Presumably, no one in Washington has a current mailing address for Osama bin Laden, so the Obama administration hasn’t been able to send Al Qaeda a “Reset” button yet. Since novelty toy diplomacy has thus far proven impossible in this case, the president has been forced to rely on the three remaining pillars of his policy for dealing with the Muslim world: apologies, appeasement and adulation. Given that record, there was nothing surprising about NASA Administrator Charles Bolden’s saying that the president had tasked his agency with the important job of making the Muslim world feel better about itself. Bizarre initiatives are a hallmark of this administration, so what might have been shocking a couple of years ago has become sadly predictable today. You can roll your eyes only so far into the back of your head.
Yet, the Obama administration apparently recognized that Bolden’s remarks crossed the ludicrous line, as White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs denied on Monday that the president had ever given Bolden such a directive. That doesn’t mean that Obama didn’t actually express such a sentiment to the ex space shuttle astronaut who now heads up NASA, it more likely means that somebody in the administration belatedly recognized that kissing up to the Muslim world that much would be more than a little embarrassing. Admittedly, they’re setting the bar pretty low, but it’s a start. Perhaps the next time the president hooks up with Saudi royalty he won’t feel as inclined to bow, or at least not quite so low.
During his interview on Al Jazeera television, Bolden defined the marching orders that he received from President Obama thus: “—he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with predominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering.” Warming to the topic, Bolden went on to justify NASA’s newest priority: “It is a matter of trying to reach out and get the best of all worlds, if you will, and there is much to be gained by drawing in the contributions that are possible from the Muslim (nations),” he said. He held up the International Space Station as a model, praising the contributions there from the Russians and the Chinese. Does that not all sound just like Obama? Does that not sound like the man who promised to have a cozy chat with Ahmadinezhad, who conducted the “apologize for America” tour and who embraced Hugo Chavez? What’s more plausible: that Obama issued orders that are entirely in character with his worldview, or that Bolden – a Marine who retired as a Major General and probably knows a thing or two about the chain of command – made up his own marching orders?
Asking NASA to lead Muslim group therapy is entirely consistent with the president’s approach. It is a matter of commonly-believed historical record (although this belief is disputed by some scholars) that there was a time when Muslims were at the forefront of scientific discovery, particularly in the field of mathematics and astronomy. No one disputes the fact that the age of Muslim primacy in science, if it in fact existed at all, ended a millennia ago. At roughly about that time, the Islamic world abandoned any pretense of participating in the secular search for natural truths, having decided instead that the Quran contains all of the wisdom that mankind could ever want or need.
As a result of that decision, the Muslim world is entirely dependent on the west for all of the technological marvels and conveniences that Islamic states enjoy today. From airplanes to oil refineries to skyscrapers to sewage treatment plants, Islamic-ruled lands could not function – would not exist – as anything even approaching the model of a modern, prosperous nation but for the expertise and initiative that the industrialized world provides. In that context, it’s hard to imagine what contributions the Muslim world could possibly make to NASA’s mission. On the other hand, involving Muslim nations – even the so-called moderate Islamic states – with NASA raises some frightening prospects. Heretofore, Iran has had to count on rogue states like North Korea and irresponsible industrialized nations like Russia and China to develop modern weapons systems. While not even Obama would be reckless or naïve enough to give Iran direct access to NASA’s technology, there is nothing to suggest that whatever lessons a “moderate” Muslim nation like Egypt or Saudi Arabia might learn won’t eventually make their way to Tehran.
But then the object of this exercise, Bolden said, was to make angry Muslims feel like esteemed members of the world community. The president spends a great deal of time trying to do that himself, with or without NASA’s help. Not that the Islamist movement lacks for self esteem in the first place. The problem would seem to be much the opposite. Due in no small part to the Obama administration’s continuing efforts at appeasement, fundamentalist Muslims have more faith than ever in the righteousness and ultimate success of their cause. Rather than tapping into their storehouse of knowledge regarding how to practice astronomy without a telescope, or mathematics without a calculator, perhaps we ought to focus on the blowing innocent people up in the name of God part. Just a thought.
At least the president was being consistent. He continually manages to use expensive federal assets in ways that no one ever envisioned and which has nothing to do with the organizations’ core mission statements. From tasking the CIA to study global warming to having NASA engage in diplomacy, Obama is like a five year old kid exploring a pile of new toys. Sure, that toy dump truck makes for a nice truck, but how effective might it be as a projectile weapon? There’s only one way to find out!
In a speech he delivered at Rice University in 1962, John F. Kennedy expressed a sentiment that every American would have identified with back then, but which would cause our current commander-in-chief to cringe and probably issue an apology to the United Nations. “Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolution, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space,” Kennedy said. “We mean to be a part of it–we mean to lead it.”
Clearly, Barack Obama has abandoned the idea that America should lead the way in science in general and in space in particular. Instead, he seems intent on throwing the proud history of American progress into reverse. Using NASA – the organization that has stood as the best example of American exceptionalism and innovation for decades – to engage a medieval culture is so very consistent with the president’s approach. Faced with the outrage that followed when this bizarre policy was further revealed, it’s easy to believe that Obama decided to throw Charles Bolden under the bus rather than face the political consequences of his failed policies himself.