William Kristol has provided an excellent analysis of President Obama’s remarks about the death of James Foley.
Today, the entire world is appalled by the brutal murder of Jim Foley by the terrorist group ISIL.
The world is shaped by people like Jim Foley and the overwhelming majority of humanity who are appalled by those who killed him.
To Kristol the rhetoric manifested what trendy leftists thinkers call their cosmopolitanism, their refusal to believe in nations, national boundaries and national borders:
The president thinks of himself as a “citizen of the world.” Therefore he chose to speak not just for America but for “the entire world.” The entire world seems to have, according to this president, a higher moral status, a higher political standing, than the mere nation-state he was elected to lead. So the president invoked the conscience of the world rather than speaking on behalf of James Foley’s fellow citizens.
But cosmopolitanism is never quite enough. Does “the entire world,” after all, really have a conscience? So the president ventured beyond this-worldly cosmopolitanism. He asserted of the terrorists that “no just God would stand for what they did yesterday, and for what they do every single day.”
Kristol is right. The whole world does not have a conscience and the whole world is not going to rise up to avenge the death of an American journalist. Moreover, no human being gains an identity by being part of the whole world.
Moreover, Obama's sentence can be read in two ways. It could mean that Allah is not a just god or it could mean that terrorists worship idols?
Then, Obama offered a trenchant critique of deconstruction:
People like [ISIS] ultimately fail. They fail because the future is won by those who build and not destroy.
Whatever else it is, deconstruction—which is a translation of the original German word Destruktion—is about taking apart what others have put together. Someone should pass the word to the humanities professors who think that the future belongs to those who deconstruct.
Be that as it may, Kristol points out the passive tone of Obama’s remark. Obama seemed to have been saying that time and history will finish off ISIS. He may well be right.
Nevertheless, Kristol notes, he is president of the United States. History will do its work, but it needs agents to wield the arms:
Surely all Americans join the president in praying that the killers will face a just God. Surely all Americans join the president in trusting that “people like this ultimately fail.” But Americans also know that “ultimately” might be a very long time. A lot of innocents can die before then. And that ultimate failure isn’t typically caused by the actions of “the entire world,” and perhaps not even by those of a just God. The president said that the killers fail “because the future is won by those who build and not destroy.” But to make “people like this” fail, the builders need to dedicate themselves to destroying the destroyers. In the past century, the evildoers failed because America and its allies fought them and defeated them.
Obama did eventually state that America would act against ISIS. But his voice was passive. As was that of John Kerry. Later, Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey rushed to the microphones to assert more toughness.
In Kristol’s words:
The president’s words were so vague and weak that Secretary of State John Kerry apparently felt he had to weigh in. So he took to Twitter, the bully pulpit of the 21st century, shortly after the president left for a round of golf, to send a tougher message. “ISIL will be destroyed/will be crushed,” Kerry tweeted.
Doesn’t the passive voice, though, undercut the toughness? Who is going to be doing the destroying and the crushing? And doesn’t the prophetic conceit undercut the credibility? Is John Kerry a reliable guide to the future? He hasn’t been before. His last such prophecy was that Syria’s Assad would be gone. In any case, prophecy is no substitute for policy. And Vice President Joe Biden said on the same day that the beheading of James Foley would mean no change in U.S. policy.
In fairness, Obama did say that America would bring justice to those who had murdered James Foley.
To him, this meant that he was going to sic the FBI on them. He wants to prosecute the killers in federal court.
True enough, we continue to bomb Iraq. Not to avenge James Foley. Not to punish ISIS… but for the eminently humanitarian goal of preventing genocide.
No one can object to a war against genocide. But, a war against genocide is not the same as a war to defend the American national interest.