Thursday, December 10, 2015

Fighting Terror by Self-Reproach

From Bret Stephens, at WSJ, "How did we become a country more afraid of causing offense than playing defense?":
Nobody who watched Barack Obama’s speech Sunday night outlining his strategy to defeat Islamic State could have come away disappointed by the performance. Disappointment presupposes hope for something better. That ship sailed, and sank, a long time ago.

By now we are familiar with the cast of Mr. Obama’s mind. He does not make a case; he preaches a moral. He mistakes repetition for persuasion. He does not struggle with the direction, details or trade-offs of policy because he’s figured them all out. His policies never fail; it’s our patience that he finds wanting. He asks not what he can do for his country but what his country can do for him.

And what’s that? It is for us to see what has long been obvious to him, like an exasperated teacher explaining simple concepts to a classroom of morons. Anyone? Anyone?

That’s why nearly everything the president said last night he has said before, and in the same shopworn phrases. His four-point strategy for defeating ISIS is unchanged. His habit of telling us—and our enemies—what he isn’t going to do dates back to the earliest days of his presidency. His belief that terrorism is another gun-control issue draws on the deep wells of liberal true belief. His demand for a symbolic congressional Authorization for Use of Military Force is at least a year old, though as recently as 2013 he was demanding that Congress kill the AUMF altogether. Back then he was busy boasting that al Qaeda was on a path to defeat.

The more grating parts of Mr. Obama’s speech came when he touched on the subject of Islam and Muslims. “We cannot,” he intoned, “turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam.” Terrorism, as he sees it, is to be feared less for the harm it causes than for the overreaction it risks eliciting.

This is the president as master of the pre-emptive self-reproach—the suggestion that Americans are always on the verge of returning to the wickedness whence we came. But since when have we turned against one another, or defined the war on terror as a war on Islam?
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