Charles Krauthammer, as he is wont to do, makes a salient observation. On Obama’s Iftar speech at the White House, which begat arguably the worst week of his presidency, he writes:
It takes no courage whatsoever to bask in the applause of a Muslim audience as you promise to stand stoutly for their right to build a mosque, giving the unmistakable impression that you endorse the idea. What takes courage is to then respectfully ask that audience to reflect upon the wisdom of the project and to consider whether the imam’s alleged goal of interfaith understanding might not be better achieved by accepting the New York governor’s offer to help find another site.
In his own way (with the required sneers at conservatives), Howard Dean, of all people, makes the same point:
This center may be intended as a bridge or a healing gesture but it will not be perceived that way unless a dialogue with a real attempt to understand each other happens. That means the builders have to be willing to go beyond what is their right and be willing to talk about feelings whether the feelings are “justified” or not. No doubt the Republic will survive if this center is built on its current site or not. But I think this is a missed opportunity to try to have an open discussion about why this is a big deal, because it is a big deal to a lot of Americans who are not just right-wing politicians pushing the hate button again. I think those people need to be heard respectfully, whether they are right or whether they are wrong.
But not Obama — the great healer, the no-Blue-America-no-Red-America politician. In reality, Obama is stymied when he can’t charm his opposition or shame them into accepting his position.
We have seen this consistently in his Middle East policy. In fact, it is his habitual mode of Muslim outreach — whether in his fawning engagement of Iran (which demanded neglect of the Green Movement), his failed attempt to dispatch an ambassador to Syria, his Cairo speechifying, or his appointing an envoy, who voiced suspicion of the prosecution of terrorists by his own government, to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Obama imagines that by simply telling Muslim leaders (certainly, not democracy advocates or human-rights protesters) what they want to hear, we will improve our image and cool their ire toward the U.S. But this is childlike and shortsighted.
If one is really going to advance our interests or mediate successfully between parties with conflicting interests and values, it won’t do to simply stamp your foot and simply insist everyone show empathy toward and defer to the Muslims’ point of view (or that of one segment of Muslims). It’s not going to win over the 68 percent of Americans. It’s not going to bring peace to the Middle East. It’s not going to make Obama an effective or popular president.
Of course I don’t believe Obama is a Muslim. But his excessive deference to Muslim states abroad and now to the American Muslim community has set many Americans’ teeth on edge and fueled conspiratorialists’ suspicions. There’s not much he should or can do about the latter. But the American people, not to mention our allies, sense that there is something very much amiss in all the genuflecting. That, in part, is why the mosque controversy has been so devastating for Obama.