Obama has made history twice now, since he is, as Andrew Ferguson of The Weekly Standard pointed out, the first Democratic president in 40 years to deploy a sizable number of troops to a war zone. Not once but twice. The last Democratic President to repeatedly escalate a war was Lyndon B. Johnson. The decision cost Johnson the possibility of a second term in office.
Since Obama became President less than a year ago, he has tripled US troop commitments to a theater which, from several points of view, is far more daunting than that of Iraq: the AfPak interface, where the Taliban and al-Qaeda continue to find refuge and plot attacks.
Muslim extremists like the Taliban and al-Qaeda with safe havens along the AfPak border target not only non-Muslim “imperialists,” Jews and Christians who meddle in and occupy what they regard as “their territory.” They also target fun-loving non-Muslims like the tourists of Bali the extremists think of as so much fuel for their engines of hate.1 Or Jews and Arabs who have the gall, in Haifa, to own and frequent the same restaurant.2
The principle targets of extremist Muslims are in fact other Muslims who stand in their way. Thanks to confessional Muslim movements whose weapon of choice is terrorist violence, Muslim-on-Muslim violence has become a sign of our times. That is the Network’s (al-Qaeda) chief legacy.
A sociologist might guess that only politicians and states with a sense of mission every bit as vibrant and militant as that of the Taliban and al-Qaeda would have the cojones to take them on. She would be right.
Those who think they have no dog in this fight have their heads in the sand. If you think the fight against al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and similar organizations does not regard you as a person, I wonder what planet you live on.
There was some Niebuhrian modesty in Obama’s recent speech at West Point. I grant David Brooks the point. That modesty dictates that the rule of law and the pursuit of justice by military means be prosecuted with a foreboding of the inevitable further injustices it brings in train. Still, the modesty of Obama of which Brooks speaks, rooted in an Augustinian understanding of the human predicament, was expressed against the firm background of a commitment to American exceptionalism.
Like I said, the sociologist would be right.
Barack Obama on Reinhold Niebuhr:
[Niebuhr] is one of my favorite philosophers. I take away [from his works] the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away . . . the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard.