Thursday, February 05, 2009

Idiot Watch: Jeff Jacoby

Today Feigned Outrage launches "Idiot Watch," this blog's effort to expose the Web's most illogical and nonsensical commentators, argument by inane argument. Yeah, so we're a little behind on this. And there's only three of us signed on to beat back the blithering hordes of pundit orcs out there. But we do what we can to bring the world out of darkness. We'll try to be as fair as we can and attack both sides — Idiocy is not the sole domain of any one party or ideology — but I'm a natural-born lefty, so forgive me if I start with the prototypical knee-jerk conservative with a brain of mush. It's not that his positions are never right — sometimes he stumbles upon a Half Truth or two — but the process by which he seeks half-truths (usually by hacking Whole Truths to bits) is wont to leave Reason, Virtue, and Fairmindedness bleeding in the streets as "collateral damage."

Today's polemic about Obama's efforts to woo the Muslim world is not his dumbest, but if I had to wait for Jeff Jacoby to hit rock-bottom, we might be here for a while. This one is timely, it's modestly on-point, and it's classic Jacoby in that it combines his signature double standard-mongering with failures of basic logical reasoning. In short, it'll do, Pig:
Carter's failure to understand the threat posed by the Soviet Empire had costly consequences for America and the world. Will that pattern now be repeated with Barack Obama and the threat from radical Islam?
We'll resist the temptation to engage Jacoby on his conclusory assessment of Carter's foreign policy. It's a bit galling that Jacoby so casually spins off these damning premises, but we're not necessarily inclined to defend Carter's administration here, when there are bigger fish to fry. For starters, the two enemies here differ so radically in their natures, methods, and agendas that it's ludicrous to compare them. Jeff might have a point, if Obama had ever said he thought Bin Laden and Khamenei were committed to peace. Second, to analogize direct diplomacy with Brezhnev and Castro to trying to reduce the hatred of Muslims for the US is asinine. It helped bring down Communism was that the people in those countries found our way of life more appealing and they finally revolted against an awful ideology — this is partly what Obama is selling to the Muslim world.
But running through [President Obama's] words [on Al-Arabiya] is a disconcerting theme: that US-Muslim tensions are a recent phenomenon brought on largely by American provincialism, heavy-handedness, and disrespect.
Well, this isn't illogical on Jacoby's part, it's just false. Obama has never said recent tensions are largely America's fault. What he's said is that the policies of the last seven years haven't helped, and it might be worthwhile to change course to reverse this downhill trend.
Missing is any sense that the United States has long been the target of jihadist fanatics who enjoy widespread support in the Muslim world.
Jeff, the man is trying to win over moderate Muslims around the world. It would be idiotic, as a matter of strategy, to come out guns blazing and blame the entire Muslim world for jihadist attacks (whether they receive widespread support or not). And for that matter, as a matter of principle it's distasteful to tar every religion's adherents with the dirty brush of its most radical, fundamentalist adherents.
Respect? Not even the Islamist atrocities of 9/11 provoked American leaders to treat Islam with disdain. "We respect your faith," George W. Bush earnestly told the world's Muslims on Sept. 20, 2001. "Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah."
We remember this quote, we applauded it at the time, and we'll even accept that it was "earnestly" given. But its not unreasonable to judge a man by his actions, rather than his words — and by how he treats people, rather than religious abstractions. One unjustified invasion later, with the naked human pyramids and flushed Korans behind us, we think it's fair to conclude that though President Bush retained nothing but "respect" for Islam, he hasn't necessarily done right by a lot of its students.
Even more troubling is Obama's cluelessness about US-Muslim history.

"The same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago - there's no reason why we can't restore that," he said on Al-Arabiya. Well, let's see. Twenty years ago, American hostages were being tortured by their Hezbollah captors in Beirut and hundreds of grief-stricken families were in mourning for their loved ones, murdered by Libyan terrorists as they flew home for Christmas on Pan Am Flight 103. Thirty years ago, the Ayatollah Khomeini seized power in Iran, proclaimed America "the Great Satan," and inspired his acolytes to storm the US embassy and hold scores of Americans hostage. Meanwhile, Islamist mobs were destroying US embassies in Pakistan and Libya, and staging anti-American riots in other countries.
Here's where Jacoby goes completely off the rails. Yes, Muslims, some of them leaders of their countries, did bad things twenty or thirty years ago. He's using this as a proxy for the relations between American and the Muslim world. But Jeff, let's apply your logic to the Christian world. Once more round the bend, then: Christians have done some terrible things to Muslims in the post-Cold War era, most notably Serbs in Bosnia and Russians in Chechnya. America has stood firmly against the Christian side in these cases. Would it be fair to associate the U.S., and all the other identifiably "Christian" nations in the West, with these atrocities? Of course not. So let's not apply such facile reasoning to the Muslim world.

The fact is that we did have much better relations with the Muslim world twenty and thirty (even ten) years ago. The Arab world especially had a very favorable opinion of the US. This has plummeted over the past eight years. This is no judgment on the policy of the past eight years, it's simply a statement of fact. By denying this with the above smokescreen, Jacoby is either being remarkably dumb or intentionally disingenuous.
Radical Islam's hatred of the United States is not a recent phenomenon, it has nothing to do with "respect," and it isn't going to be extinguished by sweet words — not even those of so sweet a speaker as our new president.
Radical Islam's hatred is not new. This is true, but irrelevant to Obama's efforts. Obama is not trying to win over Bin Laden and Khamenei. He's trying move the opinion of the rest of the Muslim world away from radical Islam and back towards the US; just as the Cold War was won, in part, by winning over the people in Eastern Bloc countries, even as their leaders clung self-interestedly to an adversarial orthodoxy. Does Jacoby not understand the distinction, or does he mean to mislead the reader. Oh, and Jeff — he's our President. With a capital P. Cope with that.
Sooner or later, Obama must confront an implacable reality: The global jihad, like the Cold War, will end only when our enemies lose their will to fight — or when we do.
Exactly. And that's why Obama said in his inaugural speech, "We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you." Who knows if he means it, but he at least, unlike Jacoby, he understands the difference between the radicals we must defeat and the rest of the Muslim world we want to win over. There is a short-term and and a long-term battle to be fought here. In the short term, we have to thwart, preempt, and eliminate the radicalized terror networks. In the long term, we have to destroy the root causes of Islamic terror. These two ends are not incompatible, and you'd have to be an Idiot to think otherwise.

Is Obama's policy the right one? Was Bush all wrong? Another topic for another day. But let's try to get to the answer reasonably and tune out the imbeciles. Jacoby is way too dumb to have a column. Way too dumb.

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