Thursday, September 13, 2012
'Soft target' is a military term referring to an unarmored/undefended target. But in a more complex sense, it also means a target that is not likely to be dangerous to the attacker.
In schoolyard terms, a bully instinctively understands the difference between a hard target (the well muscled 6'3" captain of the baseball team who happens to be carrying his favorite bat), and a soft target (the 5'5" president of the math club whose only frame of reference for 'protection' is the plastic sleeve he has in his shirt pocket to keep his pens and pencils from marking up his clothing.
In short, it isn't just who is easier to beat up... it is who is less likely to fight back. This may seem like a fine distinction... but it is one which is certainly on the bully's mind.
Back in the late 1970s, Jimmy Carter was in the White House at a time when Iran was experiencing a revolution that in today's optimistic lexicon would probably have been called a 'Persian Spring'.
This juxtaposition of a White House that was widely perceived internationally as weak, and an uprising that was based on Religious (Muslim) principles as much as on the desire to overthrow a despot, created a perfect storm of sorts where American interests abroad, and Americans themselves, were suddenly perceived as extremely soft targets by the newly emboldened bullies.
The result was the 1979 violent storming of the American Embassy in Tehran by a crowd of Islamist 'students', and the subsequent taking of more than 60 hostages; 52 of whom would be held and tortured for 444 days.
It's that 444 days that is significant because the hostages were finally released on January 20th, 1981 at the exact moment that Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President and was giving his inaugural speech. There is little doubt that the arrival of a tough new 'sheriff in town' had a profound affect on the perception of America's willingness to defend its interest and citizens.
We seem to be at a similar confluence of perceptions of American passivity and Islamic unrest today. In the White House sits a president who may well be a genius in terms of social engineering, economic recovery and other things related to domestic policy. Sadly, the effectiveness of presidential policy directives are rarely perceptible in real time.
But looking out to the world, President Obama seems to have made a Carter-esque (one might even call it Chamberlain-esque) willingness to appease and apologize, the cornerstone of his foreign policy. To groups and governments whose use of chaos and violence seems carefully calculated specifically to test the resolve and reaction of the American leadership, the result is that America is increasingly viewed abroad as a soft target.
As if to prove the point, in the space of a few hours this week, the American Embassy in Cairo (Egypt) and the American Consulate in Benghazi (Libya) were both overrun by an Islamist-led mob ostensibly enraged over a video ridiculing the Prophet Mohammed currently circulating on the internet that had allegedly been made by an American.
In Egypt (which is the 2nd largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid) only physical damage was done to the Embassy compound. But in Libya, the American Ambassador and three of his staff were murdered and dragged through the streets by the mob.
One would have hoped that such overt attacks on the sovereign soil of the United States and on U.S. citizens would cause the Obama administration to recalibrate its policies. But instead, the first statements issued by his Secretary of State (Hillary Clinton) first apologized for the perceived insult to Islamic sensibilities:
"The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation."
Only then did she go on to say:
"But… there is never any justification for violent acts of this kind."
This mention of the cause and effect in the same breath creates a moral equivalency in the minds of the attackers (and their sponsors), even as the U.S. is trying to stress that one doesn't justify the other.
A judge in a court of law would never allow the mention of a defendant's anger over some random person having called him a 'towel head' or a 'sand n*gger' in a case where the defendant had deliberately attacked or murdered some other, unrelated person who just happened to share the same skin color or nationality as the person who had hurled the original insult. To do so would create in the minds of the Jury a legitimate connection between the insult and the attack, and would offer not only a plausible excuse for the violent behavior… but would also heap some small portion of the blame for the attack on the shoulders of the victim who, in pure legal terms, was blameless.
By the same token, those calling for the U.S. to bomb Libya or Cairo are as misguided as the mob that attacked random Americans and American interests because of their ire at an unrelated American. Clearly these mobs didn't gather spontaneously and start trying to burn down two U.S. Diplomatic missions. They were organized and sent into action by people and/or organizations that had their own agenda and may or may not have had a connection to the ruling government. Those are the people and organizations that must be tracked down and punished.
Yes, at the very core of international diplomacy is the requirement that Governments protect all diplomatic missions and personnel in their countries from assault. The U.S. certainly has enough sticks in its bag to threaten and/or punish the Egyptian and Libyan governments for failing to keep a violent mob from attacking the American diplomatic missions.
