January 28, 2009

Strawmen and Revisionist History

Among the more off-putting aspects of the young Obama presidency is the continual posturing by the president as the moral superior to George Bush in, among other things, his outreach to the Muslim world, and in his willingness to utilize diplomacy in our relationship to Iran. On the first of these, here's Peter Wehner at Contentions citing Charles Krauthammer's Fox News comments on Obama's al-Arabiya interview. The Krauthammer quote in full...

Conciliatory, but also apologetic and defensive, I thought needlessly. We heard him say that he we shouldn’t paint Islam with a broad-brush. Who does? That’s a straw man. Did the Bush administration do so? Obama said “My job is to communicate from the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives.” Well, where is the American heartland which is arguing otherwise?

Look, if he wants - dare say, “I have Muslim relatives,” as he did in the interview, “and I lived in a Muslim land,” as he did in the interview, “and thus I have a special appreciation of Islam,” that’s OK. But somehow he is implying that somehow the Obama era is a break with the American past. Somehow it is undoing a disrespect of Islam that had somehow occurred under the previous administration.

One week after 9/11, the president of the United States, George Bush, showed up in the Islamic center in Washington and declared Islam is peace and extended a hand of tolerance and generosity. There were no anti-Muslim riots in America. There was a spirit of generosity and tolerance. And, in fact, over the last 20 years, the United States has been engaged in exactly five military engagements in the world, two in the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait, all of them liberating Islamic peoples. We have no need to apologize. Extend a hand, yes, but to imply that there was a disrespect of Islam in the last administration, I think is unfair and fictional.

Read it all, because Wehner goes on to quote Bush from his first post-9/11 speech, a statement that might just as well have been clipped from the Obama interview on Arab TV. And of course, this was one of many examples of George Bush taking great pains to differentiate the wider Muslim world from the radical Islamist terrorists making unambiguously declared war on the United States.

Victor Davis Hanson has a terrific piece at RCP today on the ways that Obama has set some traps for himself and for us with his posturing as the ground-breaking presence in the Middle East. As is often the case with VDH, it defies attempts to do it justice by excerpting, so read it all.

And as the president and his acolytes congratulate themselves on their own open-mindedness, composing letters to Khameini and the Iranian people, and suggesting that diplomacy with Iran is an approach untested by the divisive and parochial Bushies, Michael Ledeen thinks it's important to remember that we've been down this road many times before.

There have been talks between Washington and Tehran ever since 1979 (the Revolution). EVERY president has authorized them. On the public record, there were nearly thirty such talks during the Bush years, and there are "private" channels as well. So there is nothing new in this, it is business-as-usual.

Iranian leaders have constantly demanded that we apologize, and we have. Clinton did it. Albright did it. And then, having obtained his ounce of humiliated flesh, Khamenei told them both to go to hell.

Any story about talks with Iran or apologizing to Iran should contain those historical facts. Otherwise, you can just do what most of the journalists do: Pretend the world was created fresh just before you woke up, so all that matters is how you feel about it all.

More here from Ledeen, who links to documentation of Bush administration diplomatic contacts with Iran.

By his actions, as distinct from his rhetoric, Obama is becoming the chief revisionist in the rehabilitation of George Bush.

Posted by dan at January 28, 2009 11:30 PM