by Victor Davis Hanson
NRO’s The Corner
During the 2008 campaign, the Obama group argued that Bush & Co. were insensitive to allies and had acted in clumsy, unilateral fashion, permanently damaging our stature in the world. Given the first 15 months of foreign policy in the new administration, we can see now that Obama’s critique largely meant that we had damaged relations with supposed belligerents like Cuba, Iran, Russia, Syria, and Venezuela — inasmuch as right now, British, Colombian, Czech, German, Honduran, Indian, Israeli, Japanese, Polish, and South Korean leaders might privately prefer the good “bad” old days of the supposed cowboy Bush. All of which raises the question: Why Obama’s shift in foreign policy? I offer four alternatives, uncertain of the answer myself.
a) Obama in 2007 and 2008 created a campaign narrative of Bush the cowboy, and then found himself trapped by his own “reset button” rhetoric, which meant he could hardly credit his maligned predecessor by building on the multilateral work that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had established from 2006 onward (cf. the similar quandary of libeling Bush as a war-mongering anti-constitutionalist and then using new, kinder, gentler anti-terrorism euphemisms to mask the adoption of Predators, tribunals, renditions, wiretaps, intercepts, and continuance in Iraq and Afghanistan);
b) Obama sincerely believes that states that were pro-American under Bush are now somewhat dubious, while other states’ anti-American rhetoric during 2001–08 was understandable and so rightfully now earns them empathy and attention as a reward;
c) Obama genuinely believes that those abroad who are more statist and voice rhetoric that dovetails with his own equality-of-result efforts at home are sympathetic, inasmuch as they too define “freedom” in holistic terms of state entitlements rather than individual liberty, free markets, and free expression — so to the degree a leader casts himself as a “revolutionary,” he finds resonance with an equally progressive Obama; or
d) Obama has no idea of what he is doing, and wings his way from one embarrassment to another, from snubbing Gordon Brown to gratuitously insulting Benjamin Netanyahu to abruptly changing the terms of commitments with the Czechs and Poles to constructing nonexistent Islamic historical achievements to browbeating Karzai to courting Putin to bowing to the Saudis, etc., all as he sees fit at any given moment — with an inexperienced but impulsive Hillary Clinton and gaffe-prone Joe Biden as catalysts rather than arresters of Obama’s own haphazardness.
Whatever the reasons, I think the seeds have been sown and the harvests will soon be upon us. Any initial delight that the world’s masses found in a post-national, post-racial, charismatic young American president will begin to be eclipsed by their leaders’ realpolitik calculations, both old friends and enemies — namely, that the U.S. will probably not assist (other than in soaring rhetorical cadences of empathy) any past ally in its hour of need, and will probably not oppose (other than in meaningless deadlines and melodramatic contextualization) any past enemy in its newfound efforts to readjust regional realities. (If only Obama treated Iran or Syria as he does Bush, Sarah Palin, and the top 10 percent of American taxpayers.)
So as the U.S. completes its metamorphosis into a much larger version of the E.U., we should expect to see something of the following:
Karzai or Allawi will look more to Iran, which will soon become the regional and nuclear hegemon of the Middle East.
Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics had better mend fences with Russia.
The E.U. should finally start on that much-ballyhooed all-European response force.
Taiwan, the Philippines, and South Korea should strengthen ties with China.
Buffer states in South America had better make amends with a dictatorial, armed, and aggressive Chavez.
Israel should accept that the U.S. no longer will provide support for it at the U.N., chide the Arab states to cool their anti-Israeli proclamations, remind the Europeans not to overdo their popular anti-Israeli rhetoric, or warn radical Palestinians not to start another intifada. (In other words, it’s open season to say or do anything one wishes with Israel.)
As for bankrupt, wannabe national defaulters, don’t worry — we are rapidly catching up, and have neither the credibility nor the desire to lecture you about artificial constructs like “debt,” “bonds,” “trust,” and other archaic financial euphemisms manipulated to protect the international capital of an overseer class.
Sowing a new crop takes a while, but the sprouting has begun and the bitter, 1979-like harvests will soon be upon us.
©2010 Victor Davis Hanson