Rules Are for Schmucks: Cold War Lessons and Islam

President Obama and Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the state palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, Nov. 9, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The Barack Obama that people thought they were voting for in 2008 is the one who, two years earlier, had written in The Audacity of Hope:

The United States won the Cold War not simply because it outgunned the Soviet Union but because American values held sway in the court of international public opinion, which included those who lived within communist regimes. Even more than was true during the Cold War, the struggle against Islamic-based terrorism will be not simply a military campaign but a battle for public opinion in the Islamic world, among our allies, and in the United States.

President Obama went on to write about Indonesia, the land where he spent much of his childhood, contrasting the tolerant secular country he knew then with 2006 conditions:

Today, Islamic parties make up one of the largest political blocs, with many calling for the imposition of sharia, or Islamic law. Seeded by funds from the Middle East, Wahhabist clerics, schools, and mosques now dot the countryside. Many Indonesian women have adopted the head coverings so familiar in the Muslim countries of North Africa and the Persian Gulf; Islamic militants and self-proclaimed “vice squads” have attacked churches, nightclubs, casinos, and brothels. In 2002, an explosion in a Bali nightclub killed more than two hundred people; similar suicide bombings followed in Jakarta in 2004 and Bali in 2005. Members of Jemaah Islamiyah, a militant Islamic organization with links to Al Qaeda, were tried for the bombings; while three of those connected to the bombings received death sentences, the spiritual leader of the group, Abu Bakar Bashir, was released after a twenty-six-month prison term. …  Indonesia feels more distant now than it did thirty years ago. I fear it’s becoming a land of strangers. 

Things have grown steadily worse since 2006. That very year, the government passed a law requiring everyone to have identity cards listing their religion, with only six choices available, none of which were “No religion.” Indonesian public opposition to the construction of non-Muslim churches grew from 40 percent in 2001 to 58 percent in 2010. The level of violence has skyrocketed, with the human rights watchdog Setara Institute reporting 264 religious attacks in 2012, up from 91 in 2007. This was also the year when an Indonesian man was jailed for writing “God doesn’t exist” on his Facebook page. Public caning is the country’s new spectator sport, with four poker players subjected to it just last month. The same new law, by the way, also requires public caning for gay sex.

And how does our president, who was so troubled by Indonesian intolerance back in 2006, respond to all this? By just last week calling Indonesia “a model for the kind of tolerance and pluralism that we want to see all around the world.” Who does he mean by “we”?

While you’re shaking your head over that one, consider that Obama has already given Pakistan far more money than George W. Bush ever did—well over $2 billion last year alone, or approximately double what we’re planning to spend to fight Ebola. Pakistan is the place where a Muslim mob just burned alive a Christian father and his pregnant wife for the rumor that they desecrated a Koran. The worst problem in Pakistan isn’t mobs, though, but the government itself, which last month upheld the death sentence for blasphemy of a mother of four. Why are we giving them all this money? Is it because they adhere so closely to Indonesia’s “model of tolerance”?

True exasperation with this administration’s rose-tinted view of Islam arises not from flashy headlines, though, but from nitty-gritty details. Nigeria is now waging a war against a vicious outfit calling itself “Western Learning Forbidden,” or “Boko Haram.” These are the guys who kidnapped 276 schoolgirls last spring, and still have them. They are generally similar to the Islamic State, with whom they have allied. They control a territory larger than Connecticut, from which 190,000 people have fled. Their death toll so far is around 11,000, not too dissimilar from that of the war started by the Islamic State.

Americans have no stomach for fighting a new war in Africa. You would think, though, that we’d be doing everything we reasonably could to help the Nigerian government destroy these vermin. But you’d be wrong. The Obama administration is refusing even to sell Nigeria weaponry like attack helicopters that it desperately needs to win its war. According to Nigeria’s ambassador, who is now making his frustration public, proper weapons “would have brought down the terrorists within a short time,” but they can’t buy them. Apparently our bureaucrats are stressed over the Nigerian military’s human rights record, but in Indonesia, which Obama praises to the sky, police torture is routine. America also has intelligence information that Nigeria could use in its struggle, but we won’t give it to them. And we’ve cut back on our surveillance flights over the country, as public interest in the kidnapped schoolgirls wanes.

Obama’s 2006 analogy to the Cold War as a model for dealing with radical Islam was spot on. For over forty years, we stood resolute against the spread of communism. We didn’t praise Stalinist puppets as “models of tolerance.” We didn’t give away billions of dollars to countries who repudiate our values as much as Pakistan does today. We helped our friends, even when they were less than squeaky clean. We made terrible mistakes, especially in the McCarthy heyday and in Vietnam, but we kept our eyes on the prize of defeating totalitarianism. And we won. Just like we can ultimately win against radical Islam, if we are steadfast in condemning its evils, championing our own virtues, and favoring those willing to join our fight.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a president like the 2006 Obama, rather than the one we’ve got?

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