While the U.S.-led coalition to defeat the so-called Islamic State has launched around 5,000 airstrikes against the extremist group, with Central Command posting daily updates on new airstrikes targeting the organization also known as ISIS or ISIL, several Republican politicians appear to believe that the U.S. is not at all engaging in a fight against group.
The same politicians will readily praise the leaders of Egypt and Jordan for launching airstrikes against the terrorist group, while then criticizing President Obama for not following in their footsteps, even though the U.S. is responsible for the vast majority of the airstrikes carried out by the anti-ISIS coalition. Of course, many Republicans and Democrats have expressed legitimate criticisms of the administration’s strategy to defeat ISIS, but some Republicans are acting as if the administration is not at all engaged in fighting the group, whose momentum has been blunted since the airstrikes began.
Obama Derangement Syndrome is different. It isn’t so much paranoia about President Obama’s policies as it is paranoia about the man himself — that he is, in some fundamental way, different, foreign, untrustworthy, even traitorous. What’s odd is that it is attached to a president whose presidency has been, in almost every respect, conventionally liberal. Bush Derangement Syndrome sought extraordinary explanations for extraordinary events; Obama Derangement Syndrome seeks extraordinary explanations for an ordinary presidency.
What is so odd about Obama Derangement Syndrome is how thoroughly within our comprehension Obama’s presidency actually is. His path to power — Harvard Law School, Illinois legislature, U.S. Senate — is unremarkable. His White House is stocked with veterans of the Clinton White House and the Democratic congressional leadership. His policies are conventionally center-left. His vice president is literally Joe Biden. No one loves America more than Joe Biden.
If it’s really true that Obama doesn’t love this country, if it’s really true that his birth was a conspiracy and his ideology is baroque, foreign, and hateful, then the discomfort some Americans feel when they look at Obama is justified — it’s a kind of patriotic spidey-sense. The alternative explanation — the one that looks at why Obama makes some Americans so much more uncomfortable than, say, Joe Biden — requires a much harder conversation.
My emphasis added.
For Obama’s critics, and even some of his defenders, this is the president being “politically correct,” straining to prove that terrorists, and their victims, hail from every group and creed in order to avoid stigmatizing Muslims. But the president’s survey is fairly representative. Peruse the FBI’s database of terrorist attacks in the United States between 1980 and 2005 and you’ll see that radical Muslims account for a small percentage of them. Many more were committed by radical environmentalists, right-wing extremists, and Puerto Rican nationalists. To be sure, Muslims account for some of the most deadly incidents: the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, Egyptian immigrant Hesham Mohamed Ali Hedayat’s shooting spree at the El Al counter at LAX in 2002, and of course 9/11. But non-Muslims account (or at least appear to account) for some biggies too: the Unabomber, the Oklahoma City bombing, the explosions at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and the 2001 anthrax attacks).
If you look more recently, the story is much the same. Between 2006 and 2013, the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database (GTD) logged 14 terrorist incidents in the United States in which at least one person died. Of these, Muslims committed four: a 2006 attack on the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, a 2009 assault on a Little Rock recruiting station, the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, and the 2013 Boston Marathon attack (which the GTD counts as four separate incidents but I count as only one). Non-Muslims committed 10, including an attack on a Unitarian church in Knoxville in 2008, the murder of abortion doctor George Tiller in Wichita in 2009, the flying of a private plane into an IRS building in Austin in 2010, and the attack on the Sikh temple that same year.
Why does this matter? Because the U.S. government has finite resources. If you assume, as conservatives tend to, that the only significant terrorist threat America faces comes from people with names like Mohammed and Ibrahim, then that’s where you’ll devote your time and money. If, on the other hand, you recognize that environmental lunatics and right-wing militia types kill Americans for political reasons too, you’ll spread the money around.
Instead of assuming that these threats are the same, we should be debating the relative danger of each. By using “violent extremism” rather than “radical Islam,” Obama is staking out a position in that argument. It’s a position with which reasonable people can disagree. But cowardice has nothing to do with it.
Among the many reasons I will not attend are the following:
We know what he is going to say. Netanyahu’s position on the ongoing negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program is not a secret. Like many other members, I have been visited by the Israeli ambassador and understand what they want and how that differs from what U.S. negotiators are attempting to accomplish.
The Prime Minister has plenty of other places to express his opinions. In fact he has done so many times.
Netanyahu will specifically be arguing against the foreign policy of the administration. Speaker Boehner invited the Prime Minister to address Congress specifically to refute President Obama’s position. I will not contribute to the impression that this body does not support the President of the United States in foreign affairs.
It will become a matter of score-keeping as to who stands up and applauds and who doesn’t. Having visited Israel only months after Netanyahu addressed Congress in 2011, I know how much political impact these scenes have in that country. There is pressure to join the applause even if a member does not agree with statements made.
Congress has a broader responsibility than the security interests of Israel. While it certainly is important that we understand the Israeli perspective, the American people will hear only Netanyahu’s perspective, creating a public perception that could undermine a broadly supported resolution to the Iranian nuclear situation.
The Prime Minister’s appearance will be construed by many to infer congressional support for his position as opposed to US policy.
I do not want my respectful attendance to in any way imply support for his position.
Until they are told that they are Obama’s policies.
It is truly remarkable that an issue like immigration reform, which enjoys such broad support among the public, has become so mired in politics. PRRI’s most recent survey—released this week—finds that roughly three-quarters (76 percent) of Americans support the specifics of Obama’s executive action allowing the parents of children with legal status to stay in the country for up to three years if they meet certain requirements. Just one in five Americans (19 percent) is opposed to this policy. Moreover, this policy enjoys strong majority support across partisan and religious lines. 87 percent of Democrats, 77 percent of independents, and 67 percent of Republicans support this policy, as do majorities of Catholics (76 percent) and white evangelical Protestants (68 percent).
