As the President prepared for his State of the Union speech, protests have erupted in Lebanon over the naming of an Hizbullah backed prime minister. In Egypt, record crowds gathered against Hosni Mubarak, for reasons said to be inspired by events in Tunisia. USA Today writes:
While making final preparations for tonight’s State of the Union speech, President Obama and aides are keeping an eye on protests in Egypt and Lebanon.
In Lebanon, protesters burned tires and blocked roads after the naming of a Hezbollah-backed prime minister.
Protesters in Egypt — apparently inspired by the overthrow of a repressive government in Tunisia — took to the streets to protest the regime of President Hosni Mubarak.
As the previous post argued, the President’s focus on a domestic agenda cannot obscure the fact that he is facing cascading challenges abroad. The White House issued this statement about events in Lebanon, which is irrelevant to the point of confessing impotence. “What is important is that the next Lebanese government abides by the Lebanese constitution, renounces violence — including efforts to exact retribution against former government officials — and lives up to all of its international obligations, including U.N. Security Council resolutions and its commitment to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.”
Can the White House be serious about demanding that a new Hezbollah government abide by the Lebanese constitution and and renounce violence? If insanity is the condition of doing the same thing over and expecting a different result, what condition corresponds to expecting the unlikely and thinking it probable? And does anyone remember President Obama’s confident announcement that “efforts by the Hezbollah-led coalition to collapse the Lebanese government only demonstrate their own fear and determination to block the government’s ability to conduct its business and advance the aspirations of all of the Lebanese people”? A juxtaposition of the White House’s pronouncements with news from the ground would sound like an article from the Onion.
Now, with protests breaking out in the very place where the President delivered his outreach speech to the Muslim world the question must be asked: did Obama reach out to the wrong crowd? Would it not have been better if he had, instead of extolling “Islam – at places like Al-Azhar University – that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment” he had put the emphasis the other way? Al-Azhar could speak for itself and Islam has never had a problem articulating its ambitions. The President was elected to fight his own side.
And was it not Al-Azahar that according to the The Corner suspended dialogue with the Vatican after the Pope expressed objections to the massacre of Christians in Iraq and Egypt.
“[Al-Azhar’s] Islamic Research Council reviewed in an emergency meeting Thursday the repeatedly insulting remarks issued by the Vatican Pope toward Islam and his statement that Muslims are discriminating against others who live with them in the Middle East. . . . The council decided to freeze dialogue between al-Azhar and the Vatican for an indefinite period.”
But when the White House expects Hezbollah to abide by its constitutional obligations, then surely it may hope for anything. Still the shocks come. There is an ever-growing possibility that the President’s foreign policy in the Middle East, rather than being rooted in genius, was simply nothing more than an acceptance of the old Leftist idea that a “less dominant America” which howls out its sins and beg for forgiveness will bring the world to its side out an admiration for its towering moral strength. When the President declared in Cairo that “America is not – and never will be – at war with Islam … however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security,” he should have realized this required him to promote democracy vigorously in the Middle East. The policy of speaking loudly and carrying a very small stick is contrast to the appraisal of former Australian Prime Minister John Howard.
If you imagine that you can buy immunity from fanatics by curling yourself in a ball, apologizing for the world – to the world – for who you are and what you stand for and what you believe in, not only is that morally bankrupt, but it’s also ineffective. Because fanatics despise a lot of things and the things they despise most is weakness and timidity. There has been plenty of evidence through history that fanatics attack weakness and retreating people even more savagely than they do defiant people.
America has refused to be the Strong Horse. Osama Bin Laden, describing the regional penchant for backing winners, said “when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse”. The reason Osama attacked New York was that he wanted to show how Weak the US was. If instead of portraying democracy as the Strong Horse, the President has represented its adherents as jackasses, then he has missed an historical opportunity to speak for freedom; and to take up the part of democracy in the Middle East. Instead he dealt himself the losing hand. Not only has refused to be “the strong horse”, but has by backing engagement and stability at nearly any cost, possibly backed the “wrong horse”.