What motivates a Palestinian suicide bomber to detonate himself and murder children? Is it degradation at the hands of Israelis? Poverty perhaps? Can we find mitigating circumstances that might excuse it?
President Obama is a moral man with clear moral sensibilities. But the pivotal shortcoming of his leadership and foreign policy is a failure to be reviled by evil. When he speaks about the worst kind of abuses he uses vague, technical language and avoids definitive moral terminology. Why the reluctance to make declarative statements of an absolute nature? Because moral ambiguity can justify inaction.
At the Saban Forum in Washington recently, the president had this to say about Iran and why he made his deal with the devil: “The idea that Iran, given everything that we know about their history, would just continue to get more and more nervous about more sanctions and military threats and ultimately just say, ‘We give in,’ I think does not reflect an honest understanding of the Iranian people and the Iranian regime. I think even the so-called moderates or reformers inside of Iran would not be able to simply say, ‘We will cave and do exactly what the U.S. and the Israelis say.”
In the coolness and detachment of the President’s pragmatism toward Iran, you might think he was talking about a trade deal with Switzerland. You would not know that he was speaking about a regime that machine-gunned its own citizens in the streets when they protested a stolen election in 2009, stones women to death, and hangs homosexuals from public cranes. You would not know the President was speaking about a country whose government is the foremost funder of terrorism worldwide.
This seems to be a pattern.
President Obama’s reluctance to use the word “terrorism” is notorious. In 2009 his administration formally retired the phrase “War on Terror” and replaced it with the evasive and euphemistic “Overseas Contingency Operations.”
It took him days to definitively describe last year’s massacre at the American embassy in Benghazi as a terrorist attack against the United States. The Washington Post writes that President Obama had spoken generally about “acts of terror” after Benghazi, but “he did not affirmatively state that the American ambassador died because of an “act of terror.””
On Sept. 12, the day after the attack, President Obama was asked directly by Steve Croft of 60 Minutes, “Do you believe that this was a terrorist attack?” The President’s response: “Well, it’s too early to know exactly how this came about, what group was involved, but obviously it was an attack on Americans. And we are going to be working with the Libyan government to make sure that we bring these folks to justice, one way or the other.”
Terrorists are not folks and Americans were not attacked but murdered in a despicable and cold-blooded act of terrorism.
The deadly terrorist attack at a Kenya mall this past September followed the same pattern. President Obama said, “We stand together with Kenya in our resolve to confront and defeat violent extremism.”
In February, 2011, President Obama, who shook Muammar Gaddafi’s hand at the 2009 G8 Summit in Italy, said that Gaddafi had “lost the legitimacy to rule.” Gaddafi never had any legitimacy in the first place. He came to power in a 1969 coup and then spent decades torturing and killing political opponents, blowing up airliners and discotheques, and funding terrorists worldwide. Where was the simple statement that Gaddafi is an evil tyrant who has slaughtered his people and must go?
There was, of course, Syria, where the President found his eloquence and appealed to “memories of soldiers suffocated in the trenches; Jews slaughtered in gas chambers; and Iranians poisoned in the many tens of thousands.” I was moved by President Obama’s moral voice and was sure he would punish Assad for gassing children. In appealing to America to strike a tyrant, the President and Secretary Kerry were amazing. And then… nothing.
With the passing of Nelson Mandela it’s worthwhile recalling the apartheid years when South Africa was subject to comprehensive international sanctions for its abominable treatment of its majority black population, sanctions which did not end until the 1991 repeal of the last of the apartheid laws and release of Mandela and other political prisoners, followed by the 1994 democratic general elections.
Martin Luther King did not mince words on apartheid, calling it a “classic example of organized and institutionalized racism” and criticized the hypocrisy of “the United States… which professes to be the moral bastion of our Western world” for trading with South Africa.
Then there are, of course, the examples of recent presidents who called evil by its name. In his 2002 State of the Union Address President Bush famously said, “States like these [North Korea, Iran, and Iraq] and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.”
President Reagan said in March 1983: “Let us be aware that while they [the Soviet leadership] preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world.” He implored his audience not “to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire… and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.”
In the end, it was King who summed it up best: “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” Tolerating the intolerable and forgiving the unforgivable is the surest way to empower evil. Iran is run by a brutal regime and even if President Obama believes he has to treat with them, let him use his God-given eloquence to state definitively that Iran is a bloodthirsty regime.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” will shortly publish “Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley. Like Rabbi Shmuley’s Facebook Page /RabbiShmuleyBoteach.