Politics & Policy

Obama and the Muslims

It doesn’t look like he knows what he’s doing.

I have tried diligently to detect some subtle rationale for this administration’s policy toward the Muslim world. There have been some good moves, particularly the emphasis on Afghanistan and the serious effort, after eight years of grapefruit-league tokenism, to apply all means — aid, diplomacy, and force — to produce the desired outcome there. The delay before acting was distressing, but better to take a good look before leaping. And yet: Taking the plunge while promising to be out next year was insane. Wars cannot be conducted that way. President Roosevelt did not ask Congress to declare a war that would last only until the day before the next presidential election, and President Truman did not secure the agreement of the United Nations for a “police action” in Korea (in which 33,000 American servicemen died) that would last only until a certain date. It is now clear that the greatest problem in Afghanistan is the corruption of the Karzai government, which was well known before the president committed to the tripling of the American military effort there.

It seemed, after the 2008 election, that Mr. Obama thought that, having convinced the great white moderate political center of America that it should put him in the White House to slake its concerns about 400 years of mistreatment of blacks (and, as a bonus, to be spared having to take seriously the posturings of charlatans like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson ever again), he might be perhaps able also to turn the page in international relations with many countries that were convinced the United States was governed by a self-serving white capitalist apparat. It was worth a try, but it didn’t work. Those countries and political currents in the world that do not wish America well don’t care who is in the White House. They want to pick America’s pocket, overrun its interests, and kill its children. Unfortunately, although President Obama may have made brief inroads on public opinion with his speeches in Egypt and Ghana, public opinion in undemocratic countries doesn’t have much force unless the regime is insufferably oppressive and terribly enfeebled. His words were eloquent in Ghana, rather cloying in Cairo; in both cases, they evaporated like the tropical dew.

Mr. Obama appears to believe some of the guilt-stained profferings he has made to the world: The United States should be more socialistic, like economically stagnant Europe, carried for decades by America’s addiction to Italian and French luxury goods and German engineered products. President Truman should not have dropped the atomic bomb. President Eisenhower should not have been complicit in turfing out Mossadegh (a deranged fellow-traveling demagogue who rarely got out of his pajamas, perhaps the sartorial inspiration for the late don of the Genovese crime family, Vincent “The Chin” Gigante), as prime minister of Iran.

America may just now be coming to grips with the implications of the fact that its president is going forth into the world actually believing the bunk that America pursued its national interest with unjustifiable callousness and behaved reprehensibly by the standards of those who reproach it now, and that there may actually be some merit to the Americaphobic strictures of the Ahmadinejads, Mugabes, and Chávezes.

Equally disturbing, he may also think that enemies like appeasers. Stalin told Churchill after they reminisced about Churchill’s having advocated “strangling Bolshevism in its cradle” in 1919, that “I prefer a candid opponent to a pretended friend.” Mao told Nixon: “I like conservatives, I can deal with them”; he said he admired and respected de Gaulle, Eisenhower, Nixon, and even Edward Heath, but not “these so-called social democrats claiming we really have a lot in common.” It must be clear to everyone by now that the disrespect that engulfed George W. Bush has now settled like an Angeleno smog on Obama. Even relatively well-disposed foreigners disparage, out of envy and habit, all U.S. presidents since Roosevelt, except JFK, as fools (Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Ford, Carter, Reagan, the Bushes), or knaves (Nixon and Clinton). But they think the Great Republic has scraped the barrel with George W. Bush and the incumbent. And unfortunately, for once, America’s critics may be correct.

