Saturday, August 23, 2014

William Kristol Analyzes President Obama

William Kristol has provided an excellent analysis of President Obama’s remarks about the death of James Foley.

Obama began:

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.


Lastango said...

Good summary. There's another helpful piece on this episode of Obamaesque posturing over at FrontPage.

Anonymous said...

Obama's positions on these things show an astounding naivete for a supposedly sophisticated leader. Indeed it shows the superficiality and shallowness of the cosmopolitan mindset. Beheadings are not sophisticated ways of punishment, nor are they nuanced, but they are the definitively final word on one life. ISIL won't answer to a UN resolution, and I doubt we have to worry about the politics of a Security Council vote here. But the threat is real.

Genghis Khan didn't stand the test of history, but the Mongol hordes made mincemeat of vast swaths of Eurasia and terrorized millions... wave after wave. Should we wait for history to pass its judgment (an interesting euphemism, as though history is a historical actor), or is their a better way to deal with barbarians like ISIL? I suggest there is: kill them. The Foley incident certainly shows what they have in store for you... at the head of an axe.

The President shows again and again that he doesn't understand building and construction, whether with the hard reality of "shovel-ready" infrastructure projects or the investment required to build human relationships. His passive speech reflects his broad passivity on most everything. He makes enemies in safe areas like domestic politics, speaking in forceful terms, drawing stark choices, distinguishing right from wrong using blunt language. Meanwhile, there is a hesitancy on the world stage, where he refuses to act strategically and decisively against foreign enemies. We have the apology tour in his early presidency, followed by what Hillary described as an operating policy: "Don't do stupid stuff," translating a Google mantra into an philosophy of statesmanship. Even a dolt like John Kerry seems to struggle in coordinating with Obama. One would think they would be acting/speaking in concert, given the stakes at hand. But they aren't, and Kristol points to a sense of frustration on Kerry's part. Not a good omen.

But what this really comes down to is Obama's discomfort with (and resistance to) the reality of evil. He hints at ascribing evil motives to his domestic opponents, but uses hope, calm and remarks on the "tide of history" when evaluating global chaos. People may not have liked Bush's facility with the word evil, but at least he recognized it for what it was (and still is). Obama places maximum emphasis on things of minimal consequence. Beheadings are met with passivity while chatter shows blowing up Chicago as an important ISIL goal.

What are we going to do about these evil barbarians? What if they're using this Mexico border situation to infiltrate for terrorist operations? Are we supposed to understand them? Treat them as criminals? Stand by as they radicalize Americans, as though this is a free speech parlor game?

Evil is real. Its methods are not delicate, its results are not nuanced, its intent is not benign. If you don't think so, there's a caliphate franchise opportunity coming to a place near you.


Anonymous said...

"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."

America has a higher moral conscience. After all, it's in America where transgenderism is the premier civil rights issue. It is America that sues, fines, and destroys bakeries that won't submit to the homo agenda of having to bake 'gay wedding' cakes.
It is America that has PC running amok on campuses and ruining and blacklisting people with opinions and values different from the likes of Elena Kagan.
It is America where porn 'stars' are said to be figures of 'empowerment'.
It is America where the MSM promotes the likes of Kanye West and Jay-Z as moral exemplars.
It is America where Wall Street sharks sank the entire economy but ran off with trillions in bail out money.
It is America that lied about WMD in Iraq and invaded a nation that had nothing to do with 9/11.
It is America where homo propaganda is so intense that Americans think 25% of the population is homo... when only 2% is.

Yeah, America is such a beacon of higher values that we should liberate places like Libya and send aid to rebels in Syria. Great wonders those policies have done for the Middle East.

Anonymous said...

6745On the last item mentioned, I think genocide makes a nice cover, but I think it is more likely in defense of the flow of oil - which is ok with me, I'd just like them to admit it:

Also.... waiting for your thoughts on the subject of Obama's "emotional attachment" and what may be going on with his psychology. This must interest you?

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks, John. I agree with you that the flow of oil is an important consideration, perhaps the most important consideration. I mentioned genocide because the minds behind the policy, led by, among others, Samantha Power, have argued for military intervention to stop genocide, under any and all circumstances.

I have avoided questions of emotional attachment... I am not entirely comfortable with the notion of reducing his presidency to some kind of psychological problem. I have been more interested in the habits of thought he developed which sitting at the feet of Jeremiah Wright. He might have renounced Wright, but it seems that the habits persist.

Ares Olympus said...

Violently murdering a journalist is a provocative act, and almost a suicidal one, unless you can credibility by the power of your enemies.

Its funny the analysis doesn't mention the ransom demand, perhaps because the U.S. is wise enough not to give in to blackmailing for money, 100 million Euros, while apparently many other countries will commonly pay out money, even if "bargained" way down.

I'm more interested in general policy, and frank discussion over what responses strengthen or weaken the clout of ISIS. Being able to threaten and kill innocent people is not a great skill.

I wonder if the best response might be something coldly rational like "Thank you for murdering Foley so humanely. Please return his body for proper burial."

What sort of conversation can you have with murderers? It looks like lowly police or CIA work.

I thought I remember Israel in its suicidal bomber days was apparently "passive" in their reactions, clean up the human remains as respectfully as possible, allow family to mourn, and go back to ordinary life.

Sam L. said...

"Today, the entire world is appalled by the brutal murder of Jim Foley by the terrorist group ISIL." Excepting a whole bunch of Muslims, of whom there are so many. I'm guessing Barry didn't meet that kind as a kid.