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Obama's Cairo Moment

This is no time for clever equivocations.

12:00 AM, Jun 2, 2009 • By JOSEPH LOCONTE
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The problem for Barack Obama is that his presidential campaign propagated the canard that George Bush's foreign policy created anti-Americanism in the Muslim world. It's worth mentioning that Sayyid Qutb--the Egyptian author who inspired the jihadism of Osama bin Laden--acquired his contempt for America and the West after a visit to the United States in the 1950s. And, of course, the lead hijacker on 9/11, Mohammed Atta, was an Egyptian whose descent into darkness began long before Bush took office. Thus the brooding and malignant tendencies of radical Islam, with their lengthy pedigree on the streets of Cairo, will be difficult to evade.

The president will compound his troubles if he allows his penchant for clever equivocations to mute the differences between America's democratic culture and the culture of militant Islam. Liberals adopted a similar tactic in the face of rising totalitarianisms in Europe, with disastrous results. "We believe the task of defending the rich inheritance of our civilization to be an imperative one, however much we might desire that our social system were more worthy of defense," wrote Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr on the eve of U.S. entry into World War II. "We do not find it particularly impressive to celebrate one's sensitive conscience by enlarging upon all the well-known evils of our western world and equating them with the evils of the totalitarian systems."

Barack Obama has used his bully pulpit, sometimes crudely, to expand upon America's foreign policy sins. There is an honored place for American self-criticism: It is vital to the enduring strength of our democratic institutions. But the national self-loathing that taints contemporary liberalism is something else. It is not a diplomatic strategy, but rather a psychological mood. It offers no remedy for the ills of modern Islam or the determined barbarism of those who murder in its name.

Joseph Loconte is a senior research fellow at the King's College in New York City and the editor of The End of Illusions: Religious Leaders Confront Hitler's Gathering Storm.