President Obama does worry about a mob mentality. It’s just unfortunate that he so often thinks he sees it in his own countrymen.
The administration’s response to the attacks on our embassies and the murder of our diplomats last week was familiar. The president condemned the murders and promised to bring the perpetrators to justice. But he was also careful to add that the “Libyans acted responsibly by carrying Ambassador Stevens’ body to the hospital.”
There is now a video of a mob finding Stevens’s body, and it’s ambiguous. Some shout “Allahu Akbar” and pump their fists in the air when they discover the nearly lifeless body of the ambassador. The New York Times explains that they were praising God because they discovered that Stevens was still breathing. Maybe. The clip leaves room for other interpretations. The point is that Mr. Obama, before all the facts were known — “shooting first and aiming later” if you will — was at pains to highlight friendly behavior by the Libyans. Why? Did he fear that Americans might become too angry?
In 2008, President Obama described small town Pennsylvanians as a frustrated lot. Jobs had been disappearing, he explained. “And it’s not surprising then they get bitter. They cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” (Now, when there are even fewer jobs, they presumably understand that “no president” could have helped them.)
He seemed to have those bitter, gun-toting Bible-thumpers in mind when, after a terrorist attempted to blow up a plane on Christmas Day in 2009 (the date must have been a coincidence), the president was quick to dismiss the attack as the work of an “isolated extremist.” The American people, he added in monitory fashion, “will never give in to fear or division, we will be guided by our hopes, our unity, and our deeply held values.” In other words, cancel those plans to murder Arab Americans in revenge. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, it was later learned, was a member of al-Qaeda — not so isolated.
When Major Nidal Hasan opened fire on fellow members of the U.S. Army, shouting “Allahu Akbar” and spraying bullets into unarmed soldiers, killing 13 and wounding scores, the president again was concerned to tamp down the wrath of Americans. “This morning I met with FBI Director Mueller and the relevant agencies to discuss their ongoing investigation into what caused one individual to turn his gun on fellow servicemen and women,” the president intoned. “We don’t know all of the answers yet, and I would caution against jumping to conclusions until we have all of the facts.” What did the president imagine would happen if people openly speculated that Hasan was a Muslim terrorist? Did he think St. Louis would descend into Cairoesque lawlessness? Did he picture Americans scaling the walls of the Palestinian mission to the U.N. in New York to tear down the Palestinian flag and replace it with the Stars and Stripes?
The president’s repeated attempts to stave off imagined American extremism stand in contrast to his views about the Muslim world. He regards their rage toward the United States as an understandable response to the “arrogance” of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and the dark night of Republican rule. In 2007, he predicted, “I truly believe that the day I’m inaugurated, not only does the country look at itself differently, but the world looks at America differently. If I’m reaching out to the Muslim world, they understand that I’ve lived in a Muslim country, and I may be a Christian, but I also understand their point of view … My sister is half-Indonesian … And so I’m intimately concerned with what happens in these countries, and the cultures and the perspectives that these folks have. And those are powerful tools for us to be able to reach out to the world.”
It seems genuinely not to have occurred to Mr. Obama that, along with democracy-seeking, modern and pluralistic Muslims, there are millions who despise the United States for what we are — a symbol of liberty. Liberals ridiculed George Bush for saying that the extremists hate us for our freedoms. But when our embassies come under fire, supposedly due to a stray video, don’t they wonder whether Bush had a point?
Obama has badly misjudged the roots of Muslim rage. The crowds in Cairo shouted “Obama, there are a million Osamas.” Worse, he badly misjudged his own country.