Afghanistan is a cauldron of appalling and unremitting complexity. It has never justified the effort that would be required to subdue it, whether by Persia, the Mongols, Russia, or Great Britain, because it is a poor, land-locked country of no geopolitical value, and thus a perfect failed state to give shelter to terrorists. Iran, Russia, India, and Pakistan all have factional interests in the country, and before setting out on a course of nation-building in such infertile soil, the U.S. might have had a better idea of what it was undertaking. (In contrast, Iraq is, at least, an important Arab country with immense oil resources and some of the features of a functioning state.) The Pakistanis, Indians, Iranians, and Russians all have their own factions in Afghanistan, and it is hard to avoid the temptation to think that the U.S. and NATO are the innocents slouching toward Babylon. The inevitable Richard Holbrooke was in New York on July 6 to try, contrary to the wishes of the Russians, to remove certain Taliban names from the list of designated terrorists in U.N. Resolution 1267. The Iranians are encouraging some of the northern Taliban resistance to Kabul and the Allies; and the Pakistanis are exploiting Karzai’s fears of an early Western pullout to build up their Haqqani faction in the broader Taliban, and are selling themselves to Karzai as the future of his regime by their ability to broker a deal with the Taliban. The Russians and Indians, having themselves tasted the sting of Taliban terror, are implacably hostile to it, despite Russia’s tacit assistance to one of the northern factions (just to irritate the Americans). Thus America’s great ally, Pakistan, is building up part of America’s Afghan opposition among the Taliban, to strengthen its hand in maintaining a post-U.S. and -NATO Karzai in a coalition with the Taliban. And the enemy the U.S. has instituted a surge to fight, the Taliban, is supported by its chief ally, Pakistan, and opposed by its other chief ally in the region, India, as well as by Russia, whose assistance the U.S. seeks in opposing an Iranian nuclear capability, even as Iran and Russia both assist certain Taliban factions against the U.S.

If this were a Republican administration, the New York Times and Washington Post and the traditional television networks would lift the stone on this mess of snakes and spook public opinion. As it is, it is hard to believe that the administration really knows what it is doing; though, if it has a secret deal to give Afghanistan to Pakistan, India, and Russia to supervise and ensure the absence of an international terror-generating enterprise there, that would make sense. But this doesn’t square with what anyone in the administration is saying, except possibly General Petraeus, in whom my confidence, in this role, is based on Karzai’s description of him as “a politician.” In the U.S., meanwhile, the insipid and mindless appeasement of the Muslims continues. In his “official statement on the occasion of Ramadan,” Mr. Obama praised “Islam’s role in advancing justice, progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings . . . (its) great diversity and racial equality” and “American Muslims’ . . . extraordinary contributions to our country.” In fact, Islam has done nothing to advance justice or any version of progress or tolerance, and Obama, like Condoleezza Rice, is regularly denounced by the official outlets of leading Muslim countries in ethnic slurs that would embarrass Bull Connor and Lester Maddox. The ambitious Islamic genocidal initiative in the Sudan has earned that country’s president a historical apprenticeship to Hitler, as well as an International Court of Justice indictment as a mass murderer.

It is inexcusable that there is any serious thought of building a mosque near the World Trade Center site. It has nothing to do with freedom of religion, tolerance, and so forth. It is a matter of decent respect for sensibilities. The authors of the unspeakable atrocity on that site, and other terrorist acts against civilians, espoused the faith the proposed mosque celebrates. Of course most Muslims are inoffensive. So are most Germans and Japanese and Russians; but there is no move to build cultural or recreational centers by those countries at Auschwitz, Pearl Harbor, or the Katyn Forest. This is an argument that only a degenerating society can have, and when Maureen Dowd is trying to enlist George W. Bush to this cause, we know that this is not necessarily a sick society — as the Left loved to claim in Johnson’s, and Nixon’s, and Reagan’s days — but that the New York Times is a sicker pigeon than we thought. As for my friendly acquaintance Mayor Bloomberg, he should have saved himself $80 million, devoted 10 percent of that to electing his talented and delightful companion Diana Taylor to the Senate over the cipher who festers there now, and hastened to his philanthropies. If this mosque is built in this location, everyone in the world will see it as a sign that the U.S. has become, in the words of Richard Nixon’s prescient warning, “a pitiful, helpless giant.”

– Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom and Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full. He can be reached at cbletters@gmail.com.

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