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Abu Ghraib America vs. 9/11 America

Lee Smith has a terrific piece today that asks: If and when Obama talks to our enemies, what will he say to them? Lee thinks the answer, in keeping with the theme of dignity promotion, will be: “We’re sorry.”

What’s unique about Obama, we now recognize, is that the notion of “talking to your enemies” is not just a diplomatic cliché. He will indeed hear out the obscurantist regimes that plot against U.S. citizens, allies, and interests, just as he sat still while his obscurantist preacher fulminated against “white America.” Will he manage to persuade his interlocutors in Tehran and Damascus to modify their behavior in Iraq, Lebanon, the Persian Gulf, Israel, and the Palestinian territories? Of course not . . .

The candidate appeals to many Americans who agree that the United States deserves to be taken down a peg or two, not just because of Iraq, or Guantanamo, or for failing to sign the Kyoto protocols, but because of historical grievances, like slavery — what Senator Obama called this secular republic’s “original sin.” America is too powerful, too arrogant, and needs to be humbled, and Obama is the man to do it, for the sake of the rest of the world.

It has always struck me that in terms of foreign policy, Obama appeals most profoundly to people who view the current age primarily through the lens of Abu Ghraib, in which American arrogance and cruelty has caused a great deal of suffering in the world — suffering that has engendered resentment and grievances that must be addressed at the highest levels of government. Perhaps the subtext of the presidential race, assuming an Obama-McCain matchup, will be the cultural clash of the Abu Ghraib Americans versus the 9/11 Americans.


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