One of life’s first lessons occurs in grade school yards. A primitive, but stratified social order exists, not unlike that in the animal kingdom, with the weak at the bottom. In elementary school, tough guys dominate at recess and after school. When a new student arrives, he (this is more about boys than girls) is tested, often challenged to a fight. How he handles himself determines his place in the hierarchy. As students move on to middle and high school, academic success and other factors play bigger roles in measuring one’s popularity, and that primal sense of order begins to dissipate.
Existing world leaders are like school kids. They take measure of new world leaders, especially when a new president moves into the Oval Office – the world’s only superpower. Mr. Obama has been tested and found wanting. His mistake was one of naïveté – he failed to understand the self-serving nature of the global political process. He appeared to expect leaders to put an emphasis on the finer aspects of global leadership, like the Golden Rule – be trusting of others and they will do the same to you.
In Cairo, in June 2009, newly elected Barack Obama reached out to the Muslim World, with a promise to move away from the Bush years of intervention towards ones of “reconciliation.” He promised to close the prison at Guantanamo. He would try captive terrorists in civil court – another broken promise. The world is what it is; it is not as one might have wished. But Mr. Obama, in either innocence or deliberateness, has made the situation worse. Major Nidal Malik Hasan shot thirteen military personnel at Fort Hood, in an incident the President characterized as “workplace violence.” Why could he not call the incident what it was: a deliberate attack by Islamic terrorists. To his credit, Mr. Obama did continue Bush’s policy of hunting down terrorists, but now with Drones, not ground troops. Nevertheless, Iraq (Bush’s war) was deemed the “bad” war, while Afghanistan became the “good” war. But terrorism and killings persisted in both countries. Iraq has seen its bloodiest Ramadan since 2007. Our absence has seen an increase in violence. In May 2011, Osama bin Laden met his Waterloo at the hands of U.S. Naval Seals, in his compound in Pakistan. That gave rise to the President’s happy (and erroneous) message: “Osama bin Laden is dead and al-Qaeda is in retreat.” It became a central theme for the 2012 Presidential campaign. In May 2012, Mr. Obama declared the War on Terror over. “We ended the war in Iraq and we’re pulling out of Afghanistan.” The Arab spring of two years ago was seen as a vindication of Mr. Obama’s policies of inclusion and, unfortunately, appeasement. Tens of thousands have been killed in protests across the Muslim world, since that spring two years ago. With enormous irony, within months of taking office, Mr. Obama was given the Nobel Prize for Peace, not for what he had done (for, at that point, he had done nothing), but for he might do. The region is more dangerous today than when he came to office.
A travelers’ alert was issued for the month of August, and twenty-eight U.S. Embassies and Consulates, in Muslim countries were shut last Sunday. The ones shut range from Mauritania in the west, to Bangladesh in the east, from Madagascar in the south to Afghanistan in the north. This was done out of an “abundance of caution.” Nineteen will remain shuttered through the week. Representative Ed Royce, Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that the closures were linked to threats from al-Qaeda.
The general reaction from Democrats and Republicans alike was that such caution was necessary, especially in light of what happened in Benghazi last September. If that is true, then we have allowed our defenses to deteriorate to a level not in keeping with the promise of a free and democratic republic. Retreat can be necessary under certain military conditions, but always in expectation of a future advance. But to retreat from our Embassies and Consulates, which serve as symbols of freedom in unfree lands, suggests terrorism has been victorious – a devastating message to subjected people around the world. If we don’t have the means to defend our embassies, then we have allowed our military to become too weak. It says the terrorists are winning. When Falstaff, in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I, proclaims that discretion is the better part of valor, it is said tongue-in-cheek. While courageous people may be cautious, caution is not the most important characteristic of courage.
Josef Joffe, a Stanford professor and Hoover Institute fellow, entitled last Monday’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, “Exploiting Obama’s Foreign Policy Retreat.” He poses the question: why do second-rate powers and terrorist groups take on the United States? His answer: They do so “because they can.” He writes, “The nation that invented containment in the Cold War is now playing with self-containment.” Senator Lindsay Graham cautioned against allowing the United States to be driven from the area. “They [al-Qaeda] want to drive the West out of the Mideast and take over those Muslim countries and create an al-Qaeda-type religious entity in the place of what exists today.”
It is a sad state of affairs, with the lesson that a weakened United States, without a clear moral compass and unable to protect its own interests, will lose respect from those who would harm us. It almost certainly will have a bad end. That lack of moral behavior gets mimicked everyday across the country in small ways. A few days ago a video went viral of three fifteen-year olds beating up a thirteen-year old on a school bus in Florida. The sixty-four-year-old bus driver has been criticized for not breaking up the fight, which bloodied the boy and broke one of his arms. Perhaps he should have, but the boys were big and the driver was elderly. He was scared. The real question is how have we come to such a place? How have we allowed our society to be run by gangsters? Why do we allow three boys to intimidate younger children and flaunt those in charge, with no respect for authority? Allegedly, the reason for the beating was because the thirteen-year old had refused to buy drugs from the older boys. If so, why were the boys not thrown out of school and tossed off the bus? Will the Press and Leftists tell us of the hopelessness of their lives at home, that they were not responsible for what they did – that the fault lies with the “system?” Or will they be severely punished for the crime they committed?
Machiavelli, in The Prince, wrote: “It is better to be feared than loved.” That may be a little harsh, but certainly without respect there can be no love. Teachers, school bus drivers, parents, even the President of the United States, are neither feared nor loved in this age. If the President does not set a standard of moral conduct, how can we expect the people to behave in a civilized manner? Life in the United States today has more in common with those school yard brawls of our childhood than it does with civilizing influence of simple respect for one’s self and one another.
We have, in short, become the paper tiger Mao Tse Tung warned of in 1956 – we have become “spiritually empty.”
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