In the spring of 2009, Obama went down to Cairo. He skipped the gaming tables at the Omar Khayyam Casino at the Cairo Marriott and instead went over to the Islamist baccarat tables at Cairo University and bet big on the Muslim Brotherhood.
Obama had insisted on Muslim Brotherhood attendance at a speech that was part apology and part abandonment. The apology was for American power and the abandonment was of American allies.
The text of the speech was largely inconsequential in the same way that most of the words that scroll across the teleprompters of politicians are. In politics, the speech is often the medium while the timing, the audience and the location are the message. And the message was that the Brotherhood’s hour had come.
Obama was following through on an idea that had long been an article of faith on the left. The idea was that the United States had invested in a defunct status quo and that our biggest problems were our allies. The only way out was to toss them all overboard.
Generations of diplomats had griped from their walled compounds in Riyadh, Kuwait City or Doha that many of our problems in the region would go away if Israel somehow went away. But this was bigger. It involved dumping every single allied government in the region to start fresh with new governments elected through popular democracy and enjoying popular support. It would be a new beginning. And a new beginning was also the title of the Cairo speech.
The idea wasn’t new, but it was right up there with proposals to unilaterally abandon our nuclear arsenal or dedicate ten percent of the budget to foreign aid; ideas that a lot of diplomats liked, but that they knew no one would ever be crazy enough to pull the trigger on.
And then Obama tried to pull the trigger on two out of three. What he wanted was for the Brotherhood to win so that it could make the War on Terror irrelevant.
As much as the advocates of smart and soft power insisted that Islamic terrorism had nothing to do with Islam, they knew better. They knew that Al Qaeda wanted to create Islamic states that would form into a Caliphate. Central to its thinking was that it would have to fight to create these states. But what if the Caliphate could be created without a war?
To make it happen, all America had to do was surrender the Middle East.
The attacks of September 11 had created a serious crisis for liberal policymakers. Unlike the bombing of the World Trade Center on Clinton’s watch, these attacks could not be ignored or swept under the rug. But neither could liberals accept a clash of civilizations that would destroy their multicultural society or an extended series of international police actions that would militarize the country.
The logic that led from September 11 to the Cairo speech to Benghazi was impeccable. It combined the clean sweep theory with grand scale appeasement.