Tony Karon writes: Egregious insults like the Innocence of Muslims film would not be so easily translated into rage at U.S. power were it not for the simmering long-term rage at Washington over its invasions of Muslim countries, its support for Israeli governments and Arab despots, its drone strikes and more.
Deep anger at U.S. foreign policy is the extended preexisting condition that geopolitical Obamacare has failed to significantly alter; the outrage at an offensive film is the opportunistic virus that, when combined with the preexisting condition, creates a crisis. Instances of American Islam-bashing are used to prove that the policies and actions of the U.S. that most anger ordinary Arabs are not simply discrete foreign policy choices driven by self-interest and other agendas but rather expressions of a deeper animus toward Islam itself — a proof that functions as a chemical catalyst that can bring residual anger to a boil.
Yes, it’s always manipulated by cynical opportunists driven by narrow political agendas, but the outrage itself is real, and it’s hardly confined to a movie. Without the pre-existing anger, in fact, the film would be like a detonator without dynamite. Only the combination of the two creates the explosion.
So in that sense, President Obama’s Republican critics are not wrong in suggesting that this week’s upsurge in protests represents, at least in part, a response to the Administration’s handling of the Middle East or even to what vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan on Friday called ”mixed signals” from the White House. But where Ryan and those echoing him are wrong — egregiously, spectacularly wrong — is in suggesting that the protests are a response to a retreat from “moral clarity and firmness of purpose,” watchwords of the Bush era. On the contrary, the Muslim world was up in arms against the U.S. on a sustained basis for most of the Bush presidency, precisely because of its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, its unconditional backing of Israel as it pummeled Palestinians and the obvious hypocrisy of a policy of proclaiming democracy and freedom while coddling friendly despots. If the Arab world is angry at the “mixed messages” coming from the Obama Administration, that’s because the President in Cairo in 2009 had promised a break from Bush-era policies yet failed on many fronts to deliver it. It’s not the changes Obama’s made since the Bush era that drive Arab anger; it’s his Administration’s many continuities with Bush-era policies in the Middle East.