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Jeff Koopersmith: When A Tough Guy President Fails

Inviting Osama bin Laden to the Oval Office

By Jeff Koopersmith

As I was watching the somewhat obsessive Bob Woodward on “Charlie Rose” the other night, I was flabbergasted by Woodward’s insight when he said that Americans may re-elect George W. Bush because voters see him as a “tough guy.” His reasoning is that in these times, voters may believe that a roughhouse president is what the nation needs to combat what Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge believes will be an inevitable follow-up attack on the United States by Islamic fundamentalists, alive and well in Afghanistan and Pakistan despite what the White House tells us.

Woodward is right — and this bothers me, because it may well be true that 50% plus one American will be convinced that George W. Bush is the prescription we need to safeguard ourselves and our families.

Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.

Tough guys are great when all else fails and your back is up against the bar, but I am not convinced as yet that this is the case — and I wonder whether a more temperate president might be a better remedy.

Today, Senator John Kerry is in the unenviable position of having to walk a razor-thin line between criticizing our so-called “War President” who at least seems to be telling us he takes his cues from God, or moving to the right of Mr. Bush and taking on the mantle of an even more dangerous foe to Al Qaeda.

What if Mr. Kerry instead suggested that we engage Osama bin Laden, others like him, or his designates in some sort of interchange?

At first glance this might appear to be a weak position. The very thought of suggesting that we begin informal or even formal discussions with the architect of the World Trade Center and Pentagon tragedies looks absurd at first glance, even to me.

However, history instructs us that our presidents have continually engaged in front or back room exchanges with our enemies, and our allies’ enemies.

A prime example is the modern and constant to and fro between the White House, under Democrat and Republican Administrations, and Palestinian strongman Yassir Arafat — who by any stretch of the imagination is a murderer and terrorist of the first rank. Yet Arafat has been wined and dined by several presidents of the United States in their thus far futile pursuit of lasting peace in Israel.

The official Oval Office line these days is, of course, “We do not negotiate with terrorists.” That’s a lie, of course — we do it all the time, and have done so for twenty-three decades, sometimes privately, sometimes publicly.

While I am not suggesting a negotiation as such, I would be interested to hear either Mr. Bush or Mr. Kerry suggest some sort of meeting — a summit, perhaps — where issues that have fomented such intense hatred among Muslims for America might be examined in more detail.

Such a series of discussions would _not_ have to include Osama, and perhaps should not, but testing the waters with others of similar opinion might be illuminating and lead to a breakthrough in what appears to be whirlpool of loss in Iraq that threatens to widen rather than recede.

It seems too effortless and raw to list the obvious: that Islamic fundamental thought despises our alliance with Israel and its Jewish citizens, or that our support of the Saudis and the Kuwaitis just chills the spines of Osama and his cohorts.

We already know that.

Nonetheless, are we certain that we would have to abandon our partnerships with Israel and more moderate Arab nations in order to bring peace to region — and, more importantly, to the United States?

One must agree that the silence from Islamic leaders is deafening. I have yet to read a good dissertation, authored by the intellectual and spiritual leaders of Islam, which explains a path toward peace between “Christian” democracies and the Muslim world, democratic or not.

Even the American University at Cairo, one of the seats of Islamic academics, has not offered an explanation of this loathing more coherent than hating Jews and the Saudi King and Princes.

Even the rationally challenged Pat Buchanan offered, “If Islamic peoples detest America, why not let them discover democracy in their own time, rather than trying to convert them with thermobaric bombs and cruise missiles?”

In the same op-ed piece Mr. Buchanan noted that, “[A]ccording to Gallup Poll editor Frank Newport, ‘These respondents (Arabs) have a deep-seated disrespect for what they see as the undisciplined and immoral lifestyles of people in Western nations.’ They see America as ‘ruthless, aggressive, conceited, arrogant, easily provoked, biased.’ In short, Arabs and Muslims see us as the new Rome — a ruthless and godless empire — not as a Godly republic or a shining city on a hill.”

While the “Arab Street” may hate the United States for just these reasons, Islamic leadership — including, wretchedly, Osama bin Laden — cannot truly believe that we are a nation of depraved lunatics bent on ruling the earth. At least not yet.

Other commentators, such as the ultra-right-leaning editor of, Jamie Glasov, offers, “The very meaning of Islam is the unquestioning submission to Allah and to Islamic law. The Koran is a body of doctrine that Muslims are expected to accept unquestioningly without scrutinizing it for any flaws. Any notion that exists outside of the literal understanding of the Koran is regarded as being associated with sin at best and heresy at worst.”

Glasov just may be correct — but unless one believes that bin Laden and others who have turned to terrorism are cerebral equals to the local Syrian shoe shine boy, this is not the key to this impasse.

The New York Times’ latest human sacrifice to the right, David “Babbling” Brooks, wrote in 2002 in the neofascist Weekly Standard that Arabs hate America because of something he called “BOURGEOISOPHOBIA,” a hatred of success.

“It is a hatred held by people who feel they are spiritually superior but who find themselves economically, politically, and socially outranked. They conclude that the world is diseased, that it rewards the wrong values, the wrong people, and the wrong abilities. They become cynical if they are soft inside, violent if they are hard. In the bourgeoisophobe’s mind, the people and nations that do succeed are not just slightly vulgar, not just overcompensated, not just undeservedly lucky. They are monsters, non-human beasts who, in extreme cases, can be blamelessly killed. This Manichaean divide between the successful, who are hideous, and the bourgeoisophobes, who are spiritually pristine, was established early in the emergence of the creed. . .”deeply incapable of every divine emotion.” In other words, scarcely human.”

To adopt Brooks’ theory would be jejune at best — more like moronic — especially in relation to Islamic “executives” who are by no means either illiterate or naive.

While it is true that the average Arab embracing Islam is taught, in madrasses and mosques, to hate American and Western European excess, and may truly believe that we are blue eyed Satans, it is equally true that whomever teaches them this farcical curriculum might be target for some open and honest dialogue rather than remain the target for our most up-to-date missiles and tanks.

The opinion leaders of Islam cannot be as adolescent as their designedly less sophisticated students.

They cannot be simple enough to base their hatred of the United States merely on their loathing of Jews and our relative success.

No. There is more, and frankly I am one that would like to witness a serious exchange of ideas between the West and the Middle East.

Am I certain that this would end up more successfully than our current and non-strategic foreign policy embracing a kind of “kill ’em all, or whip ’em into shape” course of action?


Yet as I see the death toll of young men women mount in Iraq and elsewhere, and as I witness tens of millions Arabs caught up in some furor against us based largely on ignorance and counterfeit leadership, I must ask this question:

“Mr. bin Laden, just what IS it that you want?”

Extraordinarily, neither President Bush nor Senator Kerry has had the courage to suggest such an interchange.

While we cannot simply abandon our current course — for our soldiers’ safety and their memory alone — we should not also abandon the hope that an open and honest examination of a middle ground might promise peace.

It might not work. Nevertheless it is worth a try.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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