Saturday, January 31, 2009

Presidential Pay Grade Clarified

I learned recently about the custom of the outgoing President leaving a note for the his successor in the Oval Office. (“Bush Bids Farewell With Secret Note to Obama”).

I don’t know what was in President Bush’s note to President Obama, but I’m reasonably positive it wasn’t a job description.

Diana West views Obama’s televised apology to the Arab world as an effort by the U.S President to offer himself as a bridge to the Muslim world. ("Is this the job of the president of the United States?"). But in the process, we actual Americans learned a few things about how he understands his duties:
Obama spoke quite deliberately about the requirements of his new "job" as commander in chief, many of which are unprecedented. "My job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world, that the language has to be the language of respect."

That's the job of the president of the United States?

"I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries," Obama continued, simply speaking about his Islamic connections, indulging in what he condemned as "scare tactics" on the campaign trail. Now these connections are job credentials. "My job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives."

That's the job of the president of the United States?

Obama continued. "My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy. We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record -- as you say, America was not born as a colonial power -- and that 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."

Can he possibly be this clueless? Yet the evidence is right in front of us. American presidents have known the real price of “respect” to Muslim leaders since at least the George Washington administration, when the new nation first began paying “respect” to Muslims in the form of extortionate tributes to the pirates of Algiers, Tunis, Morocco, and Tripoli--in exchange for not pirating our commerce traders and holding our sailors for ransom.

When Thomas Jefferson, in London in 1786 to negotiate blackmail payments with the Ambassador of Tripoli, put the question, What business do you have attacking ships from nations that had done you no harm?, the Ambassador explained that:
It was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every mussulman who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise. He said, also, that the man who was the first to board a vessel had one slave over and above his share, and that when they sprang to the deck of an enemy's ship, every sailor held a dagger in each hand and a third in his mouth; which usually struck such terror into the foe that they cried out for quarter at once.
Jefferson finally began fighting back when he became President in 1801. He'd always known that paying ransoms would never settle things, and he’d long concluded, (probably after hearing the Ambassador of Tripoli's explanation of how Muslims view nonMuslims), that it would be “best to effect a peace by the medium of war.” That approach worked, and by 1815 American ships were no longer being attacked by the Barbary pirates, and we weren't paying any more tribute.

As Diana West explains, Obama wasn't aiming his words at his countrymen, but at the Ummah. Obama wasn’t telling Americans that we need to respect Muslims. He was telling Muslims that his country will pay them respect.

But “respect” is a word that can carry different connotations in different contexts. It can mean one thing in a clasroom, something else in a schoolyard, something quite different in a prison yard, something else in an inner-city alley with a gun in your face.

In this context, Obama is speaking to a Muslim world that since 9/11 has categorically refused to acknowledge any liability--any--for the terror attacks and violence against the West by its jihadists, nor accepts any responsibility for their religious leaders whipping up their people to hatred and violence against Israel, democracies, and infidels. Not one of the Muslim nations, in spite of the diplomatic niceties that require us singling some of them out as our "allies," has willingly cooperated with us in our struggle against Islamic radicalism, and all of them have been obstructionist and two-faced. Regardless, world Islam's demands that the West must defer to Islamic sensibilities, laws, and religious primacy, and complaints that they are being victimized and "disrespected" by us have only increased.

In this context, at this time, for Obama to say that our language toward Islam "must be the language of respect," when no respect is offered in return, is the diplomatic equivalent of dipping the American flag in the presence of a superior power.

This time no mussulman even had to leap to the deck with a dagger in his teeth. Jefferson’s successor in office had no sooner taken his oath than he "cried out for quarter at once."

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