Last week, Muslim mobs took to the streets to murder the American ambassador in Libya and three of his staffers. American embassies were attacked from Egypt to Yemen.
Obama’s al Arabiya interview, Cairo speech and loud reset diplomacy sent mixed messages. He gave the impression that Middle East anger was largely either America’s fault or due to misunderstandings that the sensitive Obama alone could mitigate — as he distanced himself from the supposed pathologies of prior American policy in the region.
That myth-making is now discredited. But it still makes it hard for the administration to admit that hatred in Egypt is deep-seated and irrational — and has very little to do with a silly video. Those in the Arab street hate the West and America because they are told daily that our supposed godlessness and decadence should not make us so rich and powerful — especially when such pious believers as themselves are so poor and impotent.
But rather than addressing the real causes of their present misery — tribalism, misogyny, statism, corruption, authoritarianism, fundamentalism and religious intolerance — amid rich natural resources, Islamists scapegoat. Sometimes they fume at American support for Israel, at other times at an obscure video, cartoon, or rumor of a torched Koran.
We only feed these adolescent tantrums when America wrongly apologizes for the occasional insensitivity of a few of our citizens, who enjoy free speech under the U.S. Constitution.
America looks even weaker when this administration sends confusing signals about U.S. power. It too often spikes the ball — whether Joe Biden bragging about killing Osama bin Laden, the president joking about Predator assassination missions, Hillary Clinton high-fiving over the death of Gadhafi, or unnamed top officials disclosing classified secrets about the cyber-war against Iran.
Yet at other times, amid promised defense cuts, the Obama administration loudly announces a strategic pivot away from the Middle East toward Asia, or derides the very antiterrorism protocols — Guantanamo Bay, renditions, tribunals and preventative detention — that it later embraced.
Nothing is more dangerous in regard to the contemporary Middle East than misunderstanding the source of Islamist rage. Speaking loudly while carrying a small stick only makes that confusion worse.
What can we do?
Start developing vast new oil and gas finds on public lands here at home. Get our financial house in order. Quietly cut back aid to hostile Middle East governments. Put travel off-limits. Restrict visas and call home ambassadors — at least until Arab governments control their own street mobs.
Develop a consistent policy on the so-called Arab Spring that applies the same criticism of illiberal dictators to the theocrats who depose them. Keep quiet and keep our military strong. Don’t apologize for a few Americans who have a right to be crude. Instead, condemn those premodern zealots who would murder anyone of whom they don’t approve.