Friday, June 5, 2009

The Road to Cairo

When a doctor starts to treat a patient with the wrong diagnosis in mind, the patient usually does not get well; more often than not, the condition gets worse. So it will inexorably be concerning Barack Obama's identification of the problem between Islam and the West during his speech in Cairo.

We meet at a time of tension between the United States and Muslims around the world – tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate.
He gets it wrong from the start, perhaps deliberately. Rather than stemming from unnamed "historical forces," the tension to which he refers results necessarily from order - established and maintained primarily by Western countries - straining against the murderous chaos incited by al Qaeda and those similarly disposed. Surely we did not invade Afghanistan and Iraq as some sort of retaliation for such ancient hostilities as the Barbary Wars, although it can be said that both belligerencies have their roots in Muslim "misreadings" of the Qu'ran. According to The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, it was the contention of more than a few North African Muslims that raiding European ships sailing along the Barbary Coast was sanctioned by holy writ.
In 1786, Thomas Jefferson, then the ambassador to France, and John Adams, ambassador to Britain, met in London with Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja, a visiting ambassador from Tripoli. The Americans asked Adja why his government was hostile to American ships, even though there had been no provocation. They reported to the Continental Congress that the ambassador had told them "it was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave."
After spewing some unmemorable treacle about "civilization's debt to Islam," Obama turns his attention to America's efforts to confront Islamic extremism. If there is wisdom to be found at all in Obama's remarks, it is in his noting that "military power alone will not solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan." He goes on to cite America's present and future monetary kindnesses to that area. Obama would have done well to point out - as Charles Krauthammer did recently - the span of America's beneficence to the Muslim world.

Every new president flatters himself that he, kinder and gentler, is beginning the world anew. Yet, when Barack Obama in his inaugural address reached out to Muslims by saying "to the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect," his formulation was needlessly defensive and apologetic.

Is it "new" to acknowledge Muslim interests and show respect to the Muslim world? Obama doesn't just think so, he said so again to millions in his al-Arabiya interview, insisting on the need to "restore" the "same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago."

Astonishing. In these most recent 20 years - the alleged winter of our disrespect of the Islamic world - America did not just respect Muslims, it bled for them. It engaged in five military campaigns, every one of which involved - and resulted in - the liberation of a Muslim people: Bosnia, Kosovo, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Again, Obama's misreading and/or ignorance of history causes him to distort present-day events; he claims to have "unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States," as if he chiseled the U.S.'s longstanding torture statutes (see here and here) into marble with his fingers on Inauguration Day.

But it is during his discussion of the Israel-Palestinian situation where Obama lets his inner camp counselor (or community organizer) shine. He lays on enough grandiose boilerplate to "up armor" all of the HUMVEEs in Iraq.
Too many tears have flowed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed (peace be upon them) joined in prayer.
Unrepentant equalist that he is, Obama confuses and conflates the behavior of Arab and Jew as if they were two kids who both need a time out. Had he a capacity for shame, Obama's ethical opacity would be to his everlasting disgrace in as much as he sees the aggressor and the victim as morally equivalent. He evidences no remembrance of Yasser Arafat spurning an American-brokered peace plan at the 2000 Camp David Summit, the involvement of Palestinian militants with Fatah and Hamas, and the once-incessant suicide bombings that claimed the lives of untold Israeli civilians.

It is when he discusses democracy, religious freedom and women's rights that Obama sounds positively Bushian, with Obama positing his "undying belief that all people yearn for certain things." (This might be the one inheritance that Obama will gladly receive from his predecessor.) Sadly, he follows all that up by opening a grab bag of goodies for the Islamic world not unlike the stimuli that Obama intends for the U.S.
Many Gulf States have enjoyed great wealth as a consequence of oil, and some are beginning to focus it on broader development. But all of us must recognize that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century, and in too many Muslim communities there remains underinvestment in these areas. I am emphasizing such investments within my country. And while America in the past has focused on oil and gas in this part of the world, we now seek a broader engagement.

On education, we will expand exchange programs, and increase scholarships, like the one that brought my father to America, while encouraging more Americans to study in Muslim communities. And we will match promising Muslim students with internships in America; invest in on-line learning for teachers and children around the world; and create a new online network, so a teenager in Kansas can communicate instantly with a teenager in Cairo.
And the gimmies kept coming: "support for technological development" in Muslim countries, plans to operate "centers for scientific excellence," along with "Science Envoys." Efforts to eradicate polio and improve maternal and child health.

All of this is well and good in and of itself, it ignores a fundamental reality about the Muslim world. Namely, the same radicalism that esteems intifada and suicide bombing over peace and shared prosperity will not respond as Obama would predict to offers of economic cooperation. Cultures that prize submission - to one's state, tribe or husband - cannot manifest the independent, decentralized thinking and behavior that economic development would both engender and require.

If economics alone were sufficient to bring the Islamic world into something similar to modernity, the flow of petrodollars over 50 years would have already brought as much about. That Obama believes that he can drag the Middle East into the 21st Century after so many others have tried speaks to a hubris born of ignorance of history and one's own limitations. As many a patient can attest, the worst doctors are those who are convinced of their own infallibility.

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