But what is most troubling about the current situation is that the Obama administration has once again allowed a connection to be made between perceived American insults to Islam and violent attacks by Islamists against Americans. And the people/organizations that are behind this brand of organized mob violence and terror have once again gotten the feedback they were looking for; that America is once again a soft target.
Posted by David Bogner on September 13, 2012 | Permalink
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And the administration either reflects or stimulates the same reaction from much of the populace. The "well, it's really the fault of that movie producer" idea was on the lips (and keyboards) of many, yesterday.
Posted by: Russell Gold | Sep 13, 2012 11:27:20 AM
Russel... I guess free speech/expression is a one way street in some towns. :-)
Posted by: treppenwitz | Sep 13, 2012 11:57:15 AM
You are a great writer.
Posted by: Benji | Sep 13, 2012 2:05:56 PM
i must need new glasses.. it seems fairly clear that the statement put out by the Cairo embassy was before the murders were known, and to link the two.. even by Parsing Clinton's words is just jumping onto to the republican fear-wagon.. one, I might add that they corralled as they have nothing else to drive at the moment. Any level headed person know that the two aren't related Frankly I am surprised at you r words.Yes, she opened with dignity...is that now a sign of weakness? And, as a military individual, you must certainly know that payback isn't always instantaneous? Like Obama or not like him.. that is fine... but honesty is a must when discussing these issues.. not just tiptoe-ing around the garage and squinting at your car in bright sunlight so you can convince yourself that your beat up volvo looks like a bentley
Posted by: shabtai | Sep 13, 2012 3:18:03 PM
shabtai ... I think you're the one who didn't read my words carefully. Even if Obama/Clinton didn't know about the murders when her statement was issued, an armed attack on the US Embassy is a very big deal. It is akin to an armed attack on the US itself. Let me put this in more personal terms. Your house is fire bombed by someone angry over something I did or said simply because we both happen to be Jewish. Is your first reaction to condemn what I did or said before stating that such attacks will not be tolerated and there will be a serious price to pay? If your first instinct is to try to understand what motivated the fire bombing of your house and to condemn the source of the fire-bombers anger... you have already taken a step towards justifying the attack. Oh, and please don't place me in any political camp. I didn't say a word about preferring one party over the other. I simply criticized the sitting president. I hope you aren't suggesting he is infallable. If anyone is fear mongering it is those who yell 'Republican' at anyone who criticizes Obama. Ironically, it smacks of the kind of overzealous reaction we see from Muslims when anyone says anything bad about Mohammed.
Posted by: treppenwitz | Sep 13, 2012 5:25:11 PM
I think there is even a greater problem that we accept rioting and murder as acceptable in these countries.
Posted by: Dave | Sep 13, 2012 5:32:24 PM
@shabtai: You say that the first part of the statement is a dignified opening. Let me ask -- are either dignity or diplomacy a necessary buttress to the notion that "...there is never any justification for violent acts of this kind."?
Try the following on for size: "There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind. Given the fact that the US's commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the founding of our nation, the egregious nature of this attack is further underscored."
Same basic idea, dignified, but delivered from a position of strength that could not be even remotely misinterpreted as being apologetic.
Intolerant, violent fanatics murdered people without even a peripheral relationship to the thing that offended them. By their own government's insistence, these lawless thugs did not speak for the Libyan government nor the vast majority of her citizens. The US government accepted this condemnation. Therefore any preface to a strongly worded denunciation of murder and mayhem should be rendered unnecessary, no?!
Posted by: zahava | Sep 13, 2012 6:18:37 PM
I think when the USA is perceived as strong, the tactics of our enemies simply change a bit. When we (USA or Israel for that matter) are perceived as being weak, a "soft target", nations themselves aren't too afraid to attack us. But when we are perceived to be strong, nations use proxies to carry out their attacks against us. But their hatred for us stands, and they will attack us whenever possible, only the tactics change when necessary.
For example, with weak Carter, Mr. Malaise, the actual nation of Iran was behind the hostage taking. But with strong Reagan, our enemies used a non-nation terrorist group to blow up our Marine barracks (turning us weak again as we immediately fled with our tail between our knees, but that's a different issue).
