A disillusioned ex-Obama supporter

In Narrative Dissonance: What the Cairo speech got wrong, Martin Peretz, editor-in-chief of The New Republic systematcially dismantles Obama's claim that he is a student of history with a bravura display of his own mastery of the subject.  Not only is it a good history lesson but the scorn level almost approaches Ann Coulter territory in several places
I suppose that President Obama thinks that in Cairo he bridged many narratives. He certainly appeared to try: on the one hand, on the other, us and them, more or less equal in our stories. But real history is the telling and interpretation of actual happenings. It is specific, concrete, particular; it eats analogies and commonalities for breakfast; and it requires what used to be called knowledge--correct facts and warranted interpretations of them. From the standpoint of knowledge, not every assertion has equal weight, even if it is deeply felt.

Peretz seems to open his short lesson on the last 60 years of the history if the Middle East quite oddly. It begins with the now infamous Evan Thomas quote that Obama is "sort of God."   The reason for this opening becomes clear near the half way point in a paragraph that leaves scorch marks.

It was more than a bit disconcerting to hear the President give strict instructions to Israel via an Arab audience when his admonition to Muslims was actually quite docile and fuzzy. One vaporous instance: "The richness of religious diversity must be upheld ... fault lines must be closed among Muslims as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq." From Obama's mouth to God's ears. Or more precisely, perhaps, from Obama's mouth to Obama's ears.

Peretz's articles is a delight for real students of history, or more precisely, students of real history. For Peretz it is all too clear that Obama and many of his minions are followers of the currently fashionable narrative school of history.  That's where facts that don't fit the pre existing conclusions about oppressor versus oppressed peoples are disdainfully ignored, or else challenged as lies made up by the victors.  In this brand of scholarship minor details and characters are frequently over emphasized to either make all the players seem to be of of equal merit. More perniciously, classic liberal values are self-consciously disregarded in order to give the losers an unearned mantle of moral authority, thus turning them into the real winners. 
Peretz begins his closing argument by eviscerating this passage of Obama's.
Islam has always been a part of America's story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second president, John Adams, wrote, 'The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims.'" 
Peretz reaction was the same as mine when I read the speech.  Obviously no one on the President's foreign polivcy team has a clue about American history.  If they did, they would know the treaty was a fraud.  Not only did it force Americans to pay tribute in order to avoid priracy on the high seas, it was very soon broken by Tripoli's capture of Anerican vessals and the enslavement of the crews.  American outrage over such actions led to the First Barabry War  from 1801-1805 immortalized in the "shores of Tripoli' reference to the Battle of Derne.  in the opening stanza of the Marine's Hymn. Peretz cites Michael Oren's history of America's envolvement in the region, Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present which he calls " magisterial" as background reading on the treaty.  I agree. It is a wonderful book.  I also recommend Richard Zachs' less scholarly but vastly entertaining The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805. 
Peretz's conclusion neatly sums up his lack of intellectual respect for the President as well as his fears for the future. 
Let it be hoped that the Treaty of Tripoli in which President Obama delights so much will not be a precedent for the agreement he wants to forge between Israel and the Palestinians or between the United States and Iran. It is also a scandal that no one on his intimate staff told him the facts--if, indeed, they knew them--about the settlements with the Barbary Pirates. They are a precedent for nothing, except cheap getting-to-yes ecumenicism.
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