Of politicians and moral courage

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U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas claps before speaking at the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum at the George R. Brown Convention Center, the site for the National Rifle Association's annual meeting in Houston



Leaders are not elected. Politicians are elected. Their election in turn provides politicians with the opportunity to become leaders.

You don’t become a leader by telling people what they want to hear, although doing so certainly helps to you get elected. A politician becomes a leader by telling people what they don’t want to hear.

If they are lucky, politicians will never have to become leaders. They will serve in times of peace and plenty, when it’s possible to pretend away the hard facts of the human condition. And they can leave office beloved for letting people believe that the world is the Elysian Fields.

Certainly this has been the case for many American politicians since the end of World War II.

This is not the case today. In our times, evil rears its ugly head with greater power and frequency than it has in at least a generation. As Americans learned 13 years ago this week, evil ignored is evil empowered.


Yet fighting evil and protecting the good is not a simple matter. Evil has many handmaidens.


Those who hide it away enable it. Those who justify it enable it. Those who ignore it enable it.


To fight evil effectively, a leader must possess the moral wisdom to recognize that evil can only be rooted out when the environment that cultivates it is discredited and so transformed. To discredit and transform that environment, a leader must have the moral courage to stand not only against evildoers, but against their far less controversial facilitators.


In other words, the foundations of true leadership are moral clarity and courage.


On Wednesday two American elected leaders gave speeches. In one, a leader emerged. In the other, a politician gave a speech.


The first speech was given by Texas Senator Ted Cruz.


On Wednesday evening, Cruz gave the keynote address at the inaugural dinner of an organization that calls itself In Defense of Christians. The purpose of the new organization is supposed to be advocacy on behalf of oppressed Christian communities in the Middle East.


Ahead of the dinner, The Washington Free Beacon website questioned Cruz’s decision to address the group. Several Christian leaders from Lebanon and Syria also scheduled to address the forum had records of public support for Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, and Hezbollah, and had made egregiously anti-Semitic statements.


For instance, Church of Antioch Patriarch Gregory III Laham blamed jihadist attacks on Iraqi Christians on a “Zionist conspiracy against Islam” aimed at making Muslims look bad.


Probably the organization’s leaders assumed that Cruz would give their group bipartisan credibility and never considered he might challenge their anti-Jewish prejudices. No American politician in recent memory has made an issue of the rampant Jew-hatred among Middle Eastern Christians. Probably they figured that he’d make an impassioned speech about the plight of Christians under the jackboot of Islamic State, enjoy warm applause, leave the hall and clear the path for other speakers to blame the Jews.


Cruz did not follow the script. Instead he used the opportunity to tell his audience hard truths.


In a statement released by his office, Cruz summarized the events of the evening.


“I told the attendees that those who hate Israel also hate America… that those who hate Jews also hate Christians. And that anyone who hates Israel and the Jewish people is not following the teachings of Christ.


“I went on to tell the crowd that Christians in the Middle East have no better friend than Israel. That Christians can practice their faith free of persecution in Israel. And that ISIS [Islamic State], al-Qaida, Hamas and Hezbollah, along with their state sponsors in Syria and Iran, are all part of the same cancer, murdering Christians and Jews alike. Hate is hate, and murder is murder.”


For his decision not to take the low road, Cruz was subjected to angry boos and heckling from the audience, whose members angrily rejected his remarks.


“After just a few minutes, I had no choice,” Cruz said. “I told them that if you will not stand with Israel, if you will not stand with the Jews, then I will not stand with you. And then I walked off the stage.”


Cruz’s action was an act of moral leadership.


He stood before his audience of fellow Christians and told his co-religionists that their hatred of Jews and Israel is un-Christian. He told them as well that their bigotry blinds them to their own plight and makes them reject their greatest ally in securing their future in the Middle East.


Cruz’s strategy for fighting Islamic oppression of Christians involves uniting all those oppressed and attacked by jihadists. In all honesty, it is the only policy that has a chance in the long term of securing the future of the Christians of the Middle East.


For Cruz to reach this conclusion, he first had to possess the moral clarity to recognize that Christian Jew-hatred is a major obstacle to securing the future of the Middle East’s Christians.


In other words his strategic vision is anchored in moral courage.


The same evening that Cruz was booed off the stage by an audience of anti-Semitic Christians, US President Obama gave a speech to the general audience where he set out his rationale for fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and his strategy for doing so.


In some ways, it is unfair to compare Obama’s speech to Cruz’s. Cruz addressed a narrow constituency and Obama gave his speech to all Americans, and indeed to the entire world.


A more apt comparison would be between Cruz’s speech to the pro-terror Christians and Obama’s speech to an audience that included Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Cairo in 2009.


