense. The Christians of Syria and Iraq and the rest of the Middle East have mainly concerned themselves for civilizational survival for the past 1,300 years or so, with few resources to make trouble even if they were inclined to do so, and the reasonable-by-Middle-Eastern-standards Kurds have been in pretty much the same situation. Neither group has received any useful military benefits from either Obama or that international coalition he keeps talking about, and apparently they can’t even count on any rhetorical support.
There was some sterner talk, as well. Obama insisted on an international ban on the use of chemical weapons in the multi-sided war, and actually boasted that “When I stated my willingness to to order a limited strike against the Assad regime in response to the brazen use of chemical weapons, I did not do so lightly.” Neither did he ever act on it, of course, but he seems proud to note that the UN’s Security Council never passed a resolution about it. Without that credible threat of military force an international ban on chemical weapons will likely be as useful as that “No Gun Zone” sign posted on the campus of the latest mass murder, but Obama is pleased to say that “However, as I’ve discussed with President Putin for over a year, most recently in St. Petersburg, my preference has always been for a diplomatic resolution to this issue.” He seemed to sincerely believe that Putin has helped to rid his Syrian allies of their chemical weapons arsenal, and that both parties can be fully trusted.
There was further stern talk about the use of “all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region,” and ensuring the free flow of oil from the region, and dismantling terror groups, and then he launched into that awful deal with the Iranians that seems to allow them to cheat their way to a nuclear bomb while a $150 billion check for more support of terrorism and “death to America” rallies. This included the moral equivalence between Iran’s hostage-taking, terrorism, war-mongering, threats of genocide against the Israelis, brutal suppression of its own people, and the fact that “Iranians have long complained of a U.S. history of interference in their affairs and of America’s role in overthrowing the Iranian government during the Cold War.” That America’s role in overthrowing an domestically unpopular Iranian government that was almost as brutal as as that unfortunate country’s current one has long been overstated is of no matter, of course, so long as Obama looks better than his country.
The speech was delivered with that grandiloquently upturned chin and in that famously stentorian Obama baritone, and thus sounded a lot better than it looks on paper, so it got the usual rave reviews in the American media. How it played with the international audience, which has gotten harder to please over the past five years, is less clear. The applause wasn’t nearly so rapturous as in the past, and we suspect they mostly heard the part about Obama’s preference for a diplomatic resolution and his admissions of America’s past sins and how the Christians and Kurds are as guilty as the rest.
Worse yet, the speech was shortly followed by a far more believably stern oration by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Obama’s supposed partner in shutting down the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons program also opened with the obligatory genuflections to the UN, but in his case he was proud to say it all started at the Yalta Conference where his Soviet predecessors steamrolled the haplessly idealistic Roosevelt administration into ceding eastern Europe to communist rule and establishing the Security Council so that Russia could veto anything that might promote liberty and democracy. He generously acknowledged that the other Security Council members didn’t always agree with Russia, but he didn’t offer any apologies. Instead he launched into a history lesson, saying “We all know that after the Cold War, a single center of domination emerged in the world,” and explaining that “those who found themselves at the top of that pyramid were tempted to think that if we are so strong and exceptional then we know better than anyone what to do and why at all should we reckon with the UN, which instead of automatically authorizing and legitimizing necessary actions often creates obstacles or, in other words, ‘stands in the way.'”
So far the speech seems written to defy any possible rebuttal by Obama, who might very well have written the speech himself. Putin goes on to say that America’s actions as the lone superpower are entirely responsible for the 1,300-year-old Islamist jihads that have been heating up at least since the Algerian revolution in ’50s, and that also sounds a lot like any of Obama’s stump speeches since at least the ’08 election. The Russian president goes on to say that Russia is therefore obliged to come to the world’s rescue by crushing the Islamist State and protecting the Assad regime and enhancing the power of its Iranian patron and bringing the former American protector of Iraq under its influence, much as Mother Russia once single-handedly saved the world from Naziism, and so we should all be grateful the Russian-Iranian-Syrian axis that is imposing its will on the Middle East. We’re hard-pressed to think how Obama might refute that, but we’re confident he would prefer it involve a diplomatic resolution.
Obama did talk about how Russia’s aggressions in the Middle East as well as Ukraine and other sections of its former Soviet empire have resulted in financial problems, defections, and some international opprobrium, but Putin doesn’t seem to care much about any of that. If he’s been dealt as a weak hand as Obama insists at least he’s been playing it better than Obama’s flush of bleeding hearts, and although it might not work at the end of that long arc of history that Obama likes to say is always bending toward justice he’s likely to reap the benefits until then, and nothing in Putin’s speech left any doubt that he intended to continues his policies with or without the benefit of a diplomatic solution.
The speech probably played well in the Russian press, which is almost as dutiful to its president as its American counterparts, and it certainly made an impression on its intended international audience. Although the applause was perfunctory, the audience could not doubt that Putin meant every word of it.
Nor could anyone doubt a singe word of an even sterner speech by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The former special forces fighter didn’t bother with the obligatory genuflections to the UN’s high ideals, and instead noted the many times that the organization was “obsessively hostile towards Israel, the one true democracy in the Middle East.” After punctuating this with a long, silent stare at the body’s worst anti-Semites, Netanyahu then launched into a blistering denunciation of the west’s capitulatory deal with Iran over its nuclear weapons saying, “This deal doesn’t make peace more likely. By fueling Iran’s aggressions with billions of dollars in sanctions relief, it makes war more likely.” He pointed out that since the framework of the deal was agreed upon Iran has sent more fighters to Syria to supports its regime, shipped tons of weapons and ammunition to Houthi rebels in Yemen, threatened the government of Jordan, increased its efforts on behalf of Hamas and Hezbollah in its terror wars against Israel and Lebanon, continued its chants of “Death to America,” and reiterated its desire to annihilate Israel. There’s no refuting any of this, and moral equivalences with Israel and its erstwhile allies in the west are hard to make, so we expect that both Obama and Putin were glad they didn’t have to follow this speech.
Rather than making apologies for his country, Netanyahu vowed to defend it. He vowed that Israel will continue to defend itself against any attacks from Syria, and to prevent the flow of arms through Syria to Hezbollah, and to do whatever is required to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Although he was not specific about that third promise, it was strongly implied that whatever is required might be required soon. The language was blunt, and poetic only when Netanyahu spoke of the challenges the Jewish people have faced before and are ready to face to again, but at no point did it leave room for doubt.
Even the most eloquent speeches, no matter how grandiloquently upturned the chin or stentorian the baritone delivery, are only useful to the extent that speaker means it. We have no doubt that Putin and Netanyahu mean what they say, so all that talk about the UN’s high ideals and the hope of a diplomatic resolution is quite unconvincing.

