Politics is exactly what Barack Obama and others on the left are playing at when they protest, overmuch, that President Bush attacked the presumptive Democratic nominee when he delivered a much-needed slap in the face to those who would look away from terrorism rather than face the threat directly.
Dana Perino had to love delivering this zinger in response to Senator Obama’s complaints:
"I would think that all of you who cover these issues and have for a long time have known that there are many who have suggested these types of negotiations with people that the president, President Bush, thinks that we should not talk to. I understand when you’re running for office you sometimes think the world revolves around you. That is not always true. And it is not true in this case."
President Bush’s speech was, in my opinion, an excellent one – when read on paper, at least – and spot-on appropriate given occasion, the 60th anniversary of Israel’s rebirth. Hopefully there will be history teachers all over the world with the wisdom and courage to share his words with their students – it’s that good and that important.
The key part:
The fight against terror and extremism is the defining challenge of our time. It is more than a clash of arms. It is a clash of visions, a great ideological struggle. On one side are those who defend the ideals of justice and dignity with the power of reason and truth. On the other side are those who pursue a narrow vision of cruelty and control by committing murder, inciting fear, and spreading lies.
This struggle is waged with the technology of the 21st century, but at its core it is the ancient battle between good and evil. The killers claim the mantle of Islam, but they are not religious men. No one who prays to the God of Abraham could strap a suicide vest to an innocent child, or blow up guiltless guests at a Passover Seder, or fly planes into office buildings filled with unsuspecting workers. In truth, the men who carry out these savage acts serve no higher goal than their own desire for power. They accept no God before themselves. And they reserve a special hatred for the most ardent defenders of liberty, including Americans and Israelis.
That is why the founding charter of Hamas calls for the "elimination" of Israel. That is why the followers of Hezbollah chant "Death to Israel, Death to America!" That is why Osama bin Laden teaches that "the killing of Jews and Americans is one of the biggest duties." And that is why the president of Iran dreams of returning the Middle East to the Middle Ages and calls for Israel to be wiped off the map.
There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain their words away. This is natural. But it is deadly wrong. As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously. Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.
Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: "Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided." We have an obligation to call this what it is – the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.
Some people suggest that if the United States would just break ties with Israel, all our problems in the Middle East would go away. This is a tired argument that buys into the propaganda of our enemies, and America rejects it utterly. Israel’s population may be just over 7 million. But when you confront terror and evil, you are 307 million strong, because America stands with you.
In truth I’ve wondered more than once if the re-creation of Israel was a good idea. That fateful decision is the direct predecessor of so many of the world’s current problems. Yet it would be naive to think that Islamic terrorism would not exist but for Israel. It would. And so would their continued quest for power and control and the spread of the oppressive way of life that they lust after. Israel is a friend, ally, and the brightest spot in all the Middle East. Abandoning her is impossible.
It’s incumbent on the next American president to live up to standard for determination set by the current administration and President Bush’s speech was an unmistakable reminder of the reality that many Democrats would like to ignore. No wonder they were so enraged, Joe Biden, ever the eloquent one, perhaps most of all.
The Bush presidency has, on balance, not been a good one in my view. But this issue the administration understands fully. As do Democrats in Congress, if I’m not mistaken. Why else would they continue to allow financial and security legislation to pass that’s anathema to the platform they rode to victory in 2006? There is only one reasonable answer: the threat is credible.
If President Bush is capable of subtlety, one could also read into the speech a reminder to European nations of their lack of response to the terrorist threat, both in military and social terms.
Consider one of a seemingly endless series of such incidents, this from France:
Last September Robert Redeker, a French high-school philosophy teacher and author of several scholarly books, published an opinion piece in Le Figaro entitled "What should the free world do in the face of Islamist intimidation?"
He was condemned to death on one Muslim site, which posted his address and a photograph of his home.
Redeker and his family went into hiding. Five months later they are still living in secrecy. Christian Delacampagne, writing in the latest issue of Commentary magazine, describes how the French reacted: "The communist mayor of Redeker’s town condemned him, the headmaster of his school complained that he had included his affiliation at the end of the article, France’s two largest teachers’ unions, both socialist, issued statements saying they did not share Redeker’s convictions. The leading leftist human-rights organisations denounced his irresponsible declarations and putrid ideas. The French Education Minister, Gilles de Robien, criticised Redeker.
"The editorial board of Le Monde, France’s newspaper of record, characterised Redeker’s piece as excessive, misleading and insulting. It called his remarks about Muhammad a blasphemy. To judge from this response, large sectors of the French intellectual and political establishment have carved out an exception to the hard-won tradition of open discussion: when it comes to Islam, as opposed to Christianity or Judaism, freedom of speech must respect definite limits.
Must it? If so it will not be made so as a result of legal, ethical, or moral constraints but rather through the naked use of terror and raw, brute animal force.
France had the good sense to elect Nicholas Sarkozy and he in turn made some good decisions that put France more in alignment with the U.S. and with reality. Perhaps Bush’s speech can do some good in other nations as well, though an American president’s words may mean little to leaders of countries with significant Muslim immigrant populations.
George W. Bush gets to go home to America, after all, whereas they must deal with the problem of "disenfranchised Asian youths" in their streets and in their schools. It is an unenviable position, certainly, as are the demographic trends for many European nations.
One question the next president should ask, therefore, is how America can re-establish closer ties to Europe without reducing our anti-terrorist activities. Thus far I have not heard that question asked, though I could have missed it. I’d like to hear the answer, certainly, especially from Barack Obama since I expect him to be the one with the opportunity to ask it.
One answer he might give is that talking to Iran, for example, is not akin to sanctioning their actions. We certainly gave little quarter to the Soviets after WW II, yet we had communications of a sort with them. I agree with Obama that we should interact with Iran, although it would be a mistake to engage them as equals so long as they sponsor, encourage, and facilitate terrorism against the us and our allies, of which Israel is deservedly one.
Engaging in talks with terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, however, should be completely off the table for all American leaders. One does not negotiate with a man holding a gun; neither should free nations negotiate with terrorists. That should be Obama’s primary takeaway from today’s lesson. Hopefully he’s paying attention.