James Causey's column in last Sunday's Journal Sentinel had a passage that I found to be stunning. In a column on why, in his view, we are better off than we were four years ago, he wrote:
He ended the war in Iraq. He brought thousands of troops home. He killed the No. 1 terrorist in the world. He restored America's standing with its long-term allies in Europe.
To channel Joe Biden, this literally made me stop reading. It struck me last Sunday as wildly implausible to suggest that the country is more secure and the world is a safer place than it was four years thanks to the leadership of President Obama.
The war in Iraq ended because it's military objectives were achieved. They were achieved largely because President Bush (belatedly) adopted a "surge" strategy that Senator Obama had opposed. You can't claim credit for what you did not do and would not have done.
The fact that the US military finally caugnht up with Osama bin Laden when Barack Obama was in office was undoubtedly an act of justice. But his richly deserved demise was hardy a significant victory in the war on terror. Bin Laden had long ago been driven to irrelevancy.
To say that we are "respected" is another way of saying that we have moved toward a very different view of America's role in the world - one that deemphasizes assertiveness and exceptionalism and emphasizes multilateralism and acceptance of a greater degree of limitation on American power.
Had I written on Sunday, I would have questioned whether this is a good thing and emphasized the simultaneous - and related - deterioration in our relationship with Israel and Iran's nascent emergence as an pre-modern fundamentalist state with nuclear weapons. The President has fomented the former and doesn't seem to have much of an answer for the latter.
I might have written about the dangers - as well as the hopes - presented by the Arab Spring.
Today, the events of 9-11-12 would seem to further undermine the notion that the Obama Presidency has improved our lot in the Middle East or rolled back the threat posed by radical Islamicist movements - movements which, I hasten to add, should not be confused with Islam in general.
Indeed, the astonishing events in Libya, Egypt and elsewhere seem to be precisely the things that happen when our willingness to step back is seen as feckless by those who understand strength and not reason.
This is not to say that the President doesn't "care" about what happened or that he really "supports" Islamicist objectives. He does care and he doesn't support the goals of terrorist organizations. But it does fairly raise questions about how this threat is best resisted. It does prompt a debate about how American interests are best protected.
The argument about whether the statement condemning the obscure video that supposedly "set off" these protests was released before or after the Embassy in Cairo was actually besieged is beside the point. The larger question is whether the struggle against fundamentalist Islamicists can be won by failing to robustly acknowledge the values of western society. On that, the statement - which was clearly issued in anticipation of violence - struck the wrong note.
People have a right to do and say offensive things. Freedom of expression is one of the pillars on which our society is built and falling over ourselves to condemn an offensive movie that hardly anyone has seen is not the right message to send. (It is also fundamentally different from the Bush administration's response to the Danish cartoons.)
Beyond that, these attacks have nothing to do with this silly little movie. They were premeditated and coordinated acts of aggression that used the video as a pretext. Now is not the time to say that we "understand" the irrational or to suggest that we will work with the Libyan and Eygptian governments in the same way that a crime victim works with law enforcement.
What happened this week is intolerable and the unqualified message should be that it will not be tolerated.
What's happening in Iran is intolerable and it is fair to ask whether we should have a more robust plan to end it.
As Iran goes nuclear and our embassies are besieged, it is fair to ask whether the President might not find time to meet with our most important ally in the Middle East? It is fair tp wonder whether this was the time for another Las Vegas fundraiser.
The answer to those questions may depend on just what we want America's role in the world to be.The answer to that one may help us decide whether, in this area, we are better off than we were four years ago.
Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin.