By JONATHAN ROSENBLUM
Judd Gregg, a former Republican senator from New Hampshire and President Obama’s first choice for Secretary of Commerce, penned an op-ed piece two months ago entitled “Heading toward a Sept. surprise,” in which he noted that September has often proven to be a month of disaster. The Great Depression started in September (though Black Monday came in October); in 2008, Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns both failed in September, and the world stood on the brink of another massive depression.
Gregg even offers a partial explanation for September’s unfortunate prominence: “It seems September is the point in the year where people assess where they have gone, and what the next year will be like, and make investment decisions based on their conclusions.”
One thing Gregg does not do, however, is note that September almost always overlaps with the Days of Judgment, when Jews too assess where they have gone astray in the past year and where they would like to go in the year to come.
Jews too can think of many wake-up calls around this time of the year. The so-called Al Aksa intifada broke out just before Rosh Hashanah 5761, and claimed over a thousand Jewish lives over the next two years. The U.S. presidential election was deadlocked heading into Rosh Hashanah of 2008/5769. By the time Rosh Hashanah was over, Barack Obama had taken a large lead, which was never again threatened.
Nothing of that magnitude took place this past Rosh Hashanah. But the murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya by al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists and the overrunning of the U.S. embassy in Cairo by irate mobs, just days before Rosh Hashanah, could yet have a decisive impact on the 2012 presidential election. Those two events and wave of anti-American riots throughout the Muslim world that followed dramatically exposed some of the conceits of the Obama administration’s foreign policy.
Of late, the President has juxtaposed his calmness and foreign policy experience in comparison to the allegedly inexperienced Romney. That is a bit rich for someone who entered office with neither any foreign policy experience nor any other experience of the slightest relevance to the presidency. His major adult achievement, prior to entering the White House, was to have written not one but two autobiographies, which we now know to be false in many respects – or filled with brilliant literary devices, if you will, according to the special dispensation that hovers over Obama.
THE ESSENCE OF OBAMA’S foreign policy approach was his near mystical belief in his own powers of persuasion and the force of his charisma. Early in his presidency, he flew off to personally make the case for Chicago as the 2016 Olympic host city, only to be overwhelming rebuffed by the Olympic selectors. One can only imagine the ruthless Vladimir Putin’s amusement at the neophyte’s confidence that he could charm him to push a “reset” button on U.S.-Russian relations, with the abandonment of previous American commitments to the Poles and Czechs and dramatic reductions in the American nuclear arsenal thrown in as additional inducements.
In no area did the President display greater confidence in his magical abilities than with respect to the Muslim world. He touted his formative years spent in Muslim Indonesia and his knowledge of the Koran as marvelous tools to place relations with the Islamic world on a completely new footing. Five years of futile negotiations between the Europeans and Iran over its nuclear program did not suggest to the new president that his hand “extended in friendship” might also be rebuffed. And so five has become nine.
In his much praised 2009 Cairo speech – to which he insisted that Muslim Brotherhood representatives be invited – Obama proclaimed, without a scintilla of evidence, the identity of Islamic and American values: “[Islam and America] share common principles – principles of justice and progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings . . . Let there be no doubt Islam is part of America.”
The speech was filled with apologies to the Muslim world for a litany of American sins, including having acted “contrary to our ideals” in the interrogation of Muslim prisoners. He implied that anti-Muslim prejudice, Islamaphobia, lies behind criticism of Islamic intolerance, anti-Semitism, misogyny: “We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretense of liberalism.”
An aspect of that outreach effort was to “put daylight” between the United States and Israel, with strong criticism of Israeli settlement policy and a misguided effort to equate Palestinian suffering with that of Jews during the Holocaust.
How have these efforts fared? Recent events provide a partial answer. Obama raised expectations that he could not possibly fulfill. His criticism of Israeli settlements effectively ended all direct negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel, as the former were emboldened to demand Israel’s acquiescence to a return to the 1967 borders as a pre-condition for negotiations. America’s ability to influence events in the Muslim world is, in every respect, less than it was in 2008.
