Pakistan Ads Show Obama’s Cluelessness

Politico reports that the Obama administration is now running a TV ad in Pakistan, condemning the anti-Islam film that it’s been blaming for the anti-American violence across the Muslim world:

The Obama administration is airing ads on Pakistani television condemning the anti-Islamic film “The Innocence of Muslims,” a State Department spokeswoman confirmed Thursday.

Imagine for a second that you’re a Pakistani enraged by the Muhammad video, and you are on your way to a violent riot at the U.S. embassy. Is a commercial of President Obama insisting the U.S. government had nothing to do with the film going to change your mind? The ad buy assumes that the rioters will act rationally when faced with the “truth.” But why should they, when they’re not acting rationally in the first place?

Rioting and setting things on fire is not an understandable or instinctive response to being insulted. That’s not a culturally or religiously-relative point, it’s a universal point. There are millions of devout Muslims in the U.S., many of them immigrants from countries like Libya and Egypt and Pakistan, and yet the YouTube video did not drive them to violent frenzies. Similarly, there are millions of devout Muslims in Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan who didn’t join in on the rampages outside U.S. embassies.

Those who engaged in violent riots this week and last did so for one reason: because they chose to. And why did they choose to? Maybe because there’s no real cost, and a whole lot of benefit. When top U.S. officials respond to wild tantrums across the Muslim world by pleading with crackpots like Terry Jones and blocking anti-Islam YouTube videos, it creates a moral hazard on two levels. First, it rewards these violent uprisings by handing a victory to the Islamist leaders who egged them on. Second, it hands anti-Muslim fringe figures an unhealthy amount of notoriety and power.

There’s nothing wrong with the Obama administration denouncing the anti-Islam film, in the context of condemning the riots. But that’s not what this is. This is a taxpayer-sponsored ad that repudiates a YouTube clip by a private citizen, while accepting the false premise that it was responsible for the violence. The intention is to ease the riots for the moment, but the long- (and short)-term consequence could end up being the opposite.