— Bud Norman

Iran, Nukes, and the Parameters of a Robust Debate

There’s still no agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear weapons program, just “Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” for an agreement, and the Iranians don’t agree that they’ve even agreed to that, but the president assures us this is progress toward peace in our time.
The “JCPOA,” which will soon be one of those must-know acronyms, does seem to have progressed from the administration’s opening bargaining positions but not toward anything that’s likely to result in peace. Even the sympathetic editorialists of The Washington Post concedes that “Obama’s Iran deal falls far short of his own goals,” noting that the heavily fortified Fordow plant and the rest of Iran’s nuclear centers will remain open, not one of the country’s 19,000 centuries will stop spinning, and that “when the accord lapses the Islamic republic will instantly become a threshold nuclear state.” This was enough for the Iranian negotiator Javad Zarif to boast of the concessions he had forced, assuring his countrymen that “We will continue enriching, we will continue research and development,” but he later tweeted that the president was lying about whether the sanctions against Iran would end with reliable verification of their compliance to even such a generous agreement or immediately upon it’s signing. Much more negotiation seems likely, although the president seems eager to have it wrapped up before the Republicans in Congress can scuttle the deal with a sanctions bill and public pressure can force enough Democrats aboard to override a promised veto, but thus far the Iranians don’t seem very agreeable to anything that would actually end their nuclear weapons program.
The president said in a Thursday news conference that he will “welcome a robust debate in the weeks and months to come,” but he also set some parameters for that debate. He argued that the only three options are whatever capitulating deal the negotiations might yield, war, or return to the sanctions. He claimed that his most prominent foreign critics were itching for a war, saying that “It’s no secret that the Israeli Prime Minister and I disagree about whether the United States should move forward with a peaceful resolution to the Iranian issue,” and dismissed the sanctions idea as a plan to “hope for the best.” So the “robust debate” will be between bloodthirsty Jews and starry-eyed dreamers and our very pragmatic president.
If the eventual agreement results in an Iranian nuclear bomb, which seems entirely possible if not likely, we’ll be siding with the bloodthirsty Jews and the starry-eyed dreamers. Even the president admitted in his news conference that it was economic sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiation table, and anyone else might notice that since the sanctions were eased the Iranians’ negotiating positions have hardened, and a bit more of those sanctions might force the kind of widespread revolt among the Iranian people that the president declined to back in ’09, and some further diplomatic and economic isolation and a military coalition promising a viable threat might further encourage some necessary regime change, and as risky as that might be it that doesn’t seem so hopeful as that “JCPOA.” We don’t desire war, nor do we believe that anyone in Israel or among our other nervous Middle East allies would prefer to it to a tenable peace, but if the Iranians are as insistent on war as they’ve acted during these negotiations it might as well come before they get a nuclear weapon rather than after.
The negotiations are expected to continue through June, and there might not be any agreement at all, unless the administration gives in to all of Iran’s demands, which likely include at least one of the Kardashian sisters before it’s all over, and even then the agreement could easily be nullified by a new president. We note the Iranians are sticking to their position that “the destruction of Israel is non-negotiatiable,” which probably won’t be a deal-breaker for the administration, and that they expect the Saudi Arabian government’s U.S.-backed war against Iranian-backed terrorist rebels in Yemen “will, God willingly, have no result other than Saddam’s fate for the aggressors and the U.S. that is the direct sponsor of this crime,” but surely some accommodation can be reached on that as well. Still, there seems to be a lot of talking left even within the Parameters for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and even within the far more constrained parameters of that robust debate the president says he’ll welcome.

— Bud Norman

An Israeli Election and the American Consequences

Israeli politics seem to us a confounding mix of those convoluted European parliamentary systems and the even more arcane points of Talmudic mysticism, and as we write this there is still a chance that the results of Tuesday’s elections in that far-away country might yet come down to hanging chads and butterfly ballots in Palm Beach, but it does appear from the latest press reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has won another term. This strikes us as good news for Israel, at least from our faraway vantage point, as well as a happy development in our own domestic politics.
Like most American conservatives, we have been puzzled that Netanyahu was ever in danger of not winning re-election. He’s long been the world’s most forthright and effective opponent of Islamic terrorism, after all, and the notion of his countrymen failing to recognize such leadership seemed as inexplicable as the British rejecting Prime Minister Winston Churchill after the Second World War. All politics truly is local, though, and the Israelis have been susceptible to fanciful leftist economic schemes since the country’s kibbutz days, and Netanyahu has already been in power for more ten years and even the most admirable politicians everywhere eventually become wearisome to a public, so some drama should have been expected. The results don’t necessarily vindicate Netanyahu’s domestic economic economic policies, according to the general tenor of the world press, and they don’t necessarily constitute a referendum on national security policy, as even the most crazily liberal Israelis are by now realistically hawkish, but the party of the Arab minority that isn’t committed to the country’s survival might have involved in a coalition to unseat Netanyahu, and there is reason to believe that Israel’s desire for continued existence had something to do with it.
It’s so hard to say how much Netanyahu’s recent well-publicized spat with American President Barack Obama had to do with it, but we’d like to think it played at least a small part. Netanyahu accepted an invitation from the Republican party to address Congress recently, the president huffily declined a meeting for the stated reason that he didn’t want to interfere in another nation’s elections, a slew of unnamed White House sources made it clear that the president clearly intended to influence the the Israel elections against Netanyahu, Netanyahu went ahead and gave a speech decrying the president’s negotiations with Iran over its nuclear weapons program, and it seems to have worked out well for him. If Netanyahu had lost the president’s apologists would have gloated about it, so American conservatives are entitled some to gloating about the victory. Better yet, Netanyahu’s victory might even help persuade a crucial number of Democrats to join a unified Republican in overriding a presidential veto of an impending bill that will impose economic sanctions on Iran and wind up scuttling the president’s disastrous negotiations. At the very least, Netanyahu’s victory deprives the president of an argument that his appeasement policies are acceptable to even Israel.
The very latest press reports from Israel indicate that the election wasn’t even very close, and we say shalom to Israel and God bless America.

