David Harsanyi

"The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam," Barack Obama explained to the Turkish Parliament on his recent tour of Europe, emphasizing the need for "mutual respect" between our cultures.

"War" and "respect" are two distinct ideas. Both ought to be meted out judiciously. But let's reserve the former as a last resort and the latter to those who actually deserve it.

When Obama bowed to Saudi Arabian "King" Abdullah last week (sadly reminiscent of W.'s insufferable hand-holding with a Saudi prince), he probably thought it an appropriate level of deference. The problem is the wrong person was prostrate.

Why should we "respect" the Saudis? Is it the corporal punishment and amputations? Is it the lack of free speech? Is it a judicial system in which women often are forbidden from testifying, as they are incapable of "understanding what they observe"? Or is it that victims of sexual assault are prosecuted for the crime of being in the presence of unknown males? The honor killings? The forced circumcisions? The terrorist funding?

Though we need not drop Marines into Mecca to remedy that nation's historical and moral sickness, we never should be expected to "respect" gangsters, either.

Why so many on the left are willing to extend tolerance toward those who are militantly illiberal has always been a mystery. Many of these countries wage internal wars to exterminate Christianity and Judaism (religions that existed in some of those places long before Islam), and the concepts of secularism and atheism live only in fantasy.

It's not only fanatics holed up in the caves of Pakistan but also the majority of Islamic nations that, on some level, disregard basic human rights.

And instead of "respecting" Turkey, Obama might have taken the time to live up to his campaign promise to acknowledge last century's Turkish genocide of 1.5 million Christian Armenians. He hasn't.

In Iraq -- a country propped up by American lives and generosity -- The New York Times reported that in 2005, the most influential Shiite cleric in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a religious decree declaring that gay men and women should be "punished, in fact, killed." But that wasn't enough. Gays, he decreed, "should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing." The Iraqi government looks the other way

Even Egypt -- our "moderate" ally that subsists on $6 billion in U.S. bribe money not to wage war on its neighbor -- regularly imprisons political dissidents, executes sexual "deviants," and runs state-funded television shows that would give Nazis pause.

Hey, I guess Egypt is "moderate," compared with Sudan.

Our nation should not be in the business of imposing our values on other cultures. We can't. Our values not only diverge but also are, most often, antithetical. And let's never pretend there is anything "mutual" about a call for respect. The deep and fanatical hatred of America flourished decades before the Iraq war or George W. Bush. Islamic leaders have long blamed their own societal corrosion on the West.

Obama promised to transform American foreign policy. He was elected to do so. So he used his first chance to make an impression as president by apologizing for imaginary crimes against Islam and employing a tone of subservience rather than defending our principles.

Not surprisingly, the more "thoughtful" among us immediately embraced the president's self-flagellation in front of some of the world's worst offenders of human rights as a constructive approach. As a geopolitics ploy … well, we'll see what happens.

But there is undoubtedly nothing thoughtful about offering a false choice. To wage war or to offer respect? We can avoid both. We should.