Suppose some Mideast leader found himself a podium at Copenhagen U from which to exhort “The Christian World.” Would we not snicker at his naivete—least of all because few Westerners can stake a credible claim to piety? Any serious diplomat would recognize that, distant spiritual kinship notwithstanding, Georgia’s issues and interests aren’t the same as Germany’s.
President Obama, suave cosmopolitan that he is, wouldn’t make such a mistake. Not only wouldn’t he address “The Christian World,” he wouldn’t dare label America a “Christian Nation,” lest a thousand liberal furies descend. But in his Cairo speech, he had no problem addressing the Islamic world as one. He allowed, “Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype”—then went on to lump them into a single community, as if Jordan were not a very different place from Uzbekistan.
I can’t help but recall an uncomfortable evening back in the Bush days when one of the president’s men took up the challenge of persuading me that the U.S. should just level Iran and be done with it.
“All Arabs understand is force,” he avowed, with all the conviction of devoted Michael Savage listener.
“Do you think it makes any difference that they’re Persian?” I inquired.
“It’s all the same thing.”
“Sort of like Shia and Sunni in Iraq?”
No wonder why they didn’t see the civil war coming.
Presumably Team Obama wouldn’t be so crude, but a strain of the old hubris lingers. The great failure of 9/11 was to ascribe the terrorist attacks to religious fanaticism rather than strategic calculation or historic grievance. Not only is the new president staying Bush’s course in Iraq, bulking up our forces in Afghanistan, and concocting new variations on indefinite detention, he continues to view a broad swathe of the world in undifferentiated religious terms. He patronizes nearly as well as his predecessor—thanks for the algebra; that’s really swell calligraphy.
Obama seems to believe that the force of his person is a substitute for changed policy: MuslimWorld will surely play nice now that it knows he heard calls to prayer as a tot and met Muslims in Chicago who found “peace.” But they’d probably prefer that an American president could tell the difference between Morocco and Malaysia.