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The Cairo Disaster

By David Warren

When a politician announces, at the beginning of a major speech, that he is going to be entirely honest with you, you should stop trying to protect your wallet. For it is time to defend your soul.

This aphorism occurred as I listened to the opening of Barack Obama's major speech in Cairo. As I have argued previously, he is not an honest man but, instead, a demagogue. He plays games with reality in the course of weaving his rhetorical spells. To be clear: he is no Hitler, no Mussolini, with some vision of national or racial glory, cynically manipulating the crowds to purposes that are ultimately violent. Far from that.

Nor is he a Trudeau, precisely, with an inner contempt for the people he is pledged to serve, and his own agenda to put past them. I do not even think Obama suffers from the vanity of Trudeau, who may actually have imagined himself to be some sort of "philosopher king."

Obama's is a different, more insidious vanity. He acknowledges his rhetorical gift as a gift, but imagines the solutions to problems coalesce of their own accord in his presence. He is President Orpheus, the "poet king," transforming nature with his music. The German weekly, Die Zeit, expressed this perfectly in a headline: "I am a dream!"

It is the failure to acknowledge hard realities that makes Obama dangerous. As a wise Texan of my acquaintance put it, "he is attempting to model himself on Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator. But, it's with a twist. He sees himself as the Great Mediator -- the One who will step into every conflict around the globe, bring to bear his superior intelligence and teleprompted eloquence, and leave the parties in a warm embrace."

Another old friend, the errant "neocon" David Frum, explained what is shocking in that Cairo speech: to find an American president no longer mediating domestic American conflicts, but rather, those between his own country and some of her deadliest enemies. This may be presented as "reaching out" but, in practice, it leaves his own side unchampioned, unrepresented, and in the end, undefended.

Moreover, he is playing this game with a child's understanding of the history and the stakes.

The Cairo speech is loaded with historical howlers. Other writers have explicated his misconceptions about Israel, and Hamas; about the American history in Iran; even his ridiculous notions about America's earliest engagements with Islam. With short space, I leave that to them, but will draw attention to two grand statements, so fatuous as to beggar belief:

"As a student of history, I also know civilization's debt to Islam. It was Islam -- at places like Al-Azhar University -- that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment."

And: "Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition."

No serious "student of history" could possibly have made either remark. The former is just bosh; the latter is incredibly offensive to western Christendom, quite apart from the laughable anachronism.

It would be wrong to demean the real achievements of Islamic civilization to advance western vanities. But also the reverse: it is wrong to demean the real achievements of Christendom, in the service of Islamic vanities even more absurd. And to do the latter, after presenting oneself as a Christian, is to sell out one's whole society and being.

We may accommodate the playful, but the U.S. president was not being playful here. Or rather, he was playing with fire, as I know from some familiarity with the audience he was addressing. He was playing to the crowd, and in this case, playing to the tragic and self-destructive modern Arab propensity to blame every Arab problem on the machinations of outsiders.

By playing to that, Obama is selling out not only the democrats in the Arab and Islamic world, but every force and influence for self-betterment.

His English-speaking audience might note all the counter-balancing rhetoric about microloans and development and a woman's choices. But for each of those, he announced some U.S. aid program that put the onus upon outsiders, again.

The speech did not merely miss an opportunity to speak the truth plainly. It sabotaged every effort to speak the truth plainly, to the darkest tyrannical forces in the Islamic world. It sold out America, it sold out the West, and it sold out the Muslims, too.

otiosus@sympatico.ca
© Ottawa Citizen
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