Jonah Goldberg

"The genius of you Americans," the Arab-nationalist and one-time president of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, once explained, "is that you never make clear-cut stupid moves, only complicated stupid moves which make us wonder at the possibility that there may be something to them which we are missing."

I've long taken patriotic pride in such statements of befuddlement from foreigners. America is a gloriously complicated thing. We often confuse our national creeds for universal principles. We are a Jacksonian people (that's Andrew Jackson, in case you were wondering) in love with Jeffersonian ideals and legalistically committed to Madisonian mechanisms. Like a guard dog that would rather not leave the porch, we are quick to anger but not necessarily quick to fight and we are just as eager to forgive.

So from the vantage point of foreign brutes, bullies and buffoons, it's understandable that America's methods could be confused for stupidity. This is why I love the old expression, "America can choke on a gnat, but swallow a tiger whole."

So I am trying very hard to hold onto this perspective as I watch the president of the United States behave in a way you don't have to be a pan-Arab autocrat to think is incredibly stupid.

Where to begin? Perhaps with Obama's initial refusal to support the moderate rebels seeking to overthrow Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, a puppet of Iran and bagman for Hezbollah. Or we might start with Obama's refusal to support the Green Movement in Iran, which sought to overthrow the Iranian regime, which would have been a triumph for both our principles and national interests.

These were odd choices, particularly given his decision to help depose Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, an indisputably evil man, but also a dictator who posed no threat, abided by our demands to relinquish WMDs and whose domestic death toll was a tiny fraction of Bashar Assad's.

"We cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people there will be no mercy ... where innocent men and women face brutality and death at the hands of their own government" was Obama's justification for an attack on Libya -- without congressional approval. But when Assad killed tenfold as many men, women and children, Obama refused to act for nearly two years. And when he finally decided it was imperative to attack Assad -- after the dictator crossed a chemical weapons "red line" drawn by Obama himself -- he suddenly discovered the need for congressional authorization.

Sort of.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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