The hasty abandonment of Mubarak and the equally ill-conceived support for a Muslim Brotherhood takeover in Egypt cost the United States its most reliable Middle East ally outside of Israel and raised concerns among other traditional American allies. America is today, in Islamic eyes, including most notably those of the Iranian mullahs, viewed as neither a reliable friend nor an enemy to be feared. It has had no influence over events in Syria, despite America’s vital interest in who succeeds Bashar Assad and in depriving the Iran-Hizbullah nexus of its Syrian link.
Nor has weakness resulted in popularity – not that such popularity would be worth much. America’s unfavorability ratings in both Egypt and Jordan are higher than they were at the end of George W. Bush’s second term.
RECENT EVENTS should have put to end forever, the myth that popularity can be purchased with obsequious bows or rhetorical flourishes. They exposed the United States’ foreign policy as both incompetent and fantastical.
The night prior to the assassination of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other embassy personnel in Benghazi, one of those slain, Sean Smith, posted online a premonition of what was to come: “Assuming we don’t die tonight. We saw one of our ‘police’ that guard the compound taking pictures.” Yet nothing was done to protect the compound.
As early as September 8, an Arabic website called for the burning of the U.S. embassy in Cairo, unless certain demands were met (none of which involved an offensive movie), and Raymond Ibrahim of the Middle East Forum published an article on September 10 entitled, “Jihadis Threaten to Burn U.S. Embassy in Cairo.” Yet nothing was done, and the U.S. Marine guards at the compound were not provided with any ammunition to protect the compound.
Equally feckless was the administration’s reactions to the attacks. Secretary of State Clinton plaintively wondered how such a tragedy could have taken place in Libya, after everything the United States had done for the people of Libya. Despite the $1.3 billion dollars in emergency aid recently provided Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government, it did not occur to Clinton to warn President Mohamed Morsi of dire consequences if the American embassy was violated. Instead terrified personnel within the compound were left to Twitter their revulsion at an anti-Islamic video said to have triggered the rioters, in the vain hope of chilling their ardor.
Four days after the Benghazi and Cairo attacks, Press Secretary Jay Carney continued to insist that the violent protests were not a response “to United States policy, and obviously not the administration or the American people, but to “a film we have judged to be reprehensible and disgusting.” In part, this is political spin: Carney cannot simply state the obvious – the President’s outreach to the Islamic world has been a total failure.
Carney’s description of a spontaneous outpouring of righteous indignation does not pass the laugh test. The Libyan assassins were armed with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns, not the usual side-arms for overwrought protestors. The leader of the Cairo rioters was Muhammed al-Zawahiri, brother of Al-Qaeda chief honcho, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The video in question only became known because a radical Salafist station in Egypt broadcast it to create a pretext for an attack on the U.S. embassies.
Worse even than the political spin are indications that the administration believes its own fables. Martin Dempsey, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff called a Florida pastor asking him not to publicize the video. Worst of all, the administration kow-towed to Egyptian President Morsi’s demand that the producer of the video be prosecuted. Brown-shirted U.S. Probation officers knocked on his door in the middle of the night to take him away for interrogation about possible probation violations.
So intent is the administration on not refuting Obama’s Cairo equation of American and Islamic values that it is consistently downplayed the jihadi impulse in the Muslim world as a marginal phenomenon and described the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Al-Qaeda and Hamas are spawn, as a moderating influence.
When Mitt Romney had the temerity to say that it is never a good idea for the American government to apologize for American values, the mainstream media rose up with unanimity to decry his politicizing the tragedy. Not a word about the President carrying on with a Las Vegas campaign event or his failure to participate in a national security briefing the next morning, even as additional U.S. embassies were overrun.
During the Battle of the Bulge, Brig.-Gen. Anthony McAuliff, the acting commander of the 101st Airborne Division, responded to the demand to surrender Bastogne to the Germans, who had encircled his troops and badly outnumbered them, with one word: “Nuts.” The coming election will determine whether something of that spirit still remains in America. Or whether, as Lee Smith puts it, a new dispensation reigns: If you murder our diplomats and ransack our embassies, we will tell other Americans to shut up so as not to give offense.
Jonathan Rosenblum blogs at http://www.jewishmediaresources.com/.