When it comes to discussing the Middle East, there are two Barack Obamas — and both could cause problems for the United States.
First, there is Obama the Environmentalist. He says he wants to deprive Middle Eastern states of oil revenue because those oil revenues fund terrorists and because burning Middle Eastern oil in American cars and factories is destroying the planet through global warming.
Then there is Obama the Man of Peace. He is less worried about sending oil money to the Middle East than sending bad vibes.
Obama the Environmentalist hit the campaign trail last summer, giving speeches on energy policy. Obama the Man of Peace appeared this week on Al Arabiya TV.
Obama the Environmentalist spoke to a domestic audience whom he understood to be angry about the price of gas. Obama the Man of Peace spoke to a foreign audience whom he understood to be angry about U.S. anti-terrorism policies.
"One of the most dangerous weapons in the world today is the price of oil," Obama the Environmentalist said in a July campaign speech. "We ship nearly $700 million a day to unstable or hostile nations for their oil. It pays for terrorist bombs going off from Baghdad to Beirut. It funds petro-diplomacy in Caracas and radical madrassas from Karachi to Khartoum. It takes leverage away from America and shifts it to dictators."
In another July speech, Obama the Environmentalist envisioned a Middle East that would be populated by tyrants for at least another 20 years. That, together with the threat of climatic apocalypse, he argued, makes it necessary for the United States to mount a massive effort to curtail petroleum use.
"If we stay on our current course, the rapid growth of nations like China and India will rise about one-third by 2030," he said. "In that same year, Middle Eastern regimes will be sitting on 83 percent of our global oil reserves. Imagine that — the very source of energy that fuels nearly all of our transportation, controlled almost entirely by some of the world’s most unstable and undemocratic governments."
"We are not a country that places our fate in the hands of dictators and tyrants — we are a nation that controls our own destiny," he said. "And it’s why we must end the tyranny of oil in our time."
This Environmentalist did not appear on Al Arabiya this week. The Man of Peace did.
This Obama, speaking to the Arab world, lauded the peace plan put forward by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia — the Middle East’s premier autocratic oil peddler — as an act that "took great courage."
This Obama did not see a region that more than 20 years from now will still bristle with "dictators and tyrants." He saw a region brimming with nations ready to work with him and Secretary of State Clinton as respected partners.
"I do think that it is impossible for us to think only in terms of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and not think in terms of what’s happening with Syria or Iran or Lebanon or Afghanistan and Pakistan," he said. "And what I’ve said, and I think Hillary Clinton has expressed this in her confirmation, is that if we are looking at the region as a whole and communicating a message to the Arab world and the Muslim world, that we are ready to initiate a new partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest, then I think that we can make significant progress."
This Obama said he was withdrawing troops from Iraq and closing Guantanamo. When the interviewer congratulated the Man of Peace for avoiding President Bush’s use of "broad" terms like "war on terror" and "Islamic fascism," Obama not only declined to defend his predecessor in the presidency against a slight leveled by an anchorman for a TV network based in a Persian Gulf emirate, he accepted the anchor’s point.
"President Bush framed the war on terror conceptually in a way that was very broad, ‘war on terror,’" said the Al Arabiya interviewer, "and used sometimes certain terminology that the many people — Islamic fascism. You’ve always framed it in a different way, specifically against one group called al-Qaida and their collaborators. And is this one way of –"
"I think that you’re making a very important point," said Obama. "And that is that the language we use matters."
Yes, it does. And what matters most in the language of the commander in chief of the United States is that it reflects reality. The language the two Obamas have used to describe the Middle East reflects political posturing.
He will learn that smooth talk and smug self-satisfaction will neither defeat nor deter our very real enemies in that part of the world.