The President’s speech in Cairo today was another attempt to wed utopian fantasies, draped in empathy, with reality. As with most shotgun weddings, reality trumped the fantasy.
My biggest problem with President Obama’s rhetoric is that he all too often tries to use charm to bring together two disparate points and it simply doesn’t work. For example, the President makes this straightforward point about the effects of 9/11 here in the US:
Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice, we went because of necessity. I am aware that some question or justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet Al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale.
Who can argue with that? But then he muddles the message by reverting to apology mode:
And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter our principles. 9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country.The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.
A US leader should not embrace the language of appeasement while we are at war for many reasons, not least of which is that it sends the wrong message to our enemies. These enemies seek no middle ground and are unpersuaded by a vernacular of introspection and self doubt. They can also see through the double talk. Nobody expects or believes Guantánamo Bay will be closed in a year, not even the President. Such talk is already seen as empty rhetoric in the US. Why does the President condescend to utter such nonsense to a foreign audience? Perhaps because he believes he can talk his way into and out of any situation, which is an inherently dangerous ploy when we have troops in combat. The president’s persistent speechifying has gone from an amusing distraction to a serious policy and strategy blunder.