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When Presidents Call Slaughter 'Unacceptable'

02/25/2011 09:01 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I don't want to be mean or unfair. But can anyone explain to me what it is about our president that he won't condemn Gaddafi as a killer and call for regime change? And while people are being slaughtered in the streets with machine guns, RPG's, and helicopter gunships, is the strongest condemnation President Obama can muster is that it's 'unacceptable'?

Unacceptable is when my kids arrive late at school or use foul language. Unacceptable is when I land in a city to give a lecture and I don't find the time to call my wife the whole day. But an international terrorist who has the blood of hundreds of Americans on his hands who is now killing his own people in droves has transcended the realm of unacceptable.

Mr. President. Everyone knows you can speak. You're an eloquent guy. You have a broad vocabulary. Are the words 'despicable,' 'monstrous,' and 'loathsome' outside your Harvard-trained vocabulary? When you saw the grainy images of dead people shot by mercenaries, did not the words 'hell to pay' spring to mind? Can you please explain to those of us who are scratching our heads what it is about you that you find it so hard to condemn evil and warn tyrants that the international community will hunt them down if they mow down men, women, and children in the streets?

I was discussing this with my friends the past few days. What is it about Obama? Why the predictably passive response? Each had a different explanation as to why Obama consistently refuses to lead when it comes to issues of democracy, freedom, and human rights.

One friend said it's because Obama is an inherently weak leader, our weakest president since Jimmy Carter. He just doesn't have it in him to be tough.

There is some truth to this assertion. Our president aims to please. And yet, he sure was tough enough when it came to obliterating the vaunted Clinton political machine in the democratic primaries. This was the guy who beat not just Hillary but Bill as well. He can be plenty tough when he wants to.

Another friend said it's because Obama is so much the intellectual that he sees two sides to every story. So he can't give a blanket condemnation because there is always another side.

But come on. That can't be right. Maybe when it came to Mubarak the argument could be made that if the president were to support the Egyptian demonstrators, he would be giving support to the Muslim brotherhood. Maybe we could say that there was another side to the story of Egyptian democracy and if Mubarak fell we'd get another Iran or Gaza. Perhaps.

But that can't be the explanation when it comes to Libya. Could anything be worse than Gaddafi? Is there really another side to this story? The man's a lunatic. A cold-blooded killer. A bomber of airliners and discotheques. Gaddafi's utterly incoherent. He's high on evil. Surely our president isn't going to intellectualize this to the point where he believes that Gaddafi has any redeeming qualities. What are you going to say, that at least he's nice to his Ukrainian nurse?

No, I think it's something else. Our president has the single greatest flaw of historical leadership. He harbors no hatred for evil. Wicked, wicked men don't make his stomach churn.

Normally, when you're around a Chavez or a Gaddafi, even if you feel you have to shake their hand, you do so with a queasy stomach. You shake their hands with a pained expression on your face. Your forced to do it out of diplomatic niceties. But you loathe their very presence.

Not so President Obama. He smiles while meeting these men. Not because he's a bad guy. Our president is a good guy. He's a loving husband, a devoted father, respectful to all whom he meets (Okay, with the sole exception of democratically-elected Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel). But he refuses to be bound by a world of black and white. Nothing is beyond the power of redemption. Everything can be turned to the good. If we refrain from condemning Gaddafi, we might just get through to him. He might stop shooting people. But if we call him evil, how can we influence him to be good?

Our president is too lofty, too sensitive, to be so cavalier as to hate or dismiss anything. Even Gaddafi might have a redeeming quality. He cannot hate him.

It's bizarre. As a Jew whose people faced a holocaust I feel an even greater obligation to always speak out against genocide. And you'd think that an African-American president whose people suffered the worst sin of American history, the disgraceful abomination of slavery, could look wickedness in the eye, identify it, and denounce it for what it is. Unadulterated evil. But our president is above such draconian characterizations. It's not for him to use such rigid labels. If we were to ask him whether anything in the world is inherently evil, he would respond that such questions are above his pay grade.

So while the oppressed people of the world die in pools of blood, the leader of the free world announces that such wholesale slaughter is really kind of bad. It's not very nice. It's sad. It's unwholesome. Really, it ought to stop.

Let us be clear. It's downright despicable.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is founder of 'This World: The Values Network,' which promotes universal Jewish values in the mainstream culture. The author of 25 books, he has just published 'Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.' Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.