For a number of years into the Cold War, American presidents were occasionally troubled by the paradox that a democratic United States was supporting right-wing anti-Communist dictatorships abroad. Either Harry Truman, John Kennedy, or Lyndon Johnson — or all of them — was supposed to have scoffed, in response to objections, something like the following, “He may be a bastard, but at least he’s our bastard.”
That realist cynicism has more or less remained the same. But now the ideology has flipped. Currently, the more that authoritarian thugs abroad position themselves as anti-American, the more that we seem to glamorize them. The new presidential sarcasm is, in effect, “He may be a bastard, but at least he’s an anti-American bastard.”
One of the most peculiar pathologies of Western elites is carrying on this apparent romance with non-Westerners who dislike the West, while spurning those who admire it. The feminist pro-Western critic of Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, was recently disinvited from speaking at Brandeis University. Earlier, Columbia University had welcomed the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an unhinged anti-Jewish and anti-American theocrat. Apparently hating America made Ahmadinejad the more interesting speaker; liking America made Hirsi Ali suspect and certainly less romantically revolutionary. How odd that for campus communities, being the victim of forced genital mutilation makes one less sympathetic than a man who had ordered the deaths of female supposed adulteresses.
In the spring of 2009, Iranians said to be numbering a million demonstrated against the illiberal theocracy in their country. Yet President Obama largely ignored the protesters, who were demanding free and fair elections. Dealing with the messy Green Revolution advocates of democracy apparently wasn’t as inviting an opportunity for Obama to showcase his multicultural diplomatic dexterity as would have been dealing with the previously recalcitrant Khomeinists. When Obama has gone out his way to reach out to autocratic theocrats, he seems to have believed that their anti-Americanism must be proof of the true aspirations of the Iranian people.
After the September 2012 attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi, President Obama, along with many in his administration, falsely blamed the killing of Americans on a right-wing Egyptian video-maker residing on American soil. Neither Obama nor high-ranking members of his administration mentioned the real culprits: an al-Qaeda affiliate that had pre-planned the terrorist attacks to glorify the 9/11 anniversary. Obama himself went on to declare, “The future must not belong to those who slander the Prophet Mohammed.”
That self-serving proclamation was an especially regrettable thing for the President of the United States to say, for a variety of reasons. Obama knew from intelligence briefings that the video-maker Nakoula Nakoula was not the catalyst for the attack. More importantly, Nakoula, quite unlike the radical Islamist killers, did not manifest his anger at his enemies through multiple murders.
Nonetheless, a federal judge conveniently jailed Nakoula on a trumped-up parole violation. Stories circulated that the administration wished to ban the video from the Internet. Whether intentionally or not, Obama had sent the message that the critical — but non-violent — expression from Mr. Nakoula was somehow suspect and counterfeit. In contrast, the administration’s comparatively lackadaisical approach to finding and punishing the killers who had stormed the U.S. consulate seemed to suggest that grassroots violent Islamic outrage, while regrettable, nonetheless was not a particularly serious problem.
On New Year’s Day, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt gave an astounding lecture on the crisis in the contemporary Middle East. He called on Muslim imams to lead a “religious revolution” to stop the murderous spread of radical Islam. Sisi’s sermon drew little attention in the Western liberal press. Yet by any fair standard his was the most genuinely liberal critique of Islamic fundamentalism in a generation. It was almost as if the more Sisi echoed global concerns about Islamic radicalism, the more the Western elites considered him suspect. Certainly, Obama ignored Sisi’s warning — not so surprising, perhaps, since its enlightened message was antithetical to the president’s own 2009 Cairo proclamation, when he invited members of the illiberal Muslim Brotherhood to hear him invent all sorts of Islamic historical achievements in a lame effort to win over radical Muslims. Sisi warns Muslims of the lethality of radical Islam and counsels them about their own responsibility to stop it; Obama in the same city cited the Cold War, colonialism, and Western-led globalization as causes of understandable Islamic extremism.
Not long ago the Obama administration took the first steps toward normalizing relations with the Castro regime in Cuba. But while Obama waxed eloquent about the supposed silliness of ostracizing the Communist regime, he said comparatively little about the brutal imprisonment and torture of thousands of Cubans. It was almost as if the more Cuba has emphasized its anti-Americanism, the more the administration considers it an authentic pique.