If the Obama administration can’t get the messaging right how do you expect it to get the policy right.
During the past few days we have seen an uncommon spectacle. The crack Obama-Clinton foreign policy team cannot decide what to call what happened in Benghazi.
The American ambassador was assassinated by a mob and the administration seems to be divided between those who are calling it a terrorist attack and those who blame a Youtube video.
Now Obama and the State Department think they have found a middle ground by saying that they do not know.
Actually, it’s not a middle ground; it’s an Alfred E. Newman foreign policy: What me worry?
We are left with a multitude of metaphoric descriptions. Is the administration speaking out of both sides of its mouth? Is it speaking with forked tongue? Is it divided against itself? Is it of two minds? Is it schizoid? Is it using doubletalk? Is it plain ordinary denial?
It’s what happens when an administration engaged in a political campaign sees its Middle East policy turn to blood and dust.
After all, Obama has been campaigning as the president who decapitated al Qaeda and brought liberal democracy to the Middle East.
Recent events in Libya and Egypt have given the lie to his narrative.
Of course, Obama never had a policy. He had a narrative. Having bought the trendy leftist narrative that blamed Islamist rage on American disrespect, he has been trying to impose it on both America and the Middle East.
Inexperienced in the ways of the world and in the intricacies of foreign policy Obama believes that he just needs to stick with the story line. Then, everything else will follow.
The Obama-Clinton team cannot get its messaging right because it is trying to fulfill the terms of its narrative, not to implement a policy. Now that reality has given the lie to the narrative it is having trouble regaining its narrative foothold.
This morning Fouad Ajami offers the definitive analysis of the Obama foreign policy failure. He calls it “hubris undone.”
In his words:
No American president before this one had proclaimed such intimacy with a world that stretches from Morocco to Indonesia. From the start of his administration, Mr. Obama put forth his own biography as a bridge to those aggrieved nations. He would be a "different president," he promised, and the years he lived among Muslims would acquit him—and thus America itself. He was the un-Bush.
And so, in June 2009, Mr. Obama descended on Cairo. He had opposed the Iraq war, he had Muslim relatives, and he would offer Egyptians, and by extension other Arabs, the promise of a "new beginning." They told their history as a tale of victimization at the hands of outsiders, and he empathized with that narrative.
He spoke of "colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations."
Without knowing it, he had broken a time-honored maxim of that world: Never speak ill of your own people when in the company of strangers. There was too little recognition of the malignant trilogy—anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism and anti-modernism—that had poisoned the life of Egypt and much of the region.
To summarize, Obama did not lead with a principle or a policy proposal. He led with his biography. He told Middle Eastern Arabs and Muslims in general that he was one of them. They did not need to hate America anymore because America felt their pain.
In Obama's narrative, Arabs had been oppressed by colonial powers that had denied them their freedom, ravished their lands and deprived them of their human dignity.
According to the narrative the fault lies with the West, and, in particular, with America.
Arabs are the victims of American predations. Barack Obama would save the day because a majority of Americans saw him as the Savior. They elected him to redeem America’s sins. The American people would remove all the impediments to Arab flourishing and usher in a new Arab awakening.
Ajami shows clearly the problems with the narrative.
First, Obama ignored the cultural pathologies that had infested the region. Ajami sees them as what I would call a three-headed monster— anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, anti-modernism.
By ignoring indigenous pathologies Obama was denying the peoples of the region any moral responsibility for their lives. He was making them perfectly innocent, but he was also depriving them of the freedom to take responsibility.
Ajami is also saying that Obama failed to understand that the peoples of the region did not want liberal democracy and free market capitalism. They wanted to destroy any and all nations that had embraced these values.
Only in a fairy tale does the removal of a tyrant lead to a bright new democratic dawn.
Second, Ajami faults Obama, and not for the first time, for speaking ill of his nation and its people in front of strangers in a foreign country.
Ajami says that this principle is basic to Arab cultures. For my part I cannot think of any place where you will command respect by demeaning your own country.
If you do, your audience will think that you are trying to ingratiate yourself with your hosts by pretending to be one of them. Since they know for a fact that you do not belong to their tribe and distrust you for trying to trick them into thinking that you do.
Besides, if you are not loyal to your nation, how can anyone believe that you will be good to your word?
A man who bad mouths his country abroad is showing himself to be faithless, not to be trusted.