MoDo has a question: “Why Not Debtor’s Prison?” She says in a dog-eat-dog world, President Obama is the cat, and Mitt Romney is chasing his own tail. The Moustache of Wisdom, in “Backlash to the Backlash,” says Muslim moderates have been fighting back. While it’s not clear whether the trend can be sustained, it’s certainly worth watching. Here’s MoDo:
So it has come to this:
While the Muslim world was burning, Mitt Romney was telling Kelly Ripa that he wears as little as possible to bed. And on the day world leaders gathered at the United Nations, President Obama’s only high-level sit-down in New York was with the ladies of “The View,” teasing, “I’m just supposed to be eye candy here for you guys.”
Romney said he was very troubled that Obama went on “The View” and skipped meeting other leaders, especially Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.
Netanyahu did not deserve a meeting and neither did President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt. But Obama would have been better off spending time in New York talking to Hamid Karzai, given that American troops are still in Afghanistan and given how chary we are about turning over security to that less-than-inspiring government.
In a world of dogs, diplomatically speaking, Obama is a cat. Just as he suffered from his standoffish approach with Congress, donors and his base, our feline president can be oblivious to the neediness of other less Zen leaders.
As Helene Cooper and Robert Worth wrote in The Times on Tuesday, some Arab officials are critical of Obama’s impersonal, distant style.
“You can’t fix these problems by remote control,” one Arab diplomat told The Times.
At least the president has a foreign policy. Romney and Paul Ryan haven’t spent time thinking and speaking a lot about foreign policy. They have simply taken the path of least resistance and parroted the views of their neocon advisers. They talk all tough at Iran and Syria and label the president a weak apologist and buildup bogymen and rant about how America must dictate events in the Middle East. That’s not a doctrine; it’s a treacherous neocon echo.
It’s amazing that many of the neocons who were involved in the Iraq debacle are back riding high. (Foreign Policy magazine reports that 17 of Romney’s 24 special advisers on foreign policy were in W.’s administration.) But no one has come along to replace them, or reinstitute some kind of Poppy Bush-James Baker-Brent Scowcroft realpolitik internationalism.
The neocons are still where the G.O.P. intellectual energy is, and they’re still in the blogosphere hammering candidates who stray from their hawkish orthodoxy. Democrats have claimed the international center once inhabited by Bush senior and his advisers.
On foreign and domestic policy, Republicans have outsourced their brains to right-wing think tanks. It’s one thing for conservatives at the American Enterprise Institute and other think tanks to sit around and theorize about the number of people who are “dependent” on government programs and to deplore the trend, or to strategize on privatizing Medicare. If you’ve got a lot of people on government programs, their response is not to help those people get off the programs, it’s to cut the programs.
The Romney campaign has turned conservative theory into ideology and gone off the cliff with it. If you want to inspire, lead and unite people, it won’t fly to take ideologically driven findings and present them unvarnished to voters.
At the Clinton Global Initiative Tuesday, Romney talked about tying foreign aid to “the promotion of work and the fostering of free enterprise” in the Middle East and other developing countries.
It was a variation on what Romney said on the infamous leaked tape to the fat-cat donors about half the country being victims and moochers, promulgating the idea that any aid makes people worse off instead of better off. Next he will want to bring back debtors’ prisons.
(It’s the same in Europe, as Germany debates how much to give to Greece, Spain and Portugal, or whether to dismiss them as bad, reckless and unworthy of being bailed out more.)
Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and the neocons were inspired by deus ex machina theories baked at the A.E.I. to try and force democracy on Iraq, assuming that people would just become better — and incredibly grateful to us.
Now the neocons inside Romney’s head are pushing the same idea: that we can whack countries in the Middle East and they’ll behave.
As Dan Senor, a top foreign policy adviser to both Romney and Ryan, told Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC on Tuesday about Iran: “We’re not saying the military action should be used. But we are arguing that the threat of military action should be credible so it focuses the Iranian leadership on reaching some diplomatic solution.”
That was exactly the argument the same neocon gaggle used when they were pushing an invasion of Iraq. But somehow the diplomatic part got superseded.
As President Obama said on “60 Minutes,” “If Governor Romney is suggesting that we should start another war, he should say so.”
