No one in this administration seems to fathom what the attacks on our diplomatic missions on the anniversary of 9/11 were all about. Instead in adolescent fashion, the president, our ambassadors, and, most culpably, the secretary of state remain sort of stunned that reset, the Cairo speech, the al Arabiya interview, the euphemisms, the ad nauseam “we are not Bush” apologies — all that and more — did not prevent the assassination of a U.S. ambassador, the sacking of a consulate, and the attempted storming of a U.S. embassy.
Islamists, apparently more than we do, understand America — someone educated in the U.S., like Mohamed Morsi, especially. They privately accept both that this obscure video (like a papal quotation of a Byzantine text, a supposedly burned Koran, a purportedly flushed Koran, a novel, a cartoon, etc.) has nothing to do with the American government; but for the ignorant masses on the Arab Street these totems can be used as successful pretexts to whip up anti-Americanism. But here is the key: What drives the Islamists’ venomous anti-Americanism?
Surely not U.S. “imperialism” — we saved Afghans from Russians, Kuwaitis from Saddam, liberated Iraq, hectored Putin on Chechnya, tried to feed the Somalis, bombed Milosevic to save Kosovars and Bosnians, let in Arab dissidents from across the world, funded the Palestinians, Jordanians, and Egyptians, and on and on.
Instead, the orchestrated outrage is predicated on two simple facts. First, there is a deep sense of inferiority in the Islamic world stemming from the fact that a supposedly once-exalted culture, in contemporary comparative terms, is failing. Rather than look inward for the causes of general impoverishment (e.g., tribalism, fundamentalism, religious intolerance, misogyny, statism, authoritarianism, anti-modernism, anti-Semitism, anti-intellectualism, etc.), it scapegoats the West in general and its powerful icon, the United States, in particular. The theme is that such decadent, godless, and blasphemous peoples do not deserve and should not enjoy such global influence and cultural supremacy while we, the morally superior of the Middle East, must grovel.
Second, radical Islamists continue to act out its crack-pot fantasies in deadly fashion because they believes it works, and that the U.S. will grants concessions, both material and psychological, at the slightest provocation — as we saw with the embarrassing apologetic communiqués, with each clarification even more embarrassing than the last. (In this regard, should we laugh or cry to watch supposedly liberal civil libertarians in the administration fall all over themselves attacking the video as much as, or more than, those who would destroy or murder any whose expression bothers them. Why have a First Amendment in the first place, if not to protect odious speech from even more odious totalitarians?)
The most vehement anti-Americans are often precisely those who have lived in the United States and the West, enjoyed its freedoms, indulged in its affluence, and have come to resent the contrast with their own homelands—and then, in convoluted fashion, find all sorts of reasons, from imperialism to the West’s cultural decadence, to ameliorate their own sense of guilt and inferiority. For a Middle Eastern intellectual, cleric, or zealot to enjoy the West, even briefly, incites all sorts of angst, as we saw from Sayyid Qutb to Mohamed Atta — and perhaps Mohamed Morsi himself.
#more#What to do? This administration needs to stop immediately all the clumsy contextualizing and just ignore the video, which of course soon will give way to some nut burning a Koran, or some cartoonist or novelist pursuing attention, sales, profits, etc. The United States cannot apologize for its Constitution to those who themselves are totalitarians and can’t abide by common rules of international behavior.
However, we can quite quietly revoke travel, visas, foreign aid, diplomatic exchanges — in the manner we have done with Iran — sending the message that those who kill U.S. diplomats and storm our embassies do not deserve U.S. friendship. (In that regard, Obama’s own clumsy aiming before firing quip that Egypt may not be either a friend or ally had some utility, if it alarmed Cairo.) It does no good to say “a small minority” is responsible. No, the existing government such as it is, has obligations to protect its guests. Otherwise, we are back to the 1979 kabuki dance with Iran, as Carter swallowed whole hog the Iranians’ claim that the students, zealots, etc. and not necessarily the government were responsible on any given day. We should accept that Ground Zero of Sunni anti-Americanism in the Middle East is now Cairo.
In addition, this administration — and particularly the president himself — needs to stop spiking the ballabout killing bin Laden, releasing details of the Special Forces raid, spilling the beans of Cyber warring against Iran, presidential joking about the Predator-drone program, etc. All that comes across as empty braggadocio, and serves to incite our enemies without awing them.
When night after night at the conventions we heard that “GM is alive, bin Laden is dead” and earlier Hillary Clinton’s laughing that “We came, we saw, he died” about the horrific end of the monstrous Qaddafi (on tape being executed after being sexually mauled) — while we are cutting the defense budget $1 trillion over ten years, and cannot send a few Marines to protect an ambassador in the most dangerous post in the world, the message is mixed: We boast in lieu of real strength, bragging about what we can do to compensate for what we cannot. Finally, the notion that we not would fully tap vast new finds of North American oil and gas on public lands in the present climate is abject insanity.