|Delusion and Denial in the Middle East|
By Troy Senik
Thursday, September 20 2012
It’s an analytical shortcoming of advanced, western societies to assume that progress is the default disposition of humanity. To a certain extent, that’s the intellectual byproduct of living in a democratic, capitalist nation. An American senior citizen alive today was born into a world where polio was still a threat, African-Americans were still subject to widespread segregation, and television was not yet invented. In his lifetime, he has seen more change – overwhelmingly to the good – than would have been accomplished over the course of centuries throughout most of human history. It’s easy to see how such a culture could breed polyannas.
This mindset, however – that every obstacle is only one brilliant innovation away from being cured – has a tendency to forge optimism into something just shy of delusion. Progress, it turns out, is contingent on a receptive audience.
A failure to understand that point is what has bedeviled U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East for the last decade. During the Bush years, the reigning belief was that the seething, murderous impulses exposed on 9/11 could be suppressed to the point of extinction by fostering consensual government in the region. It proved a flight of fancy, for a reason repeatedly asserted by our Founding Fathers: Democracy does not automatically produce liberty.
Empower the majority of citizens to set policy at the ballot box in a nation that has middling respect for freedom and you’ll get something like the 2006 Palestinian elections, where Hamas garnered the imprimatur of the electorate.
While efforts at changing the Middle East through institutional reform proved impotent, at least they had a tincture of respectability by virtue of representing an approach that had not been seriously tried before. No such tepid praise can be offered, however, to the Obama Administration’s conceit: that the world would be wooed by an exotic new president simply on the basis of his charm and the fact that he occasionally frolicked on a Jakarta playground in his youth. Indeed, on the campaign trail in 2007, Obama made it explicit: “I truly believe that the day I’m inaugurated … the world looks at America differently.” In touting his capacity to reach out to the Muslim world, he cited, for instance, that his sister was half-Indonesian. So yeah, put down the RPG, Mohammed.
The absurdity of this view came into full flower with last week’s violent protests throughout North Africa and the Middle East, which reached their apogee with the murder of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya and three other Americans in Benghazi, and the raising of the Al Qaeda flag above the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. What’s more galling than the Administration’s initial naiveté, however, is its stubborn refusal to change course, even in the face of this decisive evidence of failure.
How many dead Americans and incinerated Old Glories will it take before the Obama Administration is shaken to its senses? Based on the White House’s reaction, more than we have yet witnessed.
The superficial explanation for the uprisings on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11 (the date itself a suspicious sign of premeditation) was that Muslim populations in the Middle East were deeply offended by an – to put it generously – obscure film entitled “The Innocence of Muslims,” which was only available in brief excerpts posted on YouTube. Even for the world’s notoriously thin-skinned jihadists, the movie – with production values out of a community college film class and a script whose first draft was probably written on an asylum wall – doesn’t reach a level of notoriety sufficient to draw out the mobs. It’d be the equivalent of rioting over an op-ed in a university newspaper.
Yet “The Innocence of Muslims” gained widespread notice when it somehow wound up airing on an Egyptian television network with ties to radical Islam. If you think there might be an ulterior motive for a fundamentalist television station to air a bit of ten-thumbed anti-Mohammed propaganda – say, as a predicate for inciting pre-planned violence – you’re on the right track. You’re also overqualified for a job in the Obama White House.
Throughout the week following the attacks, the Administration bent over backwards to (A) assure the American public that the violence was an unplanned response to the film and (B) attempt to console the Islamic world by condemning the movie’s content.
The first point is clearly belied by several relevant facts on the ground: the RPGs and mortars used by the Libyan attackers; their knowledge of the location of a safe house used by the U.S. Ambassador (one of several factors which seems to point to inside intelligence from Libyans working in security positions), and the release of a videotape by Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri calling on Libyans to avenge the death of his deputy. While Administration figures like White House Press Secretary Jay Carney and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice have stonewalled, even the President of Libya has voiced his belief that the attack was premeditated.
The second point is perhaps more salient, however, because it confirms the unteachability of the Obama Administration. Speaking shortly after the attacks, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pronounced, “that the United States government had absolutely nothing to do with this video. We absolutely reject its content and message… to me personally, this video is disgusting and reprehensible. It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose: to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage.”
Let’s assume for a moment that Clinton is right and that the film was made for the express purpose of working global Islam into a lather. Even taking that as a given, should the apology come from the nation of 300 million where one man produced some two-bit agritprop or from the part of the world where thousands took to the streets in violence because of a bit of inert satire tamer (and, remarkably, less coherent) than the average “Saturday Night Live” episode?
It’s time for the West to stop holding the jihadists’ hands. The violence won’t stop if they suddenly realize the film is privately made instead of government-issued. The violence won’t stop because elected officials issue treacly paeans to the virtues of Islam. The violence will only stop when the radicals have accomplished their goals: subjugating the people of the region to fundamentalist Islam and diminishing the power of the United States and Israel. That’s how radical Islam defines progress. A mob that will riot over a YouTube video is obviously just looking for an excuse.
The violence that has engulfed the Islamic world over the past week is not the product of an international misunderstanding. It’s the product of disparate – and irreconcilable – goals and beliefs. Believe it or not, the people setting consulates ablaze don’t want the same things we do. They want America’s influence diminished and its people slain. To paraphrase Trotsky, we may not be interested in a war with global jihadism, but a war with global jihadism is interested in us.
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