- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 7, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Barack Obama may not be the Big Thinker his fans think he is, but his big-time groveling is impressive. We've never seen a presidential performance quite like his Groveling, Toadying and Apple-Polishing Tour of the Olde Countries. If this is Monday, this must be a mosque.

The president is understandably eager to see whether his honeyed tongue can tease and tickle the Europeans the way it teases the libido and scratches the itch of the hoi polloi at home, but the early returns show that he gave away a lot more than he got in return, which was nothing. The European masses shouted the expected hosannas - this is Easter week, after all - but so far that's all the messiah from the south side of Chicago has to show for his groveling. Michelle showed off her upper arms to louder applause. Michelle hot, Barack merely cool.

He bowed deeply to the Saudi king in London, so deep that he risked banging his head on the floor, a real presidential first. Bowing is a revered custom in parts of the world where tugging at a forelock comes naturally, but someone in the protocol office should have told him that Americans bow only to God. A firm handshake, with both hands if absolutely necessary, is enough. Hugging and kissing is optional, best left to the ladies. John F. Kennedy famously warned Jackie on the eve of their first trip to Britain. No bowing, not even to that nice queen.

Then it was on to France to tell a “town meeting” that American arrogance is probably the cause of all the devilment in the world. He even, for the first time in public, used his middle name, Hussein. He threw a little red meat to the crowd: He would be a better president than that awful man George W. Bush. The protocol office failed him again: There's a long-established precedent that presidents don't criticize their predecessors, not even Jimmy Carter, when they travel abroad. Tacky is not a trait generally admired in presidents, not even by the terminally tacky.

When he got to Ankara on Monday, he stopped just short of converting to Islam, probably raising the hopes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who told Americans last month that if only they would adopt Islam, they wouldn't any longer have to fear beheading knives raised in the name of Allah and peace. Until Mr. Obama arrived in Ankara, enthusiasm for mass American conversion seemed slight. America will “never” be at war with Islam, the president said, “and we will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over so many centuries to shape the world for the better, including my own country.”

George W. tried similar butter and jam like this, speaking when the embers of September 11 had not yet cooled, telling Americans that “Islam is a nation of peace.” Maybe it is, but a lot of Muslims armed with knives, guns and rockets and a fierce hatred of the Great Satan and all its infidels have yet to get the message. The president's assertion that the United States “is not and will never be at war with Islam” is right on, but Turkey would be the place to remind Muslims that respect is earned by deeds.

Turkey, once a hotbed of Islamic cool in the Middle East, has slipped to an easy acceptance of the benighted men at the top. Recent public-opinion polling finds that 44 percent of the Turks regard America as the outstanding threat to Turkey; 76 percent of the Turks would resist living as a neighbor to Jews, up from 49 percent five years ago. The Turkish government has plastered signs in its subway stations depicting the Israelis as bloodthirsty goons, and schoolteachers in one Turkish town celebrated “Hitler's blessed memory” by distributing sweets to the children. Shopkeepers put signs in their shop windows warning that “Americans and Israelis may not enter.”

“The surge of these sentiments since 2002 demonstrates that when in power Islamists can corrupt even the most liberal of the Muslim societies,” writes Soner Cagaptay, a Turkish researcher at the Washington Institute. “The singular example of a Muslim society that is friendly towards Jews and Americans risks disappearing in front of our eyes if we do not point out the political nature of Turkey's current transformation.”

Such a friendly pointer to his hosts by President Obama would have done American interests - which should be the president's primary concern - a lot more good than his pandering reminder that America supports Turkey's entrance into the European Union. But that's not an applause line, and getting applause is what this president is about.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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