"When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse," Osama Bin Laden famously said. The deceased mass murderer had a point, even if it wasn't a very original one.
Sentimentalists may admire the horse that lets other horses win so they don't get too upset and kick it around in the stable that night, but the crowds do not flock to cheer on losers. Nor can kings and prime ministers be expected to stake their fortunes and futures on the horse that loses so other horses feel good about themselves.
When Obama arrived in Cairo to tell the Muslims of the world that America does not want to fight, let alone win, he was declaring that America was now the weak horse. "We do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan," he assured the Muslim Brotherhood attendees, and told them that, "events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy."
The bearded men glowering at him heard from the new leader of the United States that he had come "to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world… based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition." What they understood was that the competition was over and that Islam had won.
Obama condemned unilateral war in his speech, but it did not occur to him that if war can be unilateral, then a cessation of hostilities cannot be. You can stop your horse in the middle of the track and tell the other riders that horse races need not be exclusive or competitive, that all riders can learn techniques from each other and skip the racing and just exchange trophies congratulating each other on making a good effort. And that is a good way to lose the race.
Islamists would not be Islamists if they did not believe that their way is in competition with all other ways. The principle, accepted by so many Christians and Jews in the West, that religions and nations are interchangeable and only individuals matter, is flipped upside down in a region where individuals are so interchangeable that they blow themselves up to make a point about the supremacy of their identification with the nation and the religion.
The Cairo speech sent a message to American allies that the days of the United States protecting them for outmoded reasons of national security or national interest were gone. America was no longer a competitor, but an accommodator, willing to make a deal with whoever came out on top in the horse race of Islamic populism. Our allies knew that their days were numbered and our enemies knew that power was theirs for the taking.
Obama chose to turn America into a weak horse and dragged down Mubarak and a number of other regional allies with him. Netanyahu has resisted accepting the weak horse status assigned to him by Washington and that has been a major source of tension with the Obama White House. The attacks in Cairo and Benghazi are a reminder that the United States cannot opt out of the competition with the Muslim world. All it can do is stop in the middle of the track and offer itself up to them as a dead horse.
Horse racing is a popular sport in the Middle East, though perhaps not as much as camel racing. Camels run somewhat slower than horses, but they do better on rougher terrain. To transform a race from a contest of speed and skill to a contest of endurance and orneriness, the conditions of the race have to be made rougher and more difficult.
Making the conditions of the race more difficult is what the Islamists have been doing to the region all along. They wrecked the track, turned on the sandstorm machines and bet on the strong camel to outlast the weak horse.
Camel racing in the Middle East has depended on imported child jockeys, and while that may seem ugly to Western eyes, like child suicide bombers, it is a reminder that there is no tactic that is considered too dirty when it comes to winning the race. The Islamists may not be able to win on strength, speed or agility, but they can always win by default if they can convince the fast, strong and agile American horse not to run.
The murder of an American ambassador and the sight of his corpse being dragged through the streets by a mob should serve as a reminder that the United States can either be a strong horse or it can be a dead horse, but it cannot, as Obama tried to do, choose not to run.