Public opinion polls in the Arab and Muslim world have shown only slight upticks in opinion about America in the months after Barack Obama's speeches in Cairo and Turkey and after these administration policy changes. Terrorists did not say, "Gosh, now that Obama is closing Guantanamo and terrorists are being given Miranda rights, I've got to change my mind and decide that the United States is a really nifty country and that freedom and democracy are good things after all."
But perhaps our goal was to convince not terrorists but "world opinion." Are the government and the billion people of India going to think better of the United States if we treat terrorists more gently? Not likely -- they're the targets of terrorists themselves.
How about the government and the billion people of China? My guess is that they see this as weakness, which they would never indulge.
The governments and peoples of Europe? Well, certainly some governments would be pleased, as would the readers of left-wing newspapers and those who attend international conferences. But polling shows that Europeans tend to take a tougher stand on these matters than the elites who dominate the international dialogue.
So whom are we trying to impress? The answer seems to be left-wing intellectuals, academics, voters -- "the educated class," in David Brooks' term -- who decried George W. Bush's policies as reeking of fascism and dictatorship. We are making policies to please those who hang out in law school faculty lounges.
Their numbers turn out to be less formidable than the amount of coverage they have received in sympathetic media suggests. For that we have evidence from the commonwealth of Massachusetts, where Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown called for handing over KSM and the Christmas bomber to military tribunals. His Democratic opponent disagreed. She carried "the educated class," blacks and Hispanics. Brown carried just about everyone else and, even in Massachusetts, won.
Which leads me to ask, again: Just whom are we trying to impress?