Looking at crumpling poll numbers, Romney may learn that when you don’t think for yourself, you tank.
Now here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:
One of the iron laws of Middle East politics for the last half-century has been that extremists go all the way and moderates tend to just go away. That is what made the march in Benghazi, Libya, so unusual last Friday. This time, the moderates did not just go away. They got together and stormed the headquarters of the Islamist militia Ansar al-Sharia, whose members are suspected of carrying out the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that resulted in the death of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
It is not clear whether this trend can spread or be sustained. But having decried the voices of intolerance that so often intimidate everyone in that region, I find it heartening to see Libyans carrying signs like “We want justice for Chris” and “No more Al Qaeda” — and demanding that armed militias disband. This coincides with some brutally honest articles in the Arab/Muslim press — in response to rioting triggered by the idiotic YouTube video insulting the Prophet Muhammad — that are not the usual “What is wrong with America?” but, rather, “What is wrong with us, and how do we fix it?”
On Monday, the Middle East Media Research Institute, or Memri, which tracks the Arab/Muslim press, translated a searing critique written by Imad al-Din Hussein, a columnist for Al Shorouk, Cairo’s best daily newspaper: “We curse the West day and night, and criticize its [moral] disintegration and shamelessness, while relying on it for everything. … We import, mostly from the West, cars, trains, planes … refrigerators, and washing machines. … We are a nation that contributes nothing to human civilization in the current era. … We have become a burden on [other] nations. … Had we truly implemented the essence of the directives of Islam and all [other] religions, we would have been at the forefront of the nations. The world will respect us when we return to being people who take part in human civilization, instead of [being] parasites who are spread out over the map of the advanced world, feeding off its production and later attacking it from morning until night. … The West is not an oasis of idealism. It also contains exploitation in many areas. But at least it is not sunk in delusions, trivialities and external appearances, as we are. … Therefore, supporting Islam and the prophet of the Muslims should be done through work, production, values, and culture, not by storming embassies and murdering diplomats.”
Mohammad Taqi, a liberal Pakistani columnist, writing in the Lahore-based Daily Times on Sept. 20, argued that “there is absolutely no excuse for violence and indeed murder most foul, as committed in Benghazi. Fighting hate with hate is sure to beget more hate. The way out is drowning the odious voices with voices of sanity, not curbing free speech and calls for murder.”
Khaled al-Hroub, a professor at Cambridge University, writing in Jordan’s Al Dustour newspaper on Sept. 17, translated by Memri, argued that the most “frightening aspect of what we see today in the streets of Arab and Islamic cities is the disaster of extremism that is flooding our societies and cultures, as well as our behavior. … This [represents] a total atrophy of thought among wide sectors [of society], as a result of the culture of religious zealotry that was imposed on people for over 50 years, and which brought forth what we witness” today.
The Egyptian comedian, Bassem Youssef, wrote in Al Shorouk, translated by Memri, on Sept. 23: “We demand that the world respect our feelings, yet we do not respect the feelings of others. We scream blue murder when they outlaw the niqab in some European country or prevent [Muslims] from building minarets in another [European] country — even though these countries continue to allow freedom of religion, as manifest in the building of mosques and in the preaching [activity] that takes place in their courtyards. Yet, in our countries, we do not allow others to publicly preach their beliefs. Maybe we should examine ourselves before [criticizing] others.”
Whenever I was asked during the Iraq war, “How will you know when we’ve won?” I gave the same answer: When Salman Rushdie can give a lecture in Baghdad; when there is real freedom of speech in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world. There is no question that we need a respectful dialogue between Islam and the West, but, even more, we need a respectful dialogue between Muslims and Muslims. What matters is not what Arab/Muslim political parties and groupings tell us they stand for. What matters is what they tell themselves, in their own languages, about what they stand for and what excesses they will not tolerate.
This internal debate had long been stifled by Arab autocrats whose regimes traditionally suppressed extremist Islamist parties, but never really permitted their ideas to be countered with free speech — with independent, modernist, progressive interpretations of Islam or by truly legitimate, secular political parties and institutions. Are we seeing the start of that now with the emergence of free spaces and legitimate parties in the Arab world? Again, too early to say, but this moderate backlash to the extremist backlash is worth hailing — and watching.