Commentary Magazine


The Best We Are Going to Do?

Diane Ravitch observes:

Our president must somehow wake up to the idea that he can’t “engage” people who strap suicide belts to their bodies or who drive cars loaded with explosives into crowded areas. No amount of outreach, no concessions, no sweet talk will persuade them to abandon their jihadist ideals. They are not persuadable. They are fanatics. They don’t care if we close Gitmo or give their brethren Miranda rights. They live to die, preferably by causing the deaths of many others, be they Christians, Muslims, Jews, Americans, or Europeans. They kill indiscriminately. That’s the nature of terrorism. Panetta knows this. When will Obama figure it out?

Obama’s spinners and wishful observers contend that Obama has figured this out. Or he will. Or there are hopeful signs that he will. And yet, if the light had dawned, one would expect some telling sign of a revelation — a shift in policy on Guantanamo or a short-circuiting to the KSM trial, for example – that Obama is convinced that our enemies must be defeated with every tool at our disposal, not talked out of their grievances. We have seen no such sign. Likewise on Iran, after many got their hopes up, we aren’t yet hearing about the prospect of those crippling sanctions. If anything, Obama has been consistent — some would say bull-headed — in his refusal to adjust his policies despite a plethora of evidence that engagement only works with those who wish to be engaged.

Among Obama’s advisers (including his chief of staff and secretary of state) as well as his most dutiful pundit cheerleaders, the talk is still engagement-happy. Clinton says we are leaving the door open for the mullahs — just in case they want to give up their nukes and stop murdering their citizens. Rahm Emanuel speaks fondly of the Cairo speech as a great achievement,  as if we are expected to avert our eyes from the results of their shockingly counterproductive Middle East policy. You would think those working for Obama would be brandishing new talking points if in fact we were in for a course correction.

Some of Obama’s media enablers swear that Obama turned a corner. Eleanor Clift reports that she spotted the president’s “inner outrage” over the Christmas Day attack. Really? Hard to spot it amid all that deadening bureaucratic talk. And hard to believe it, given that no one is to be fired and no fundamental policy assumptions are to be re-examined. It would be nice to think that Obama will “grow in office” — what conservatives are always urged to do (otherwise known as accommodating liberals). Unfortunately, he appears rather stuck in his ways. Unless Congress seizes the reins on some of these issues or the voters deliver a blow that cannot be ignored in the 2010 elections, I suspect we’re going to see more of the same. So, to answer Ravitch’s question, I don’t think Obama will figure it out any time soon, perhaps ever.