— Bud Norman

A Not-So-Crazy Middle East Conspiracy Theory

Being unfamiliar with the Kuwaiti press, we have no idea how much credence to give Al-Jarida‘s report that in 2014 the Obama administration thwarted an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities by threatening to shoot down the Israeli jets. Being all too familiar with the Obama administration and its dealing with both Israel and Iran, however, we can’t dismiss the story as entirely implausible.
The usually reliable Times of Israel quotes a former Israeli Defense Forces chief as saying that a strike against Iran was seriously considered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but ultimately rejected on the advice of himself and other top military officers, which also seems within the realm of possibility, and we will await with open mind whatever confirmations or denials the administration’s various spokesmen might provide. Still, there’s no shaking a unsettling suspicion that President Barack Obama might actually have threatened to wage war against Israel in defense of Iran.
Obama’s antipathy for Israel and ardent desire for rapprochement with Iran have long been apparent, but have been especially conspicuous in the lead-up to Netanyahu’s address to Congress on Tuesday. The speech is at the invitation of the Republican leadership, and the president is claiming it is a breach of diplomatic protocol for Netanyahu to have accepted without the president’s approval, that it constitutes unethical meddling in a foreign nation’s politics to schedule the speech within weeks of Israeli elections, and that it could endanger America’s on negotiations with the Iran government over its nuclear weapons program. None of which is at all convincing, unless you’re one of the obedient Democrats who are huffily boycotting the speech. Obama’s own frequent breaches of protocol toward Israel include having its head of state cool his heels in a White House office for hours and allowing high administration officials to impugn Netanyahu’s courage with barnyard epithets, groups loyal to Obama have been openly campaigning in Israel and his own preferences regarding the election have been well-known to the Israeli public, and Netanyahu can only endanger America’s deal with Iran by making a persuasive case to Congress and the American people that it is dangerous the security of Israel and America and the rest of the world. The president’s annoyance with Netanyahu and Israel at large preceded the invitation to make the speech by at least seven years, and his peculiar affinity for Iran’s America-hating theocracy goes back as far.
Obama’s apparent desire is to allow Iranian regional hegemony and nuclear weapons and international respectability in exchange for, well, we’re not sure exactly, but assume it will include some assurance that they’ll help deal with the Islamic State al-Qaeda and other regional pests and abandon their frequently stated goal of the death of America. He probably also expects a grand photo opportunity as he delivers peace in our time, and a good write-up in the history books as the man who finally brought lasting amity to the Middle East, but he seems awfully worried that Netanyahu will make a persuasive case that it’s all a dangerous pipe dream. Iran’s state-run news agency is peddling the typically crazy Middle East conspiracy theory that America is secretly behind the Islamic State, the government is offering safe haven to al-Qaeda terrorists despite their Sunnism, Iranian street demonstrations still feature the ritual chant of death to America, and the country’s influence is reading into Iraq and Lebanon and Jordan and elsewhere in the region without ceding anything to the Great Satan. With Obama protecting Iran from the sanctions that had recently brought its economy to a near halt, and with no immediate disavowals that he’s also been protecting it from Israeli jets, the country has no reason to agree to any deal that threatens their dream of nuclear weapons and whatever apocalyptic plans they might have for them. That would set off a nuclear arms race in a region characterized by religious manias and ancient hatreds, with Saudi Arabia having already made arrangements with nuclear-armed Pakistan in the event of an Iranian bomb being developed, and Netanyahu can hardly be blamed for any discomfort he might have about that scenario.
The Secretary of State has declined to state “what is or isn’t the situation” regarding his negotiations with Iran, and Obama’s only argument for his policies seems to be that we should trust him, but alas, we don’t. At this point, we’re not even sure that he hasn’t threatened to shoot down Israeli planes to defend an Iranian nuclear weapons program.