Indeed, the chief reason that Cruz’s speech was an act of leadership, and Obama’s was the address of a politician, is that Obama’s speech reflected his remarks in Cairo and his subsequent speeches to Muslim audiences and about Islam throughout the intervening years.


Neither during his speech in Cairo nor in subsequent remarks has Obama ever called out the world’s Muslims for their bigotry against Jews, Christians and others. Neither during his speech in Cairo nor in subsequent addresses has Obama spoken out against Islamic terrorism or the jihadist world view that stands at the foundation of Islamic terrorism.


Rather, throughout his presidency Obama has denied the existence of the jihad, its ideology and the fact that it is a force shaping events throughout the world.


Wednesday’s speech was no exception.


At the outset of his remarks, Obama insisted that Islamic State, or (ISIL has he calls it), “is not ‘Islamic.’”


Obama may be right, and he may be wrong. That’s for Muslims to determine.


But whatever the truth is about Islam and jihad, the fact is that hundreds of millions of Muslims believe that Islamic State and other jihadist groups and regimes, of both the Shi’ite and Sunni variety, are accurate expressions of Islam. This is why thousands of Muslims from Europe and the US are flocking to Iraq and Syria to join Islamic State.


Obama’s policies for contending with Islamic jihadists are a natural extension of his refusal to speak hard truths to Muslims or speak truthfully about Islamic terrorism and jihadism. His whitewashing of jihadist Islam on Wednesday night similarly was reflected in the strategy he set out for fighting Islamic State.


As Fred and Kim Kagan noted in The Weekly Standard, Obama’s decision to use counterterror strategies for fighting Islamic State is a recipe for failure. What Obama referred to as “a terrorist organization,” is actually an insurgency that fights battles against standing armies and wins.


Counterterror operations cannot work against such a force.


So, too, Obama’s asserted that his strategy for fighting Islamic State has been tried and succeeded in Somalia and Yemen. Yet by all accounts, jihadist forces in both countries are not only undefeated, they are becoming stronger.


Obama’s strategy involves joining US air power with anti-Islamic State forces on the ground in Iraq and Syria. Yet aside from the Kurds, all the forces on the ground in both countries are deeply problematic.


Just hours before Obama’s speech, the leadership of Syria’s “moderate” rebel forces was decapitated in an explosion. And for all their moderation, the leaders were part of an anti-Assad coalition that included Islamic State.


Although he is an Alawite, Bashar Assad and his forces are members of the Shi’ite jihadist coalition led by Iran that includes Hezbollah.


These forces are more dangerous than Islamic State. Yet US air strikes against Islamic State will redound to their direct benefit.


Obama’s refusal to acknowledge the existence of jihad – of both the Sunni and Shi’ite variety – makes it impossible for him to devise a realistic strategy for defeating jihadists. He rightly defines Islamic State as an enemy of the US, but because he denies the existence of jihad, he is incapable of putting Islamic State in its proper strategic context. Among the many forces fighting on the ground in Iraq and Syria today, you have two jihadist forces – one Shi’ite and one Sunni – that are fighting each other. Both are enemies of America and its allies.


To be sure, Islamic State must be confronted and defeated – just as Iran, Hezbollah, al-Qaida, Hamas and Boko Haram need to be defeated.


Defeating only one group empowers others, and so you keep ending up where you started.


Yet rather than understand that while jihadist forces may oppose one another, the threat they pose to the free world is indivisible, as Obama focuses on Islamic State, he is enabling Iran to expand its power in Iraq and Syria, and to complete its nuclear weapons program.


Last week the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran continues to hide key information about its nuclear program from the UN nuclear watchdog, despite its agreement last November to provide the IAEA with full transparency.

The Iranians continue to bar IAEA inspectors from the suspected military nuclear installation at Parchin. Negotiations on a nuclear accord between the US and its partners and Iran are going nowhere. According to Western diplomatic sources, the failure to reach an accord owes entirely to Iran’s refusal to compromise on any substantive nuclear issues.

While Iran refuses to provide transparency to the IAEA, its guiding strategy is clear to the naked eye. It is prolonging negotiations to buy time to complete its nuclear program.


However, Obama, who insists that Islamic State “terrorists are unique in their brutality,” refuses to see the true picture.


The truth revealed on Wednesday night is that Obama cannot lead a successful war against the forces of Islamic jihad that threaten humanity. He cannot do so because he rejects the moral clarity required to confront the danger.


Originally published in The Jerusalem Post. 


He cannot successfully lead the war because, as we saw once again on Wednesday night, he is not a leader. He is a politician.

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