Two curious news events took place last week that showed just how ridiculous much of the debate about the state of the world can be.
In Washington, critics of the foreign policies of the Bush administration gathered for a demonstration against the war in Iraq. They want America to apologize for carrying out the war, and denounced the American position in the conflict in much the same terms as were once used against the Vietnam war a generation ago. In the view of many of those who were most outspoken, the United States is the same imperialist Satan it always has been.
Ironically, at the same time as this blast from the past, one of President Bush's closest aides was traipsing about the Middle East in search of the affection of Muslims, asking for their forgiveness.
Karen Hughes, Bush's former communications guru, holds the title of assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy. But she seems as clueless as some of the silly set who gathered on the mall to try to channel the spirit of Woodstock.
What's the problem?
On the one hand, the demonstrators clearly think that America - and its message of freedom and resistance to Islamic fundamentalist terror - is in the wrong. They want the United States out of Iraq and out of Afghanistan, and they want to abandon Israel as well.
That these righteous souls who are so solicitous of the casualties caused by American troops are completely uninterested in the fate of the Middle East once it's been turned over to the tender mercies of the creatures blowing up their compatriots on a daily basis goes without saying. Indeed, the only real analogy between the current war and the doomed U.S. effort in Vietnam is that - notwithstanding the many mistakes made by American leaders in both conflicts - the anti-war faction is as indifferent to the consequences of defeat now as it was then.
On the other, the adminstration's ambassador to the Muslim world seems as clueless as her boss' tormentors.
Hughes has trouble distinguishing between friends of freedom and their enemies. Before she set out on her "listening tour" of the region, Hughes met in Washington with the Islamic Society of North America, a group that is led by apologists for Al Qaeda. In Egypt, she met with a cleric who is an advocate of jihad against both Israel and the United States; she pronounced him an advocate of "the spirit of love" and a foe of terror.
Hughes is clearly in over her head. According to The Washington Post, she had no idea of who or what comprised the Muslim Brotherhood (the political center of Islamist extremism and terror in Egypt). She was also the object of what seemed to be something like a practical joke when, in a meeting with Saudi women - reported in The New York Times - the American was left virtually speechless when the Saudi gals testified to their happiness about being deprived of the right to vote or drive.
Hughes has been sent on a fool's errand. All of her considerable skill at spinning will not make Islamists love us. Whenever we overthrow an Arab despot, Muslims will be humiliated, even if they hated him as well. And as long as we stand behind the region's only real democracy in Israel and back its right to self-defense against terrorists, most Arabs and Muslims won't like that either.
Simply repeating the mantra of how much we respect Islam and want democracy for everyone won't cut it if we're in apology mode.
Even worse, Hughes' statements on the Arab war against Israel seem intent on trying to convince Muslims that the United States is distancing itself from the Jewish state by portraying America as the defender of the Palestinians. That might be what her new friends at the State Department want the world to think, but if it succeeds, it can only increase the chances for more violence in the future.
The notion that American sweet-talk can undermine support for terror has it all wrong. Only when it's clear that the full force of the West is arrayed against the Islamist strain in the Muslim world will moderates have a chance there. Nor will we promote moderation by giving in to the Islamists agenda by surrendering in Iraq or Israel.
As Washington Times columnist Diana West put it, what Hughes needed to do was to forget about faking a "listening" tour, and take a "like it or lump it tour" instead. That wouldn't get us any more love, but it would insinuate that we mean business about defeating Islamist terror, an impression the Hughes trip has undermined.
Against Iraq, but for Israel?
Back at home, radical protesters have put those Jews who are uncomfortable with the war and its costs in a difficult spot. The anti-war movement is led by radical groups that wish to see Israel destroyed. That's too much for even the far-left crowd, led by Tikkun magazine editor Michael Lerner, who wrote on his blog last week of his dismay at the anti-Zionism spewed in the speeches and the signs displayed at the Washington protest.
Some Jewish protesters have made common cause with Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a slain U.S. serviceman who has become a leader of the anti-war movement, despite the fact that she has also indulged in anti-Israel rhetoric, and opposes the American presence in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq.
Lerner and his crowd would like to oppose the Iraq war since they feel so at home with the anti-American rhetoric it spews. But they rightly worry about lending credibility to those who wish to destroy Israel. The problem is, there's no way to bridge those positions.
The Iraq war was not and is not being fought for Israel, but abandoning the fight simply isn't an option for those who'd like to see both Arab democracy and the Jewish state live. And that's also why, despite faltering support for the conflict in some polls, mainstream Republicans and Democrats will not abandon either Iraq or Israel. Sensible people in both parties want nothing to do with the anti-war crowd. Sensible Jews should take the same tack.
But Karen Hughes and the anti-war crowd seem to be operating on the premise that America has something to apologize for by fighting to overthrow Arab tyrants, empower democrats and help Israel defend itself. Whatever our flaws as a nation - and despite the mistakes this administration has made in carrying out its policies - these goals require no apology. If anyone should be repenting these days, it's those who oppose both the spread of democracy and Israel's survival.
Jonathan S. Tobin is reachable via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org .