Politics & Policy

Spontaneous as a Symphony

Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, on Face the Nation, September 16, 2012
The Arab riots were planned in advance — but is that better than murdering over a video?

The Obama administration’s omnibus answer to why the Middle East (and now much of the Muslim world) is in near-open rebellion against the United States: The video did it.

The follow-up question no one seems to be asking is: “What if the administration’s explanation is true?”

White House press secretary Jay Carney insists the attacks in Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere were a “response not to United States policy, and not to, obviously, the administration, not to the American people,” but were rather a spontaneous “response to a video, a film we have judged to be reprehensible and disgusting.”

On the Sunday shows, Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, reaffirmed the claim that this was all about a YouTube trailer.

What about the fact that many experts say the Benghazi attacks looked like a sophisticated, coordinated assault with rocket-propelled grenades? Meaningless. It was the video. Even the president of Libya said, “The idea that this criminal and cowardly act was a spontaneous protest that just spun out of control is completely unfounded and preposterous.” Who cares? It was the video.

#ad#Al-Qaeda is taking credit for the Benghazi assault as revenge for the June killing of its No. 2 man, Abu Yahya al-Libi. What’s your point? It was the video.

Reports that the U.S was given a three-day advance warning by the Libyans of a possible attack? Video, video, video.

Now, I think this is absurd, like a Monty Python sketch gone awry — the parrot’s not dead, he’s just resting! But let’s assume it’s true and it really is all about the video.

How on earth is that better?

According to the Obama administration, its policies in the Middle East are working. The Cairo speech, the tougher line with Israel, the withdrawals from Iraq and pending drawdown in Afghanistan, Obama’s coolness to Iran’s failed Green Revolution: These have all been part of the successful effort to repair the damage done by the previous administration. Yet all of that hard work can go up in smoke if some crackpot says something mean about the prophet Mohammed on YouTube?

Progress that flimsy strikes me as no progress at all.

It is simply a fact that Islamist radicals, the Arab street, and the Muslim world have been angry at America for decades, under Republican and Democratic administrations alike. It’s also true that demagogues and other opportunists have used things like this video as an excuse to attack America and the West for generations. Obama isn’t solely to blame for the current conflagrations, though his naïveté about the transformational power of his presidency deserves ample scorn.

And let’s not pretend that President George W. Bush wasn’t naïve as well. His hope that love of democracy lurked just beneath the surface in the Middle East has proved at minimum more complicated, bloody, and expensive in practice than in theory. But at least you could tell what Bush was for in the Middle East: freedom.

With Obama it’s not so easy. Apparently you can’t say Obama apologized for America in his Cairo speech, but he certainly did make it clear we wouldn’t rub our values in anyone’s face anymore. During the Iranian Green Revolution, he acted as if the people’s yearning for freedom was really inconvenient. And, over the last week, this administration has talked about the First Amendment as if it’s something it’s stuck with.

“We do not stop individual citizens from expressing their views, no matter how distasteful they may be,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, in the diplomatic equivalent of a regretful sigh. Maybe that’s true (though the White House did ask YouTube to consider pulling the video, and federal authorities did drag the alleged filmmaker in for questioning).

But our public officials now treat attacks on Islam as especially offensive — more offensive than unremarked-upon near-daily attacks on Christianity, Judaism, Mormonism, atheism, and just about every other faith and creed.

Why is Islam so special? The answer is, it’s not. But Muslim rioters get special treatment. And that’s nuts. If these people are going to hate us, even after President Obama has done such a fantastic job reaching out to the Muslim world, maybe we should just accept that fact and stand up for what we believe, without apology.

Jonah Goldberg is an editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him by e-mail at JonahsColumn@aol.com or via Twitter: @JonahNRO. © 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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