It is with extreme reluctance that I endorse anything uttered by the television pontificator Bill Maher. He is in every aspect slovenly, and in all matters affects a world-weary, comedic-nihilist fatigue with the entire human cavalcade. But miracles do occur, even in the banal sphere of TV comedy. Maher did the near impossible last week, and agreed with Donald Trump. Trump had noted, following the tragic mass shooting in Orlando, that President Obama had been angrier at him, Trump, than at the mass murderer. In a peppy attempt to simulate a reasonable commentator Maher said: “Couldn’t we just address the big elephant in the room, which is the shooter, before we go right to [Trump]?”
One of the panelists on his generally unendurable program, Josh Barro, a liberal Republican and Trump critic who writes for the New York Times, helpfully explained why the term “radical Islam” still cannot be used by the president or anyone in his administration: “The idea is he doesn’t want to give in to ISIS’s frame where there is a war between Islam and the West. He doesn’t want to set up this situation where 1.5 billion Muslims around the world feel the need to pick sides in a war with the West. The idea is to contain and destroy ISIS without letting them become representative.”
That is only a partial explanation. It is nonsense, though it has the ring of authenticity as an excuse for Obama’s compulsive and now almost pathological aversion to identifying Islam with terrorism, no matter how many Americans are killed by Islamist terror. It does not explain the displacement of hostility to a mass murderer by irritation at the mention of the name of the Republican presidential candidate. The notion that the scope of the conflict between the United States and all other civilized and semi-civilized countries against ISIS will be reduced by avoiding reference to the act of terror’s having been inspired by Islam, however mistakenly interpreted by the murderer, is absurd.
Almost all organized countries, including many undemocratic ones, are now effectively at war with ISIS. Since that includes practically all the Arab powers that are not now failed states, the president’s provocatively evasive choice of words can hardly be claimed to reduce the possibility of a war with all Islam. The only hope of an early destruction of ISIS is the mobilization of the sensible majority of Muslim people and governments in full hostility to this demonic quest for a primitive and self-destructive caliphate of mass murder, on a basis of lunatic sectarian and behavioral criteria.
The fact that the principal terrorists are, or are posthumously claimed to be, ISIS-influenced should make opposition to them among the assumed reasonable majority of the world’s Muslims easier. The White House line, as divined by Mr. Barro, apparently is that merely mentioning that horrible crimes committed by people loudly claiming and claimed to be ISIS supporters will instantly galvanize all Muslims, no matter how reasonable, into fellow travelers or even militants of ISIS. If that is what the Obama worldview has become, it is more dangerously naïve than we have been prepared to fear by all of the fiascoes of the last seven years of misplaced appeasement. This cold terror at linking the monstrous crimes of ISIS to the militant Islam it purports to serve will effectively neutralize the United States and such allies as it retains in its often irresolute war on terror.
Can the foreign policy of the world’s greatest power, which provided the essential balance of forces necessary for victory in World War I and led civilization to victory in World War II and the Cold War, really be reduced to such a specious and asinine word game as this? A Bill Maher panelist who styles himself a Republican cannot be assumed to be a White House spokesman, but unfortunately the turgid apologias of the legitimate spokespeople for the administration seem to say something quite close to this horrifying explanation.
This, then, is current American foreign policy: to thread through a minefield of potentially uncongenial statements that could be construed by some as reflecting unkindly on the majority of people whose religion is invoked by mass criminals. This is the successor to “making the world safe for democracy,” “quarantine” of aggressive dictators, and “all aid short of war” for the democracies; of the Four Freedoms, the Marshall Plan, and containment (of Soviet Communism). It is a policy of pusillanimous concern for the sensibilities of the same Muslim masses that Obama browbeat Hillary Clinton into addressing in her groveling speech after the shameful debacle at Benghazi in 2012.
In responding to the Orlando tragedy, Trump, though the polls do not yet show it, clearly did much better than Clinton or Obama.
In responding to the Orlando tragedy, Trump, though the polls do not yet show it, clearly did much better than Clinton or Obama. The president took his usual refuge in references to gun control and avoidance of connecting the massacre to any sectarian cause. While a case can certainly be made for enhanced gun control, and I would support it up to a point, it was going to be practically impossible, since the murderer was a security officer, to deny him the right to acquire sophisticated weapons. I leave it to those more knowledgeable of the details of the case to judge the justifiability of the actions of the FBI in interviewing him, identifying him as an ISIS sympathizer, and making no effort to restrict his use of advanced weapons outside his work. (On its record, there is plenty of room to question the competence of the FBI.) But the president’s reaction to this tragedy, as even Bill Maher, the lowest conceivable denominator of public comment, has concluded, has been altogether contemptible.
Hillary Clinton, after her customary (in a phrase of FDR’s on another subject) “soporiferous lullaby” to the gay community, a matter which was not at issue between any of the political leaders, promised to discourage Saudi Arabian support of Wahhabi extremist agitation in the world. There is no evidence that the murderer was a Wahhabi. There is no more militant and effective adversary of ISIS than Saudi Arabia. And Trump shut her down, as if closing a hatch, by inviting her to begin by giving back the $25 million the Clinton Foundation has received from Saudi Arabia, and asking what she did in her four years as secretary of state to pursue this stated aim of discouraging the export of Wahhabism.
Polls seem still to be jostled in the aftermath of Trump’s clumsy, and worrisomely inarticulate attack on the judge in the Trump University case. But that is an issue that has no legs, and even though it is the most egregious of Donald Trump’s many verbal missteps, his relatively smooth performance after his confirmation as the likely nominee made this backslide into self-damaging aggressiveness anomalous. But unless he somehow re-escalates his presentational errors and gaucheries, the strong case he has made for destroying ISIS militarily and calling Islamic terror by its rightful name should help reestablish him in close contention for the presidency.
The Orlando tragedy caused Trump to defer his grand exposé of his undoubtedly amusing and stark view of the Clintons. The departure from his campaign of Corey Lewandowski, the chief advocate of the school of Let Donald Be Donald, no matter where the shrapnel, rubble, and body parts may fall, may indicate a little more self-control ahead. But provided he returns to the high road of trying to act and sound like someone worthy of the great office that he seeks, the Clinton baggage should prove a much more durable and explosive issue than his own infelicities.
In the necessity of trying to maintain solidarity with Obama, from whom, in happier stages of her campaign, Mrs. Clinton had tried to distance herself, she has become seamlessly identified with the disasters of the Obama-Clinton performance in the Middle East. The infamous Benghazi speech is merely the richest immediate source of self-uttered flails to use against her. Donald Trump can explain away almost all of his verbal miscues. The Clinton record of financial, foreign-policy, and verbal lapses, cumulatively, can be endlessly retrieved and used to remind the public of the underside of the Clinton enterprise.
The current Trump doldrums are not undeserved but are unlikely to persist through what promises to be, in Richard Nixon’s folksy expression, “a rock-’em, sock-’em campaign.”