The Limits of Obama's Rhetoric

Egypt is the birthplace and intellectual and spiritual center of the contemporary world jihadist movement. The Muslim Brotherhood is arguably its vessel. If not directly behind the conflict, the Brotherhood is surely maneuvering behind the scenes with an eye toward taking control. We know that operatives of all of the primary state sponsors of terror and of the terror organizations themselves are streaming into Egypt, jockeying for power and influence. Even if one makes the naive, nuanced assumption that the uprising is an entirely spontaneous demonstration of youth power -- without the influence of outside or jihadist agitation -- the goal is surely not an American-friendly democracy. Recent polls have indicated an overwhelming preference for Sharia and all that goes with it. Fact: Sharia is not compatible -- at all -- with liberty, “universal rights,” or democracy. Once established, however, it will provide Mr. Obama with yet another opportunity to “bear witness” to the barbaric mistreatment of an entire nation.

Who, then, is picking up the phone at 3 a.m.? Considering all of the powerful, awe-inspiring foreign policy tools in the toolbox of the president of the United States -- even now, we have substantial influence and persuasive power -- which will he be most likely to employ? Our president is Barack Obama, and the tool to which he resorts, first, last, and always, is rhetoric.

Like my students, Mr. Obama, despite being always the smartest man in the room (according to his advisor and primary worshipper, Valerie Jarrett), eternally bored with offices far below his infinite intellectual capacities (apparently all to which he has ascended to date), knows little of the cultures of others. Ironically, we have a Department of State which is supposed to be staffed with people who know such things, but considering how often Mr. Obama has egregiously insulted the British, the State Department seems to know little about them. That being the case, there is probably no real hope that they know anything about the Egyptians -- or that Mr. Obama will listen to them if they do. Which is worse?  Discuss.

And so Mr. Obama resorts to rhetoric, but not the rhetoric of the wise, cautious statesman, careful with every word, lest unintended, potentially destructive messages be received. It is the rhetoric of the community organizer, the union boss, the black liberation theologian, the socialist, the man who, when his policies are rejected by the American people, thinks it’s a failure of “messaging,” a failure to be set right by yet another speech with a new “message” -- a new word to replace a word to which the public has caught on. The American public, he understands, has not heard nearly enough of his speeches.

Thus has lunatic, ruinous borrowing and spending changed from “stimulus” to “investment.” Thus has a continuing and deep recession, a recession threatening to experience a double dip, had its back broken by a “recovery summer” (that wasn’t). Thus has spending the nation into bankruptcy at warp speed become “winning the future.” And thus has the long past due necessity of dramatically reducing spending -- I mean “investment” -- and revamping entitlements become the biggest, most destructive entitlement of all time -- ObamaCare -- and so have we set the goals of high-speed rail, of sending everyone to college (regardless of whether they want or need college), of “clean energy,” etc.

Mr. Obama appears incapable of understanding that rhetoric has its limits, particularly cross-cultural limits. His rhetoric is currently ineffective or annoying to a majority of the American public. Peoples who are struggling for mere individual and familial survival, or who would prefer that America and all Americans be obliterated -- especially those who are willing to take affirmative steps toward that goal -- are likewise unaffected by Mr. Obama’s particular brand of persuasion, except to more firmly entrench their enmity. Being liked by the “Arab street” or the “Muslim street” is meaningless in the affairs of nations. Being respected or feared, and being able to influence events toward freedom, democracy, and peace, is. Mr. Obama seems consistently to place a higher priority -- much higher -- on the former.

Mr. Obama’s Olympian narcissism is likewise an impediment to a competent foreign policy. This was clearly illustrated by what he doubtless imagined to be his historic address to the Muslim world in Cairo on June 4, 2009. What could he have been thinking? “I shall sojourn to the land of Egypt. There shall my word be made manifest unto the Muslims, and they shall hear, find it good, and like me, and bask in my glory.” Not so much. In fact, the results were almost certainly even less effective than his historic address to the Germans on July 24, 2008, delivered when he was only the most leftist member of the U.S. Senate, at least in part because this time no one served beer. Yet the media -- like CNN's Wolf Blitzer -- wonders if this momentous speech was the proximate cause of Mr. Mubarak's removal.