Why does President Barack Obama refuse to call the killing of our Libyan ambassador "murder"?
This past week, the United States commemorated the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. With those memories fresh in our mind we were confronted with the news that our sovereign embassy in Egypt and consulate in Libya were attacked on the very day of one of America’s greatest tragedies.
The morning following the attack, President Barack Obama made a remarkable statement that has gone largely unexamined. Buried within his initial comments, Obama said the following: "While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants."
The president’s statement is remarkable for both the sequence of the thoughts expressed and the careful wording of the remarks. Why does the president feel the obligation to soothe the feelings of the offended religious groups in the context of expressing condolences to the families of the individuals who have been killed?
There is no moral equivalency between an alleged offense to religious sensibility and the murder of a U.S. diplomat. Our sovereign embassy and consulate were attacked on the anniversary of 9/11, and a U.S. ambassador and several staff members were executed. Neither the United States nor its diplomatic staff had anything to do with the alleged religious insult, and our outrage at the actions of the murderers should trump any effort to placate a religious insult committed by an amateurish film.
While the sequencing of the president’s thoughts is concerning, his remarks are more troubling when one pauses to examine how carefully they were worded. If one reads his comments more closely, the president does not actually condemn anyone for the ambassador’s murder — nor does he even call it "murder." The president blames the attack on the ambiguous and impersonal notion of "senseless violence" that somehow "took the lives" of our countrymen. Whom is Obama talking to? Does he believe that the American people accept the fact that the murder of an ambassador, a Foreign Service officer, and two U.S. security personnel on the anniversary of 9/11 were merely acts of "senseless violence"?
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the following statement shortly after the president’s: "We condemn in the strongest terms this senseless act of violence, and we send our prayers to the families, friends, and colleagues of those we’ve lost."
There it is again. The culprit in this tragedy is not a radical terrorist ideology that seeks to harm America, but instead the soft, ambiguous villain of "senseless violence." The use of this phrase by both the president and secretary of state is not accidental — it’s a reflection of the unwillingness of the administration to name our enemies.
It is important to understand the context of how we have arrived at the current crossroads.
Obama undertook a world peace tour before he was elected, and we were assured that his rhetorical skills would convince radicals of various stripes to lay down their arms — North Korea, Iran, Libya, Syria, and the like. President George W. Bush was, after all, a warmonger. Obama would be able to persuade Pyongyang and Tehran to abandon their nuclear ambitions once he was able to convince them that he appreciated the fact that it was U.S. aggression that had forced these countries to acquire such weapons in the first place.
Has the president’s rhetoric convinced these regimes to abandon their weapons programs?
After he was elected, the president traveled to Cairo and delivered a speech to the Muslim world to persuade them that he understood the oppression of "colonialism" and the ill will that colonial policies had created around the globe. In the liberal mind, the United States was complicit in colonialism; in fact, we are the chief purveyors of the post-colonial oppression that continues to this day. The president has gone to great lengths to empathize with the hardships experienced by religious groups that we have supposedly played a role in oppressing. His administration then celebrated as radical elements swept through Egypt and toppled an American ally. It is now clear that the Arab Spring was largely a revolt against the West and, at its core, against America.
Has the president’s empathy placated the aspirations of the radicals?
In nearly four years as president, he has made two trips to the Middle East and has not once visited Israel — America’s most loyal ally in the region. On the contrary, the president has gone to great lengths to snub Israeli leaders at a time when Iran continues to threaten Israel with extinction. As late as this week, the White House indicated that the president is too busy to meet with the Israeli prime minister when he visits the United States in late September. I suppose an attack on Israel will be considered another act of "senseless violence."
The president’s reluctance to promote and project our values around the world is undoubtedly translated by both friends and foes as an admission that America lacks moral authority and is at least partially responsible for global injustice.
We should not be ashamed of our values — chief among them freedom of speech. For over two centuries, America has been a force for an expansion of human rights, women’s rights, and religious rights around the globe. When our president appears confused about our own history, or worse yet embarrassed by it, then we are weakened and the world becomes a much more dangerous place.
This week we grieve the deaths of our ambassador and members of his diplomatic staff. Our sovereign embassy and consulate have been breached. Peace through strength has evolved into appeasement through apology. America and the world are likely to experience continued acts of senseless violence until the president obtains moral clarity about the fact that his own nation is not obligated to console our enemies.
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |