Saturday, June 06, 2009

Jonah Goldberg, Misguided

In The Columbus Dispatch, it was "In Cairo, It Was All About Obama;" in National Review Online, it was "The Prism of Obama" (and subheaded) "This was precisely the moment to let Obama be Obama." Taken together, they reflect the slightly schizophrenic nature of the conservative columnist's column of June 5 on Barack Obama's June 4 speech in Cairo, Egypt. But with either title, Goldberg is plain wrong.

The National Review columnist concludes by arguing:

This was precisely the moment to let Obama be Obama. Yes, he is a hypocrite for downplaying his Muslim connections when running for office and then touting them once in office. But such hypocrisy is a small price to pay. If Richard Nixon was a statesman for laying aside his anti-Communism to engage China, then surely Obama can brag about his Muslim father. Obama has a cult of personality in the Muslim street. If he can exploit it for America's and the world's benefit, he should.

This is a safe, centrist view: if Obama can fool the enemy by pretending to be sympathetic and empathetic, and it redounds to the benefit of the U.S.A., it can only be useful.

There is little analogy with President Nixon engaging mainland, then commonly referred to as Communist, China. No matter the benefit or cost, it was more than a strategy but actual action and can be evaluated on its own merits. Obama's approach in Cairo, whether sincere (as liberals believe) or not (as Goldberg and some other moderate-conservative Americans believe) is a strategy, one the President hopes will quell some of the enthusiasm in the Muslim world for the terrorism of its extremists. It either will be backed by action- disappointing the Jonah Goldbergs, presumably- or if it is insincere, represent an effort to buy cheaply from the Muslim world support for American goals and actions.

If it is the latter, it's likely that at some, more critical, point (or gradually), Arab nations and groups will catch on and believe themselves betrayed. Nevertheless, Obama's effort to dupe- or convince- the Arab community would be doomed at birth to failure if he were not able to acknowledge the most obvious of failings.

This obviously is the United States' government war of choice in Iraq, an acknowledgment which escapes Goldberg, who writes

Obama was reliably Obamaesque again when he disparaged the Iraq war as a "war of choice." But wait, he also thinks Iraq is better without Saddam, so maybe it was a good choice?....

....As ever, Obama's positions on Iraq cannot be reconciled. Just as he often celebrates our troops' success but can't say we succeeded, he celebrates Iraq's democratic progress but -- hamstrung by his own ideology and pride -- won't fully acknowledge that such progress is even possible, given that it began at the point of an American gun. In short, President Obama is straddling Iraq just as candidate Obama did.


Whom does Goldberg believe he is fooling? The Arab street, overwhelmingly opposed to the U.S. action in invading Iraq? The ranks of terrorists, swelled in response to the military action? The soldiers in Iraq, for whom providing resources was less important to the President than cutting taxes on the wealthy? The soldiers in Afghanistan, shortchanged as President Bush pursued in Iraq a far less important strategic objective? Or perhaps the families of the soldiers who have been killed in a war trumped up by false claims about nuclear weapons, chemical and biological weapons, and, well, practically everything?

Clearly, Goldberg, commenting "just as he often celebrates our troops' success but can't say we succeeded," is frustrated that he cannot pin on Mr. Obama the "liberals hate the troops" meme. He fails to understand- or more likely, does not want to concede- the distinction between the honorable service of individuals in the nation's armed services and the utter failure of American policy under the leadership of George W. Bush.

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