Phi Beta Cons

Obama’s Speech and the Academic Mindset

As I watched President Obama’s speech yesterday, I felt like I was having a flashback to law-school lectures of yesteryear — where credentialed professors would display breathtaking ignorance of history, of Middle Eastern culture, and of human nature as they suggested again and again that peace was possible if only Israel made concession after concession, if only Israel would acquiesce to a security situation Americans would never tolerate.  The best-case academic mindset was moral equivalence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The normal view was that Middle Eastern rage existed because of American and Israeli aggression.

Left out of the discussion was even the possibility that pure, genocidal evil was driving Israel’s most aggressive antagonists. Left out of the discussion was the idea that a culture of anti-Semitism existed in the Muslim world and that anti-Semitism was a breeding ground for violent jihad. An academic community eager to expose and confront racism everywhere turned a blind eye to horrific and explicitly racist rhetoric seeping out from every quarter of the Arab world.  

Our academic community dwells endlessly on settlements yet ignores the expulsion of more than 800,000 Jews from Arab lands after 1948. Our academic community calls endlessly for “tolerance” and “understanding” of Muslim grievances even as churches burn and 2,000-year-old Christian communities vanish before our eyes. The academic class simply will not hold the Muslim world to the same standards it holds the West.

Barack Obama is our professor-president, and his speech betrayed all the hallmarks of academe’s trademark combination of condescension, misplaced idealism, and ignorance. (Are Palestinian militants — or even the Arab protestors in Egypt and Libya – really comparable to American revolutionaries?)

In Iraq I saw the pure hate that drives the Islamic jihad. The practical effect of the president’s speech will be to reward that hate by attempting to drive Israel into worst-case concessions as a starting point for new negotiations — negotiations with a Hamas-led government, no less. As I noted yesterday in my initial reaction to the speech, this is unprecedented, shocking, and — worst of all — fundamentally irresponsible.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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