When there is no mention of Obama, two-thirds (67 percent) of Republicans favor allowing illegal immigrants who are parents of those with legal status to avoid deportation if they meet certain requirements. But when Obama is linked to the policy, support among Republicans drops 16 points to 51 percent. Support among independents also falls 13 points when Obama is linked to the policy, from 77 percent to 64 percent. Among Democrats, there is no statistically significant effect in support.
The “Obama Effect” is even more pronounced in attitudes about the DREAM Act. When Obama is not identified with the policy, six in ten (60 percent) Republicans favor allowing illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to gain legal resident status if they attend college or join the military. Once Obama is identified with the policy, Republican attitudes invert: Support plummets 23 points to only 37 percent, while opposition rises to nearly 6-in-10 (58 percent).
It has been enlightening to watch this entire spectacle play out over the past week.
It has indeed. Remarkably, comments that acknowledge verifiable history are treated as controversial. Meanwhile the complete denial of this history, both recent and long past, has been accepted as reasonable instead of being greeted with the universal derision and laughter it deserves. Other than David Brooks, has anyone on the right simply acknowledged the accuracy of President Obama’s remarks.
From earlier in the piece:
Ross [Douthat] is disturbed to see the president drawing an “implied equivalence” between the barbarism of ISIS and the “the incredibly complicated multi-century story of medieval Christendom’s conflict with Islam.” This will not do. The present conflict in the Middle East is also an “incredibly complicated multi-century story.” And yet that fact does not (and should not) prevent Ross from drawing conclusions about the morality of burning a man to death in the name of God. The president’s comments are no different: “During the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.” This is a manifestly true statement—just as true as: “During the Middle East conflict, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Allah.”
Beneath Ross’s claim of “incredible” complication is a plea for context and nuance on behalf of the murderers of Jews—one he does not make on behalf of ISIS.
The expectation always seems to be that Christianity (or America, the country supposedly founded on it) should never be judged by the standards to which other religions, countries, or cultures are held. Or more simply, Christianity and America should never be judged.
Republican Reaction to Obama’s Prayer Breakfast: Many Conservatives Don’t Think Christianity Has Anything to Apologize For.
This message of humility has infuriated the GOP. Several past and current Republican presidential candidates—Rick Santorum, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Jim Gilmore—have attacked the speech. So have dozens of conservative commentators. They reject the suggestion that Christianity has anything to apologize for. Many go further. They claim that Islam sanctions violence, that Islam is our enemy, or that Christianity is the only true faith. In issuing these declarations, Obama’s critics validate the propaganda of ISIS and al-Qaida. They’re not just pandering to the Christian right. They’re aiding the Islamic right.
2. The Inquisition wasn’t that bad. Donohue says the body count was only 1,394. Goldberg says there were different versions of the term “inquisition,” some milder or more enlightened than others. (You could say the same about “jihad”—but conservatives don’t.) Erickson says the Inquisition was “a Catholic thing,” so it shouldn’t be used to lecture “us Protestants.” (Not that this gets in the way of holding Shia responsible for Sunni crimes.) Donohue says the Inquisition was an abuse of religion by kings, and “the Catholic Church had almost nothing to do with it.”
5. Islam commands violence. Muslims have long debated whether their scripture sanctions brutality. Bush, Obama, and most Muslims say it doesn’t. But today’s Republicans agree with ISIS that it does. “The Islamic State uses brutal violence that is not antithetical to Islam,” says Santorum. Giuliani goes further: “When we see Muslim atrocities today, there are words in the Quran … that support some of what they’re doing,” such as “beheading” and “killing in the name of the faith.” Franklin Graham, the president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, says “true followers of Mohammed emulate Mohammed,” who “killed many innocent people.”
My emphasis added.
Obama’s point was actually pretty simple. Let’s not pretend that Islam itself is to blame for ISIS or that Muslims are inherently more violent, he suggested, because the problem of religious violence is not exclusive to any one religion. In other words, don’t oversimplify the problem of ISIS to “Muslims are different from the rest of us.”
This point is so banal it could be an after-school special. That it has provoked national controversy goes to show that there is still a mainstream thread of thought in America that Islam is an inherently violent religion, that the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are somehow different, and that non-Muslims are superior human beings.
To be crystal clear: this is not a fight over the fine-grain imperfections of Obama’s historical analogy or over the implications for US foreign policy. It is a fight over whether it’s okay to hate Muslims, to apply sweeping and negative stereotypes to the one-fifth of humanity that follows a particular religion. A number of Americans, it seems, are clinging desperately to their anti-Muslim bigotry and are furious at Obama for trying to take that away from them.
People who wonder why the president does not talk more about race would do well to examine the recent blow-up over his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast. Inveighing against the barbarism of ISIS, the president pointed out that it would be foolish to blame Islam, at large, for its atrocities. To make this point he noted that using religion to brutalize other people is neither a Muslim invention nor, in America, a foreign one
There were a fair number of pretexts given for slavery and Jim Crow, but Christianity provided the moral justification. On the cusp of plunging his country into a war that would cost some 750,000 lives, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens paused to offer some explanation. His justification was not secular.
Now, Christianity did not “cause” slavery, anymore than Christianity “caused” the civil-rights movement. The interest in power is almost always accompanied by the need to sanctify that power. That is what the Muslims terrorists in ISIS are seeking to do today, and that is what Christian enslavers and Christian terrorists did for the lion’s share of American history.
That this relatively mild, and correct, point cannot be made without the comments being dubbed, “the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime,” by a former Virginia governor gives you some sense of the limited tolerance for any honest conversation around racism in our politics.