Entry from January 31, 2009

President Obama as good as told us during the ca mpaign that he thought there was a virtue in talking to our enemies simply for the sake of it — as if it were inconceivable to him that such a proof of good faith could not in itself fail to placate them. They might not immediately become our friends, but they must at least begin to doubt their own enmity as much as ours. Perhaps it is unfair of me, but I detect in this the vulgar pacifist’s assumption that all conflict is avoidable if only we are nice to those who threaten us and so show them that we do not threaten them. Anyway, the President twice acted on his promise of a conciliatory approach to hostility during his first week in office. First, he granted an interview to Al Arabiya television in which, according to The New York Times, he “struck a conciliatory tone toward the Islamic world, saying he wanted to persuade Muslims that ‘the Americans are not your enemy.’” Then he made a trip up to Capitol Hill to speak to congressional Republicans in an attempt, again according to The New York Times “to seek bipartisan support for his economic stimulus plan.”

So how did that work out for him?

In the case of his conciliatory approach to the G.O.P., not so well. The stimulus package won not a single Republican vote in being passed by the House of Representatives with the votes of all but eleven Democrats. I wonder if this doubtless sobering and disillusioning experience will lead him to question the effectiveness of sucking up to Islamicists as well? If I had to bet on the answer to that question, I would say no. He has invested too much, rhetorically speaking, in the cant of post-partisanship on the domestic front — on which see my last post on the use of science to accomplish the moralization of politics — and post-Bushism on the international front to give up so easily.

Indeed, Roger Cohen in The New York Times goes so far as to say that, in the Al Arabiya interview, “President Obama buried the lead: The war on terror is over.”

Yes, the with-us-or-against-us global struggle — the so-called Long War — in which a freedom-loving West confronts the undifferentiated forces of darkness comprising everything from Al Qaeda to elements of the Palestinian national struggle under the banner of “Islamofascism” has been terminated. What’s left is what matters: defeating terrorist organizations. That’s not a war. It’s a strategic challenge.

Hmm. War? Or strategic challenge? Which shall I go with? Oh, I know. That idiot Bush thought it was a war. That must mean that it’s really a strategic challenge. Ah, what it is to be learned! Intellectually, at least, the war is thus disposed of, downgraded from you-know-what to a mere “strategic challenge” — in the taxonomy of R. Cohen, at least. Let’s hope that the people who were formerly so intent on killing Americans got the memo. Mr Cohen goes on:

The new president’s abandonment of post-9/11 Bush doctrine is a critical breakthrough. It resolves nothing but opens the way for a rapprochement with a Muslim world long cast into the “against-us” camp. Nothing good in Israel- Palestine, Afghanistan or Iran could happen with that Manichean chasm.

Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post gave the lie to this assertion, echoing the sub-text (at least) of President Obama’s assurance that “Americans are not your enemy,” that under President Bush, the “Muslim world” had been “cast into the ‘against-us’ camp” or had ever been portrayed — by anybody — as “the undifferentiated forces of darkness.” But both presumably must continue to believe in the existence of this “Manichean chasm” because it is the justification for their hopeful, pacifistic assumption that the only reason we are engaged in war against Islamic terrorists is that we have hurt their feelings by treating them as enemies in the first place.

By the way, if it is true that President Obama “buried the lead” by hinting at, rather than proudly proclaiming, the end of President Bush’s “Long War,” it might be just worth asking why he might have done so? Could it be that, having assumed the responsibility for war or not-war, the new president recognizes — as presumably Mr Cohen does not — the perils of public opinion in declaring publicly the end that he hopes to compass privately? For the looming disaster both here and to the publicly announced — no choice in that case — closing of Guantanamo is that the next terrorist outrage could very possibly be traced directly to what will, under those circumstances be seen as his irresponsible decision to compromise the country’s safety for the sake of the wishful and unworldly thinking of the left-wing peaceniks who did so much to get him elected. It speaks volumes that this possibility does not, apparently, even occur to Mr Cohen.


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