The explosion of anti-American unrest in the Islamic world will damage the Obama campaign in its drive for reelection for two reasons.
First, the turmoil undermines the administration’s claims for transformative success in producing a more peaceful and stable world.
And second, the lurid displays of violent fanaticism dramatically discredit the underlying world view promoted by Barack Obama since the earliest days of his candidacy—negating the notion that concession and conciliation toward hostile, backward societies can bring an end to stubborn conflicts.
The threat to the president’s prospects posed by the first factor has become so obvious that even The New York Times has begun to acknowledge it. In a front-page story on Sunday, the Journal of Record reported the administration “girding itself for an extended period of turmoil” while “a range of analysts say it presents questions about central tenets” of Obama’s Middle East policy.
Even without expert analysts, the public can recognize the way that the angry protests in more than two-dozen countries serve to shatter the core narrative of the Obama presidency. With bloody riots, teetering governments, and new threats of terrorism, it’s hard to argue that the new administration triumphed in cleaning up the mess left over by the purportedly odious George W. Bush. The fact that protesters now call Obama himself a terrorist and demand his death and dismemberment, while putting the torch to any visible U.S. targets (including fast-food restaurants in Lebanon and an American school in Tunisia), demonstrates that the president failed miserably in resetting the West’s relationship with the Islamic world.
His much-heralded 2009 Cairo speech promising a “New Beginning” now counts as an embarrassing bust, as does his outrageously overblown peace-in-our-time U.N. speech of last year (“The tide of war is receding … The humiliating grip of corruption and tyranny is being pried open.”). The president’s touching and eloquent annual greetings to the Iranian people for Nowruz (Zoroastrian New Year) have done nothing to bring the United States and the government in Tehran closer together, proving that not even a silver-tongued winner of the Nobel Peace Prize can talk the world’s more than one billion Muslims out of their deep-seated sense of grievance and resentment.