— Bud Norman

A Pattern Emerges

President Barack Obama was one of the few world leaders who did not attend the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp on Holocaust Memorial Day, just as he was one of the few world leaders who did not attend an earlier march in France protesting terror attacks that killed the staff of a satirical magazine and then four Jews at a Kosher market. He also won’t be meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu when the Israeli Prime Minister comes to Washington to deliver an address to Congress, and a pattern can be inferred.
Which is not to say we infer that the president has any animosity toward the Jewish people. The slight to France was eventually acknowledged as such by the White House, which dispatched aging hippie troubadour James Taylor to serenade them with “You’ve Got a Friend” as a token of regret. The administration issued a clear statement that it does not approve of the Holocaust, too, and its highest-ranking Jew was in attendance at the Auschwitz memorial while the president was trying to sooth relations with the new king of Saudi Arabia. The administration claims the president won’t be meeting with Netanyahu only because it doesn’t want to be seen as meddling in Israel’s upcoming elections, as well, and at least it won’t be denying Netanyahu a visa to make the speech. One might infer that the White House has no special affinity for the Jewish people, as it hard to imagine the president thrice passing up such prime opportunities to demonstrate his respect for Islamist theocracies, people who were shot in self-defense, openly homosexual athletes, or anyone else with a claim to victimization.
That part about not wanting to affect the Israeli elections is especially suspicious, since pretty much everyone in that country already knows that Obama does not want to see Netanyahu reelected, and the State Department is cooperating with an Obama-affiliated organization actively working for Netanyahu’s leftist opposition, and not meeting with a visiting head of state sends as clear a signal and meeting with him, and the administration is still sending out word through its favorite press organs that Obama can’t stand Netanyahu and is angry about the speech. Netanyahu was invited to make the speech by Republican House Speaker John Boehner, and accepted without the usual step of clearing it with the president, and those loyal press organs are happy to explain how it’s an outrageous breach of protocol that has endangered the American-Israeli relationship. To hear The New York Times tell, the Israeli ambassador who passed along the invitation should be declared persona non grata. We can’t recall the same outrage when Obama left Netanyahu cooling his heels for more than an hour at a White House meeting, or was escorted out the back door after yet another meeting, or when the ever-unnamed White House sources questioned Netanyahu’s courage with a barnyard epithet, or when any of Obama’s several other conspicuous breaches of protocol with Israel occurred over the past seven years, but by now Israel should be accustomed to such double standards.
That the White House is still fuming through the press suggests how very bad its relationship with the Jewish state, if not the Jewish people, has become. We suspect that the president is just as annoyed with the Republican majorities in Congress who invited his least favorite international figure to address America, but there is more involved than just domestic politics. Obama is no doubt worried that Netanyahu might persuade enough Democrats to join with the Republicans to override a veto against a bill imposing economic sanctions on Iran, and perhaps even persuade the American public that the president’s endless negotiations with Iran are only allowing that nutcase theocracy the time to build its nuclear arsenal, and those endless talks seem to be the president’s top priority in foreign affairs. An Iranian bomb would pose an existential threat to Israel, which does not seem a priority to the administration at all, and one can infer from that what one wants.

— Bud Norman

Gas-less in Gaza

Every executive has a story about a business trip gone badly awry, but President Barack Obama’s current visit to Israel might well top them all.
The trip began with the lowest of expectations, given that its ostensible purpose was to address the intractable conflict between Israel and its Islamic neighbors, which is so darned intractable that the even the very confident Obama seems to at long last have realized that his reputedly extraordinary powers of persuasion are unlikely to make a difference. For most of the past four years Obama has pursued an “even-handed” approach of antagonizing Israel with diplomatic snubs and talk of ’67 borders while obsequiously appeasing its neighbors with endless speeches about the glories of Islamic culture, a policy long urged by the international left, and thus far such even-handedness has succeeded only to the extent that the president is unpopular with both sides.
With Middle East peace as elusive as ever, Obama seems to have determined that at least he can salvage some standing with America’s traditional allies in Israel by making a long-delayed trip to the embattled country and enduring some chummy photo opportunities with its leaders. The Israeli leadership has happily obliged, which will suffice for the press to declare the trip a resounding success, but the process has been troublesome.
There was the symbolic tree that Obama planted in front of a phalanx of photographers, for instance, which made for a swell shot, and allowed Obama to note proudly that tree had been transported as his gift from America on Air Force One, but then the cheeky British press giddily noted that the usual rules against planting foreign plant life required that the tree quickly be dug up and quarantined. Even the American reporters were being uncharacteristically pugnacious, and during a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the president was forced to laugh off a question about the complete lack of progress that has resulted from his past for years of leadership. Despite the outburst, Netanyahu was later overheard marveling at the “incestuous relationship” that the president seems to enjoy with the American news media. Then, of course, the car broke down. In a nicely metaphorical touch that even the most mainstream of news sources couldn’t ignore, the presidential limousine came sputtering to a halt after someone filled the tank with the wrong sort of fuel.
None of which is very consequential, although we suspect that if such bone-headed foul-ups had occurred on a Republican president’s trip the possible ramifications would have been more widely discussed, but thus far there is no indication that anything of consequence was achieved. The press can only speculate what was discussed in the important private meetings, and thus far the speculation seems to be that nothing of importance was agreed upon. Soothing the feelings of the Israeli citizens would be a positive development, but thus far the reaction from the Israeli press has been decidedly unimpressed. The feelings of American voters who take seriously the country’s longstanding friendship with Israel also needed some soothing, and Obama’s visit might help with that, but the final judgment awaits some news about what the two countries are going to do about Iran’s nuclear weapons program and other crucial matters.

— 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