The Obama Doctrine: Why Islamism Isn’t Like Communism – The Atlantic


In one of my recent conversations with Obama, he dilated on this point in an interesting way. (“The Obama Doctrine” contains many thousands of words of Obama’s thoughts on foreign policy. However, I could not, for reasons of space, include all of what he had to say. In the coming weeks, I will be highlighting some of the things he told me that did not make it into the original article.) Obama made these particular comments during a conversation about Ronald Reagan’s influence on Republican thought. His main argument here is that rhetoric that could legitimately be deployed against an ideology like communism cannot be similarly deployed against the world’s second-largest religion.

Obama first praised Reagan’s “moral clarity about communism,” saying, “I think you can make a credible argument that as important as containment was in winning the Cold War, as important as prudence was in winning the Cold War, that at a time when perhaps the West had gotten too comfortable in the notion that, ‘Look, the world is divided and there’s nothing we could do about it,’ Reagan promoting a clearer moral claim about why we have to fight for freedom was useful and was important.”

The danger comes, Obama told me, when people apply lessons of the struggle against communism in the struggle against Islamist terrorism.

“You have some on the Republican side who will insist that what we need is the same moral clarity with respect to radical Islam. Except, of course, communism was not embedded in a whole bunch of cultures, communism wasn’t a millennium-old religion that was embraced by a whole host of good, decent, hard-working people who are our allies. Communism for the most part was a foreign, abstract ideology that had been adopted by some nationalist figures, or those who were concerned about poverty and inequality in their countries but wasn’t organic to these cultures.”

He went on to say, “Establishing some moral clarity about what communism was and wasn’t, and being able to say to the people of Latin America or the people of Eastern Europe, ‘There’s a better way for you to achieve your goals,’ that was something that could be useful to do.” But, he said, “to analogize it to one of the world’s foremost religions that is the center of people’s lives all around the world, and to potentially paint that as a broad brush, isn’t providing moral clarity. What it’s doing is alienating a whole host of people who we need to work with us in order to succeed.”

Obama said that the manner in which a president discusses Islam has direct bearing on the fight against Islam’s most extreme manifestations. “I do believe that how the president of the United States talks about Islam and Muslims can strengthen or weaken the cause of those Muslims who we want to work with, and that when we use loose language that appears to pose a civilizational conflict between the West and Islam, or the modern world and Islam, then we make it harder, not easier, for our friends and allies and ordinary people to resist and push back against the worst impulses inside the Muslim world.”

Source: The Obama Doctrine: Why Islamism Isn’t Like Communism – The Atlantic

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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