The White House has to be tuning up Barack Obama’s teleprompter, which the president regards as America’s Maginot Line. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is once more talking some big talk. Blabbermouth or not, he has to be taken semi-seriously.
Mr. Ahmadinejad and America’s considerable enemies in Arabia can read the newspapers as well as the diplomatic cables, and they see how reluctant Mr. Obama is to recognize what’s at stake in the Middle East. He boasts that terrorists can expect a warm welcome once captured, with no harsh questioning and with the full menu of defendant rights and trial privileges. When the president directed that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other al Qaeda plotters of Sept. 11 be tried in a civilian court in Manhattan, those considerable enemies knew they had the president’s number for once and all. Now, with even stalwarts in his own party denouncing a civilian trial in Manhattan as the nut-ball idea of the year, he’s looking for a smart solution, a way to look tough in retreat.
He should take the trial to San Francisco, where the flame that warms the cult burns brightest, and where surely no one would object. The defendants could answer in a specially prepared docket on Alcatraz, federal property not currently in use. When, as Attorney General Eric Holder assures us will be the case, KSM is convicted and sentenced to die, he can be hanged at once. The president and his teleprompter could preside over the gallows.
This would send a suitable message to evil-doers like the maximum leader of Iran, who earlier vowed to “wipe Israel off the map,” and boasted over the weekend that Iran will deliver “a harsh blow” to “global arrogance” on Feb. 11. He didn’t say what it was — it could be anything from another four-hour speech to an announcement that Iran has finally built its first nuclear weapon. The Pentagon, properly mindful of the power of Mr. Obama’s oratory, nevertheless dispatched additional warships and Patriot antimissile batteries to the Middle East. Just in case.
The Pentagon will further help Saudi Arabia develop a force to protect its oil interests, though with all that oil money, most of it extorted from American motorists, it’s hard to imagine why the Saudis haven’t already helped themselves protect their oil wells. But the only thing Saudi Arabia produces, beyond oil, is more princes, who grow up to blow the family money.
In addition to the teleprompter strategy, the president is using the dispatch of warships and Patriot batteries to relieve any Israeli impulse to destroy the Iranian nuclear facilities. He’s “demonstrating” that the United States is prepared to contain any threat, that Iranian missiles would be no match for a teleprompter. The New York Times quotes an unnamed “senior administration official” that “our first goal is to deter the Iranians. A second is to reassure the Arab states, so they don’t have to feel the need to go nuclear themselves, but there is certainly an element of calming the Israelis as well.”
These are three neat objectives, to be sure, but no one in or out of Arabia is likely to be reassured by Barack Obama’s reassurances. The Iranians have taken their measure of the president, and concluded that he can be rolled. The Arabs have taken this into account and are eager only to get what they can for as long as they can. The Israelis know, as everyone else in the Middle East knows, that they are being counted on, when the crucial moment arrives, to do what the United States won’t. It’s just not polite to say these things out loud.
Merely the dispatch of warships is quite a comedown for Mr. Obama, who campaigned for the chance to renounce everything about George W. Bush, and to count on diplomacy. Who needs warplanes and warships when you’ve got the Foggy Bottom Brigade eager to march to the sound of the teacups? The president’s Grand Presidential Apology Tour of the Middle East, billed as the most spectacular event since the Arabian Nights, was meant to demonstrate how diplomacy could do what men at arms could not. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is just not a good listener, and at every failure Barack Obama has to take something from George W.’s playbook. The difference is that the rest of the world, friend and foe alike, knew that George W. meant it.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.