When failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad pled guilty last week, his courtroom tirade provided yet another reminder that the foe we face has just as much hostility for President Obama's America as it did President Bush's.
Notwithstanding Mr. Obama's apologies for supposed American transgressions against the Muslim world and bold promises of end dates for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our jihadist enemies are as determined as ever. Consider that most of Shahzad's planning, including his terror training in Pakistan, occurred after Mr. Obama's election.
While Mr. Obama's goal of reducing international Muslim anger toward America is indeed noble, his approach has not only been ineffective, but may actually be harmful. By raising expectations for a radically "different" America, Mr. Obama has, ironically, set us up for an even greater level of Muslim rage.
Far from being some ACLU-loving peacenik, Mr. Obama has largely maintained his predecessor's terrorism-related policies. Cosmetic changes, such as dropping the name of the war we didn't choose, have been overshadowed in the eyes of the Muslim world by Mr. Obama's decisions to "surge" troop levels in Afghanistan and dramatically increase the drone strikes in Pakistan.
Shahzad himself pointed squarely at Mr. Obama's policies. "Until the hour the U.S. pulls its forces from Iraq and Afghanistan and stops the drone strikes in Somalia and Yemen and in Pakistan," he explained in court, "we will be attacking U.S., and I plead guilty to that."
His comments echo the stated motivations of young jihadists everywhere. Young men who enlist as operatives or act as lone wolves almost uniformly do so in the name of defending Islam and their fellow Muslims.
Before his shooting rampage at Fort Hood that killed 13 and wounded dozens more, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan had laid out a rationale of Islamic self-defense for his own actions in an Internet posting months earlier. Defending the actions of suicide bombers, he explained that they "help save Muslims by killing enemy soldiers."
Another American Muslim in uniform who turned on his fellow soldiers, Army sergeant Asan Akbar, reportedly offered similar justification for his actions. After hurling several grenades into military tents in Kuwait in 2003 that killed two and wounded 14, Akbar exclaimed, "You guys are coming into our countries and you're going to rape our women and kill our children."
Taking jihadists' justifications at face value, some have suggested that the key to minimizing the terrorist threat is simply to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Writing for the New York Times' website, Robert Wright suggested that maybe "the holy war could end if America would stop using military force."
Leaving aside the incredible morale boost for al Qaeda and its allies and admirers alike, the terrorist threat almost certainly would remain as dangerous as ever. Mr. Wright's assertion that "taking [the Afghanistan war] off the table weakens the jihadist recruiting pitch" ignores the history of the jihadists' narrative of Islamic victimization.
At his 2003 sentencing hearing, convicted "shoe bomber" Richard Reid explained his utter lack of remorse. "Your government has sponsored the rape and torture of Muslims in the prisons of Egypt and Turkey and Syria and Jordan with their money and with their weapons. I don't ... see what I have done as being equal to rape and to torture, or to the deaths of the 2 million children in Iraq. So for this reason, I think I ought not to apologize for my actions. I am at war with your country."
His attempted attack occurred in December 2001, long before the Iraq war and just two months after the war started in Afghanistan. Thus his list of grievances includes neither war.
Regardless of actual events, the jihadist narrative places Muslims as victims and the West (or specifically Israel/America) as the aggressor. In the 1990s, for example, the United Nations-approved sanctions against Saddam Hussein's Iraq was the jihadists' cause du jour; this was Reid's (flatly untrue) reference to "the deaths of the 2 million children in Iraq."
Our enemies need no extra fodder for recruitment and motivation. Their propaganda is no doubt bolstered by having real wars in Muslim lands to cite, but they've proven how little they actually need. Embassies were burned and people murdered over cartoons.
The tragedy is that Mr. Obama has unprecedented credibility in the Muslim world for an American president, given his Muslim father and stepfather and formative years spent in Indonesia.
Rather than focusing on apologizing for America, Mr. Obama should use his bully pulpit and unique status to remind Muslims that though imperfect, America has been as good as any nation to the Islamic world, from stopping the genocide of Bosnian Muslims to helping Afghans defeat Soviet aggression.
Although he won't win the hearts and minds of hardened jihadists, Mr. Obama could convincingly persuade tens of millions of Muslims worldwide - or perhaps more. Doing so could help begin the all-important process of combating the long-running jihadist narrative of Muslim victimization.
Joel Mowbray is a journalist living in New York City.
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