Tuesday’s attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi and embassy in Cairo remind us how badly wrong liberal pundits were four years ago on the supposedly salutary effects of electing Barack Obama president. Here’s an excerpt from Andrew Sullivan’s famous essay in the Atlantic:
Consider this hypothetical. It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man—Barack Hussein Obama—is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.
The trouble with this “hypothetical” is its shaky grip on reality. Those most likely to murder diplomats or storm embassies over an allegedly offensive film or a blasphemous cartoon simply don’t think the way some Washington intellectuals believe they do.
The same erratic logic is on display in the US embassy in Cairo’s condemnation of “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims” (and others). As Nina Shea points out in NRO, this policy is neither principled nor effective. Why not instead simply point out that free speech in America enjoys the protection of the First Amendment, and that Washington expects the Egyptian government to honor its obligation to safeguard the embassy?
In short, what is peddled as sensitivity by both pundits and diplomats often manages to be both patronizing and clueless. Instead of viewing violent Islamists and their supporters as children to be pandered to, we’re better off treating them as adults responsible for their own actions. Most Americans likely find Terry Jones, the pastor whose associates are apparently behind the movie that sparked the violence, tasteless and immature. But they certainly don’t need any lessons on the appropriate boundaries of free speech from Libya or Egypt.