It should be noted that Barack Obama began talking about Islam yesterday hours before the attacks on Americans in Libya and Egypt. Delivering his speech commemorating September 11, before violence broke out, Obama could not resist inserting a boilerplate reassurance that Americans are not a danger to Muslim people. In doing so, he turned a speech that was supposed to be about the murder of Americans by a foreign enemy into another apology for the imaginary straw-man of American Islamophobia:
I’ve always said that our fight is with al Qadea and its affiliates, not with Islam or any other religion.
Note that he attributes the goodwill part of the message only to himself. I’ve always said that. He didn’t say “America has always know that their fight,” or “Americans have always said, and I too believe.” The distinction between us and him is necessary to turn the memorial for Americans into a negative message about Americans. By nightfall, Obama’s administration was saying much more against imaginary American straw-men: first there was the statement of apology coming from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo because a film mocking Mohammed was allegedly “causing” the takeover of the embassy; later there was the “three a.m.” first responder apology from Obama himself:
Obama: While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants.
But there’s the rub: the violence is far from “senseless.” It is utterly imbued with meaning and intent. One intent, the primary one, is to rub salt in the wounds of America on September 11; the other is to engage in a strange waltz of accusation and apology with Obama and his proxies.
And Obama stepped up for the dance, not as blatantly as he did in 2009 during his “apology tour” culminating in his Cairo University New Beginning speech, but the message remained intact. The New Beginning speech was a sort of an apex (or nadir, depending on your perspective) of apologies for the sins of being American: as such, it is now reprinted in rhetoric and composition anthologies and widely assigned to schoolchildren and college students as an example of rhetorical perfection and presidential diplomacy.
My writing partner Mary Grabar has just published an excellent guide for students who find themselves subjected to lessons on Obama’s New Beginning apologia in their English or Social Studies classes. Mary and co-author Brian Birdnow provide students with the types of resources a real lesson on Obama’s speech might include: background on recent Middle East diplomacy; discussion of rhetorical devices; and comparisons of the Cairo University speech to other presidential speeches. You can buy the book at Mary’s website, Dissident Prof.
Obama’s response to last night’s “middle of the night” presidential crisis was merely a doubling-down on his insistence that Americans need to keep apologizing to the Muslim world. This is a complicated dance, too, enforced by an industry of professional accusers. Obama could have easily framed his response to avoid insulting Americans on the anniversary of 9/11, but he instead chose to rub salt in those wounds on that day, too. So be it: it’s a bracing reminder of where he stands.
We are very far away from what a president is supposed to be to his country. More and more students are forced to contemplate Obamas’s apologies (and respond to them correctly in the classroom, of course), but I wonder how many are also familiar with the speeches made by F.D.R. after Pearl Harbor and during the D-Day offensive. It’s painful to revisit these in light of Obama’s performance of the last two days.
And don’t forget this one.