by Victor Davis Hanson
Obama’s Multiculturalism vs. Bush’s Freedom
Let us be honest. Most of George Bush’s admirable support — as voiced in his 2005 inaugural address — for freedom abroad was de facto abandoned by 2006-7. Condoleeza Rice had championed Egyptian dissidents, but within a year that advocacy was dropped and we were back to the Mubarak paradigm as usual.
Why? Apparently even talking about a move to consensual government in the Middle East, here and abroad, had raised the specter of another bloody Iraq. “Neocon” was tantamount to child molester in the American parlance. Although the effort to depose Saddam and stay on to help implement democracy — that, in fact, had triggered the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, the sudden arrest of Dr. Khan in Pakistan, and the surrender of a massive WMD program in Libya — was still alive, it was now mired in the Iraq insurgency of 2006. As domestic opposition grew, as the Republicans lost the House, and as moderate Arab authoritarian regimes sighed relief at the US stasis, realists gained the upper hand. So in the waning days of the Bush presidency, pressuring our friends to evolve was dropped in favor of begging them not to actively oppose our one-time efforts in Iraq.
And whereas Bushites accepted that the liberal opposition at home had demagogued Iraq, they still dreamed on that Democrats would at least support the Bush idea of voicing solidarity elsewhere for dissidents abroad. That too was mistaken. The left saw the end of Bush politically as far more important than expressing any shared support for the president’s liberal agenda overseas. How odd that the right wing was tired of the old Middle East authoritarian shakedown (e.g. “pay up since only I stand between you and the Muslim Brotherhood”) while the left wing was apparently not.
But that said, for five years Bush at least dropped the adage “at least he is our SOB,” and instead almost 24/7 declared that freedom was a transcendent value that all humans aspired to, even in oppressive political and religious climates. Mark him as naïve; remind us that he was in thrall to the dreaded “neocons”; say what you will, but his legacy may still be the end of a murderous Saddam and a constitutional state in the most unlikely place in the heart of the ancient caliphate — a stunning seven-year-long survival of consensual government that continues to ripple out, as we see today.
“I’m Not Bush”
Obama was Bush’s antithesis and defined himself as resetting everything that Bush had envisioned, clueless that that meant in Pavlovian fashion opposing all the good that Bush had done as well. He canceled support for Egyptian dissidents. He all but gave a green light for the theocrats to crush the Iranian dissidents. He was harder on Israel than on Syria. He was far more interested in either apologizing for the United States, trashing the Iraq war, or offering fairy stories about the Islamic roots of Western civilization than simply expressing support for consensual government in the Middle East. So again, why?
Obama is not a classical liberal, but rather an illiberal multicultural relativist. In his way of thinking, all cultures are equal, and so are not to be judged by transcendent, timeless abstract values like freedom and liberty. These proclamations instead are “constructed” narratives offered up by Western chauvinists and do not take into consideration past imperialism, colonialism, and racism. Instead, equality of result — an enforced egalitarianism in the Marxist sense — is the multiculturalist creed. In such a warped world view, a Chavez or Castro who stifles freedom is not per se anti-democratic, because he does so to redistribute income, his beneficiaries being the “people,” his prey “them.”
The result is that we judge ourselves and our allies by standards that we simply do not apply to others (a million Arabs [many not natives] living in Israel is fine; a quarter-million Jews who buy land on the West Bank are rank cultural imperialists). To Obama, there is no unique West, exceptional in its consensual government, its singular constitutional history, the respect for free markets and private property, its adherence to an independent judiciary, human rights, and freedom of expression. (Of course, he loves in the concrete the dividends of such values when he goes to Martha’s Vineyard or Michelle sojourns at Costa del Sol). Western values are rarely connected to our material success and singular freedom; and if they are, they are declared (cf. the Cairo speech) derivative from non-Western precedents.
Worse still, the multiculturalist sees anti-Americanism and loud nationalism as “genuine” and “authentic.” Ahmadinejad represents the true Iranian patriot, who surely must be anti-American, not the dissidents in the street who share our love of freedom and are therefore somehow less authentically Iranian.
Where did multiculturalism come from? It is a bastard child of Marxism, of course, inasmuch as it is anti-capitalist and judges left-wing or pseudo-left-wing totalitarians far less harshly than right-wing authoritarians (e.g., Obama is more sympathetic to the crowds in Cairo than he was to those in Teheran). It is also a byproduct of Western affluence, which alone provided the margin of safety and affluence to indulge in fantasies. One reports on the noble Palestinians by staying in nice places in Israel; one is an advocate of the “other” in Harlem from the Harvard Lounge and Upper West Side; the yuppie actor praises Chavez and his forced redistributive housing schemes, but would never turn over his vacation Malibu beach house to homeless illegal aliens who cut his lawn.
Finally, multiculturalism is a form of political and historical ignorance. The multiculturalist is an ahistorical fool, who confuses the cultural periphery with the core. Thus the United States is enriched by “multicultural” music, food, fashion, art, and literature from a Mexico or Kenya or Egypt. Fine, wonderful, all the better. But one, in the spirit of “diversity,” does not wish to embrace the Mexican judiciary, the Kenyan economic system, or the Arab attitude to women. Multiculturalism is a fraud of sorts, as the activist who wears the serape to campus never quite agitates for adopting the protocols of the Mexican police or the Mexico City elite’s approach to Indian peoples. We do not see signs blaring out: “We want Nigerian speech codes,” “Treat women as they do in Saudi Arabia,” “Look to the Iranians for gay rights,” “Arabs had the right idea about slavery,” etc. When I do radio talk show interviews, usually the harshest US critics are transplanted Middle Easterners who in their furor at American foreign policy never quite explain why they left and do not go back to places that they now idolize — as if the economic, political, and cultural protocols they enjoy here would appear in Gaza or Yemen like dandelions after a rain if it were not for US imperialism.
Bottom line: it will be hard for Obama in the future to immediately come out on the side of those professing Western values in opposition to some pseudo-revolutionary indigenous strongman, whether in Iran or Venezuela. To the degree he feels comfortable “imposing our values” and taking a stand, it will only be in a context where there is an authoritarian figure who can be seen as culpably right-wing or an American puppet. Western bad is clear from abstract standards, the good is all relative.
Oh yes, Obama at times will resort to abstract notions of justice and timeless morality that transcend culture, but mostly to fault America for some sort of past –ism or –ology, or sin — as the apologies from Turkey and elsewhere made clear (an abstract standard says the US was genocidal in its treatment of the Native Americans or in using the bomb at Hiroshima, but no such arbitrary and culturally constructed “standard” passed off as transcendent allows us to condemn the Turks for the mass killings of Armenians, Greeks, and Kurds.)
It is going to be a long two years. You see, the world has figured Obama out, and the wages of our version of 1979-80 are coming due.
©2011 Victor Davis Hanson