The use of the word "but" and the order of the statements in this case is most egregious.
Posted by: Mark | Sep 13, 2012 8:19:06 PM
If I may weigh in - I don't see where we have to apologize for offending anyone's religious sensibilities. It's a free country. You want to make a stupid movie, go ahead. I'm not going to take responsibility for it. I don't think we're making ourselves clear to the world - we're free. The end. BTW, the majority talkbacks I read yesterday for the riot stories on yahoo fell into one of two categories: (1) bomb them (2) stop all financial aid. Not a whole lot of sympathy for the riots, over a movie only about 2500 saw a clip of prior to yesterday.
Posted by: nanaloshen | Sep 13, 2012 11:35:52 PM
the american policy in the middle east was mistaken. still, there is no excuse for violently flying a plane into a building.
Posted by: fred | Sep 14, 2012 12:45:54 AM
My take would be. We are outraged over this attack. We demand the government of..... speedily punish the perpetrators. Absent that we will to quote or paraphrase Biden, hunt them down and pursue them to the gates of hell. Nothing else need be said.
Posted by: Henry | Sep 14, 2012 4:26:55 AM
Though, sadly, I have seen soft targets taken advantage of in the court-room. More concessions are pressed on those less likely to fight dirty.
Posted by: Rivkah Moriah | Sep 14, 2012 8:35:28 AM
David, were the order of events to have gone the way you said, I might agree.
But I think there is a little confusion about the timeline. The opening of Hilary's statement was just reiterating the Embassy's condemnation of the film- not an apology for it- which was issued before the attacks on either Embassy, in an attempt to calm the situation. Hillary Clinton was merely reiterating that statement the next morning, but only after the President's categorical condemnation and assurance that the violence would not go unanswered. That is an important distinction, otherwise I would agree that she should have opened stronger. Even with that Hillary's statement was walked back by the White House. Were President Obama someone who hesitated before using force, I would be more concerned. But he has not shrunk from using US forces and their technological advantage against terrorists in Afghanistan and Libya, not to mention violating Pakistani sovereignty to kill OBL, which is a step he said in 2008 he would be willing to take. You are more aware than I that the US response need not be immediate, but it does need to be accurate. This President, with whom I do not always agree, has shown that he is willing to be patient in these matters and get the job done correctly. One other point, to which I know you are sensitive. We are dealing with a lot of unknowns, regarding how malleable the Egyptian government is going to be, how fast Libya will or will not cooperate with our intelligence people, what is going to transpire in the other "Arab Spring" countries, etc. Maybe they were too circumspect, but I think treading gingerly across the various minefields may be a sign of strength, because in the end they know they have the ability to do what they need.
Posted by: Jordan | Sep 15, 2012 12:36:01 AM
And showing his commitment to free speech and constitutional rights, President Obama has asked You Tube to remove the video.
The Obama administration has not shown a fraction of the outrage over these attacks and murders that they displayed over Israel issuing a building permit for an apartment complex in Jerusalem during Biden's visit. Rather than go after the perpetrators, they are going after the You Tube video and its maker.
Posted by: ahad haamoratsim | Sep 15, 2012 12:48:14 AM
A few days before the attacks this week, I had a conversation with a friend and he used almost the exact same examples and description as you did to explain the possible show of hand towards Israel, in the next few months leading up to the our election. Interesting coincidence. Scary world.
Posted by: Jaime | Sep 15, 2012 7:38:34 AM
The whole concept is wrong. If President Reagan was the new Sheriff in town, why did Iranian proxies destroy the Marine barrack in Beirut, killing over 200 marines during the Reagan administration.
This is not to criticize President Reagan, when the dessert 1 mission to free the hostages failed during the presidential campaign, he refused to make a political statement and called for national unity.
Apparently we live in a different world.
Posted by: lrg | Sep 16, 2012 8:00:15 PM
Kept thinking about this blog and the implications when you throw tohar neshek into the equasion, plus the perception of tohar neshek as weakness. No answers, just thoughts.
Posted by: Rivkah | Sep 19, 2012 7:59:48 PM
This article reminded me of your post. You may find it interesting.
Posted by: mrzee | Oct 27, 2012 12:41:24 AM