Belmont Club

Crosstalk

When Barack Obama ran for President in 2008 he sold the voters on the line that they needed a bridge to the world. Fouad Ajami writing in the Wall Street Journal described how Obama convinced America to buy his bridge.

No American president before this one had proclaimed such intimacy with a world that stretches from Morocco to Indonesia. From the start of his administration, Mr. Obama put forth his own biography as a bridge to those aggrieved nations. He would be a “different president,” he promised, and the years he lived among Muslims would acquit him—and thus America itself. He was the un-Bush.

Ajami phrased it as “give him your warrant” and watch Him take care of things.  For nearly four years the public stood back and did just that: watched their President-translator engage in the policy equivalent of booking the hotels, arranging the transportation, making the necessary appointments, and so forth. But from the start something was curiously wrong. The locals talked back, acted surly, spat in their food, and made them sleep in bedbug basements and did not return their calls.

What was the translator saying?

The mystery began to clear up when the voters learned enough to eavesdrop on the conversations. Some of it came through in the rough questioning that President Obama received at the hands of hispanic network Univision.  [I thought it was a foreign network as its website is entirely in Spanish] . They grilled him in a manner unthinkable on network TV. ‘Did you lie on immigration just to get votes?’ ‘Why don’t you fire Eric Holder?’ were among the questions they asked. As Glenn Beck put it the foreign press was willing to do what the American press won’t do.

For some this may have caused a moment of doubt. Could it be what the Guide said he was telling the locals wasn’t what the locals were hearing?  After all their actions were unaccountable.

Didn’t the Chinese refuse to meet Hillary, forcing Leon Panetta to go in her stead? Didn’t the Libyans torch the US consulate in Benghazi and murder the ambassador? Isn’t the entire Muslim world, practically without exception, currently besieging US embassies? Isn’t America leaving Afghanistan, Obama’s “war of necessity” without anything to show for it? Isn’t Canada, after being refused permission to build an oil pipeline to the US, now building it to the Pacific Coast to supply China? Aren’t Japan and Australia now worried that America, for the first time since World War 2 is abandoning them in the Pacific? Isn’t Israel — Israel — now in practically in open breach with the US?

Weren’t they supposed to love us? What happened to all the money America paid the Guide to assure them of nice views, good rooms and gourmet meals? It is nowhere in evidence.  To all appearances America’s standing in the world has dropped precipitously since the Great Bridge entered the White House.

So what happened? Mark Steyn raises the disturbing possibility that Obama doesn’t really speak a language the outside world understands at all. He just faked it, under the theory that if you look like a TV version of the Child of the World and loudly speak in pig latin you can sell yourself as the real deal.

Steyn told Hewitt, author of his own book, “The Brief Against Obama: The Rise, Fall & Epic Fail of the Hope & Change Presidency,” those qualities of Obama are something one might find in a college faculty lounge.

“He has this kind of invincible ignorance, so that when something happens, he goes off and he flies in to Cairo and gives his usual speech, and he thinks OK, that’s it, that’s the Muslim world taken care of, next,” Steyn continued. “And then when it all explodes and blows up in his face, he’s not even interested enough to try and find out what’s going on here. And I think it’s that perfect pampered, cosseted, invincible ignorance. And if you’ve ever been on an American college campus and just tried to plant a new thought in this sort of indestructible faculty-lounge group think, you’ll be very familiar with the way Obama approaches these things.”

Maybe Obama is about as foreign as Chicago, Illinois; a man in Ricardo Montalban outfit who has proclaimed himself Sultan Abdul A-sneeze to the perplexity of all who really understand Arabic. He is no more a Child of the World than Elizabeth Warren is Cherokee. But there is another more disturbing possibility: maybe the President has been sending two signals for every action, one for the outside audience and the other for domestic consumption.

Consider a few examples. Obama told Americans that ‘I am a devout Christian’. But to the Muslim world he may have sent another signal. Asma Gull Hasan, writing in Forbes in 2009 said, “I know President Obama is not Muslim, but I am tempted nevertheless to think that he is, as are most Muslims I know. In a very unscientific oral poll, ranging from family members to Muslim acquaintances, many of us feel, just as African-Americans did for the non-black but culturally leaning African-American President Bill Clinton, that we have our first American Muslim president in Barack Hussein Obama.”

Dan Morrison, an American reporter traveling in Israel noticed that most people he met thought Obama was unquestionably a Muslim. This astounded him immensely because he had repeatedly told by American media that Obama was a Christian.

TEL AVIV, Israel – “The problem is Obama is a Muslim.”

I waited for the punchline, or at least a sly grin.

None came.

“Wait,” I asked. “Did you just say President Obama is a Muslim?”

“Yes of course,” my host answered. “Everybody knows that.”

But Obama’s true faith may be less important than the fact that different sets of people got diametrically different signals about him. The dangers of selling two sides out simultaneously is that they may each find out. And not only in matters of religion. Fouad Ajami points out that despite the media’s depiction that he is “tough” and “respected” in the world, from outside it sounds like he started with an apology and hasn’t stopped since.  Ajami continues:

in June 2009, Mr. Obama descended on Cairo. He had opposed the Iraq war, he had Muslim relatives, and he would offer Egyptians, and by extension other Arabs, the promise of a “new beginning.” They told their history as a tale of victimization at the hands of outsiders, and he empathized with that narrative.

He spoke of “colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.”

Without knowing it, he had broken a time-honored maxim of that world: Never speak ill of your own people when in the company of strangers. There was too little recognition of the malignant trilogy—anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism and anti-modernism—that had poisoned the life of Egypt and much of the region.

Charles Krauthammer makes a very similar argument. The Obama you see is not the Obama the world sees. You may see Obama as the Great Bridge to bring healing but what the locals heard him say in his fractured dialect was something different.

Obama had come to remonstrate and restrain the hyperpower that, by his telling, had lost its way after 9/11, creating Guantanamo, practicing torture, imposing its will with arrogance and presumption.

First, he would cleanse by confession. Then he would heal. Why, given the unique sensitivities of his background — “my sister is half-Indonesian,” he proudly told an interviewer in 2007, amplifying on his exquisite appreciation of Islam — his very election would revolutionize relations….

It’s now three years since the Cairo speech. Look around. The Islamic world is convulsed with an explosion of anti-Americanism. From Tunisia to Lebanon, American schools, businesses and diplomatic facilities set ablaze. A U.S. ambassador and three others murdered in Benghazi. The black flag of Salafism, of which al-Qaeda is a prominent element, raised over our embassies in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Sudan.

The administration, staggered and confused, blames it all on a 14-minute trailer for a film no one has seen and may not even exist.

If the Muslim world actually sees him as a weak apostate instead of the sublime healer depicted by the toady press that would explain the rage against US policy far more convincingly than its ascription to a stupid video that almost nobody has seen.  From the foreign point of view what they see would be betrayal and apostasy compounded by effeteness, two of the most hated characteristics in the Muslim world. What they would see is a man who would take the name of Allah in vain to promote Gay Marriage in the Third World. Then even his ‘apologies’ would inevitably be interpreted as insults and affronts.

And worst of all they would see it as official US policy, since its purveyor is President of the United States. Maybe this is what happens when the locals think the interpreter’s words are those of his clients.

The Obama administration’s foreign policy narrative is now suffering from crosstalk, a process through which the signals from one discrete channel are hopping over into the other. In old days of telephony, users could occasionally overhear snatches of one conversation leaking into their own. That may be what is happening now. The conversation that Obama is having with the world are now making it past the firewalls of the main stream media.

Foreign policy failures represent a real gap President Obama’s narrative armor.  Foreign opinion is one thing that the Bill Mahers and Maureen Dowds cannot spin. Whilethis may not be noticed much by voters whose reading is confined to the supermarket tabloid and the 7 o’clock news, crosstalk eventually forms a signal which leaks into the public consciousness.


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