Be All That You Can Be

07/07/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The nagging criticisms leveled at the President's overtures to the Muslim world this week prove once and for all that the historical maxim that "politics stops at the water's edge" is as quaint and irrelevant as the Victrola. Politics, and political considerations now knows no boundaries and it is particularly noteworthy that the attacks are being launched by those who professed just a short time ago that any criticism, constructive or not, of our national security posture was at a minimum unpatriotic.

There is something particularly galling to the conservative right about the prospect or resolving problems through either diplomatic means or by collective security measures. In their worldview might makes right, and unequivocally on this issue the right is dead wrong.

How naive, what an appeaser, how wacky is this guy? How elitist of the President to go to Egypt and suggest that there are certain ideas, ideals, and concepts that beg mutual cooperation between our nation and those in the Middle East. Why, it is downright un-Christian to suggest that Muslim-majority countries have any conception of democratic processes, freedom, or human rights. I mean, after all, don't they hate us for our freedom?

As preposterous as it may sound, there are moderately well-educated and at times rational individuals out there who are contemptuous of the eloquence with which Barack Obama delivered his worldview this week. The eloquence of his words and the smoothness of his delivery surely must mask a fundamental misunderstanding of the region, if not the world, and put at risk the hard fought safety rendered by a preemptive war against an unacceptable regime.

And to suggest that this great nation, America, might actually have exhibited human faults and made human mistakes such as mis-gauging intentions of others and not appreciating cultural and religious differences, to suggest that we may have erred in our zeal to promote democracy abroad through the outmoded and outdated methods of gunboat diplomacy rather than by showcasing our collective morality and tolerance for diversity, how treasonous.

It is interesting to watch and listen to the critics of this Administration scold the President on his attempts to reconcile the differences between us by appealing to the commonalities that potentially link us together. And they are predictable in their attacks: indignant about our superiority; resistant to the notion that we may not always be right; delirious over the appearance of weakness; and defensive about their complicity in constructing the current state of affairs.

But let's look at exactly what Obama was attempting to convey through his eloquence. First and foremost he is attempting to define the enemy. For far too long we have been told that we are in a war on terror. But war itself is terror and it is terrifying. I must admit I never understood the concept or the terminology. But implicit in it, I fear, was the idea that Islam was a religious foundation for terrorism, thereby fueling religious intolerance and suspicion in a country essentially founded on the concept of fostering religious freedom. Remarks from the previous Administration invoking the Crusades did little to dispel the notion that religious differences were essentially at the heart of the conflict.

However, as Obama made crystal clear in his speech, the enemy was not and is not Islam, but rather violent extremism and those who practice it. What we should be engaged in is a war on terrorists, or a war on terrorism, which includes those who practice it. This is not an unimportant distinction. Terrorism and terrorists have no basis in religion.

Obama pledged "to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear". Under the banner of defining common ground, common principles, common dreams and shared responsibility he called upon Muslims to reject crude stereotypes of Americans as well.

The knee-jerk reactionary right criticisms aimed at Obama for attempting to redefine the dangerous world we find ourselves in, a world preeminently less safe, more volatile, and more economically fractured than generally acknowledged, only serve to marginalize and isolate an increasingly small but intensely frustrated fringe element in our society. If nothing else, this is a plea to give this President, in the great American tradition, a fighting chance to realize the dreams he has for our nation, dreams which are common to all of us, regardless of political party, ideology, or religion: peace and prosperity for our children.

Criticisms and competition are the bedrock of a free society and should be encouraged. Rooting for failure crosses the line and is at best poor sportsmanship, at worst it makes us as a society something less than we can be. We owe it to ourselves, our children, and those oppressed everywhere to be the best we can be.