Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani’s statement about President Obama’s lack of love for America has set off a firestorm of denunciation. Giuliani has been accused of racism, and he has even received death threats. Defenders of Obama have evoked everything from his grandfather’s (on his mother’s side) service in World War II to the two years Giuliani’s father served in Sing Sing to prove either that Obama does love America or that Giuliani has no standing to issue such criticism.
The ranting has obscured the reasons why so many Americans take Giuliani’s remarks to heart. Starting with his June 2009 speech in Cairo, when he apologized for American actions in the Middle East, Obama has consistently given credence to Islamic grievances against America while showing reluctance to confront Islamic terrorism. In 2009, after Major Nidal Hasan killed 13 American soldiers and wounded 40 others at Fort Hood while shouting “Allahu Akhbar,” the administration labeled the killings workplace violence. In recent months, the pace of evasions has quickened. Obama was the only major Western leader absent from the massive Paris march held in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings. Worse yet, Obama referred to the killings in a Jewish supermarket in Paris as “random” acts of violence.
But this was only the beginning of a string of curious comments and loopy locutions made by the president or his spokespeople in the weeks that followed. While ISIS rampaged across the Middle East, the president told a Washington prayer breakfast that Christians shouldn’t get on their “high horse,” because they were guilty of the Crusades, among other crimes. Not only were the Crusades many centuries past, but they were also a complicated matter in which both sides behaved barbarically. But more important, Obama’s comments reinforced the standard Muslim propaganda about how the jihad is merely defensive. Shortly thereafter, ISIS murdered 21 Coptic Christians in Libya (a country in complete chaos, thanks to an Obama-led Western intervention). The White House’s response was to condemn the killing, not of Christians but rather of “Egyptian citizens,” another evasive locution. The casual listener need not have knowledge of the White House’s associations with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or the administration’s hostility toward the anti-jihadist regime in Cairo to find Obama’s words and behavior peculiar.
As one gaffe followed another and as the president and his spokespeople engaged in semantic somersaults to avoid mentioning Islam in regard to terror, public unease mounted. It was exacerbated by a three-day conference on combating “violent extremism,” the White House euphemism for Islamic terrorism. Here again, the public likely didn’t know that some of the invited guests had histories of supporting jihad. The president’s statements gave them enough to worry about.
Bizarrely, Obama presented himself as an expert on legitimate Islam. “This is not true Islam,” Obama said, referring to the ISIS creed, assuming again his role as Defender of the Islamic Faith. “Al Qaeda and ISIL and groups like it . . . try to portray themselves as religious leaders, holy warriors in defense of Islam,” Obama said. “We must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie.” Operatives of al-Qaida and ISIS “are not religious leaders,” Obama insisted. “They’re terrorists.”
Listening to speakers at the conference—to which the FBI had not been invited—you would think that, if only American Muslims were treated better, ISIS would wither on the vine. “We in the administration and the government should give voice to the plight of Muslims living in this country and the discrimination that they face,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson. “And so I personally have committed to speak out about the situation that very often people in the Muslim community in this country face.” The real issue, Johnson suggested, was not Islamic terrorism but Islamophobia. The casual listener might surmise that Johnson’s remarks had less to do with ISIS than with winning the 2016 Muslim vote in key states such as Michigan and Ohio.
At the same conference, Obama announced, or more accurately pronounced, that Islam “has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding.” As one friend asked me: “What is he talking about?” America’s earliest encounter with Islam came in the form of seventeenth-century colonists purchasing slaves from Muslim slave traders in Africa. The next came when President Thomas Jefferson was forced to fight the Barbary Pirates. Surely, these weren’t the examples Obama had in mind.
In the midst of these attempts to achieve what a magician would call misdirection, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf explained that, if there were only more jobs in the Middle East, ISIS would have a harder time recruiting. But then again, if there was less Islamic extremism, more jobs might be created. Harf referred to the “root causes” of terrorism much as liberal Democrats have long referred to the “root causes” of poverty, with about the same degree of insight.
With all the atrocities that the ISIS fanatics have committed, Obama’s anger has been more often directed not at them, but at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The animosity between the two men has never been a secret, but now, with Obama’s term in office waning, he is determined to cut a deal on the Iranian nuclear program on terms much to Tehran’s liking. Netanyahu is an obstacle to that goal.
All of this, then, was a backdrop to Giuliani’s remarks, in which he called out Obama for the president’s many rhetorical bluffs. If the former mayor’s words have created a firestorm, it’s because for many, they have helped make sense of Barack Obama’s words and actions. Attacking Giuliani, and trying to delegitimize him with the racist label, will do little to allay public anxieties about an administration short on competence but long on ideological evasion—and blessed with media allies.