Resetting the Reset Button

As promised, Obama has set our diplomacy on a new track.

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

After ten months of “Bush did it” diplomacy, the Obama administration needs to reset its reset button.


On substantial issues, relations with Europe have not improved. The governments in France, Germany, Italy, and, soon, Great Britain are conservative, and increasingly skeptical of Obama’s diplomacy.

Germany bowed out on further stimulus. Sarkozy lectured us about utopian rhetoric without action on Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The British press is collating a daily litany of our snubs and slights — and is beginning to conclude that, in Obama’s eyes, the British are not centuries-long invaluable American allies, but pesky, bothersome has-beens, forever culpable for colonial imperialism. If only their queen were a royal Saudi theocrat or a deified Asian emperor, she’d win an Obama kowtow.

The Czechs and Poles will never again rely on a distant ally in confrontation with a proximate enemy; they do not need to relearn the lessons of 1939. Autonomous former Soviet republics understand that Russia’s Putin has a de facto green light to “readjust” their present-day, “ad hoc” borders — with President Obama about as clear on any future dispute as candidate Obama was about Georgia.

Don’t expect more European troops in Afghanistan. The NATO allies believe that our hearts aren’t in the war, and they fear being part of a humiliating Suez-like defeat. And after preening for a “green” American president, half of Europe is angry that Obama’s soaring hope-and-change rhetoric will not be followed by any concrete cap-and-trade commitment; while the other half is scared that Obama really believes the hocus-pocus science that the world got a recent glimpse of from the corpus of East Anglian e-mails.


India and China — one-third of the world’s population — have not fallen for the hope-and-change trope. China won’t hear our sermons on Tibet, human rights, carbon imprints, or Taiwan — not with new American hyper-deficits that will lead us to ask China to cough up trillions in capital to finance new entitlements for Americans that are not accorded to the Chinese people.

India wants to ensure that the Bush administration’s support for outsourcing, free trade, nuclear development, and India’s position in Kashmir is not replaced by a moral equivalence in which a democratic English-speaking India is simply unexceptional, and thus indistinguishable from an Islamic, bellicose, and unstable Pakistan.

But didn’t Obama’s new Middle East outreach — stamped with Bush culpability, recognition of Islam’s brilliance, monotonous promises of friendship, and emphasis on Obama’s unique name, heritage, and patrimony — at least bring political dividends?

Hardly. Iran has announced an expansion, not the cessation, of its nuclear-enrichment program. We have achieved the paradoxical result of having polarized our democratic ally Israel without winning over the autocratic Palestinians. The Sunni Arab world assumes that a Shiite Persia will go nuclear, and in response the Arabs will probably seek their own deterrent. Obama’s cozying up to Syria has achieved nothing other than bolstering Damascus’s confidence about re-entering Lebanon and copycatting the Iranian model of nuclear acquisition.

In general, the Arab world is suspicious of those who trash their own. Its leaders interpret Obama’s apologies for his own country as being as much a character defect as proof of any new accommodation. And while Obama repents for America’s misdemeanors, most leaders in the Middle East have no intention of apologizing for their countries’ felonies.

Latin America

After the loud outreach to Castro, Chávez, Morales, Ortega, and Zelaya, Latin America may truly believe that we have flipped. Imagine! America is now more on the side of socialist, non-democratic leaders who agitate for radical social and economic changes.

But that about-face only means more turmoil, not less, as Venezuela’s Chávez weighs the pros and cons of a border dispute with Colombia and leaders in Ecuador and Peru see the tangible advantages of shutting down the opposition, as Chávez has done.

In other words, we will return to the polarization of the 1960s and ’70s, when Communist takeovers brought on reaction from right-wing caudillos, now that the United States has withdrawn its accustomed moral support for democratic, free-market reformers and sided more with the foreign practitioners of the same sort of statist, soak-the-rich efforts that are beginning here at home.

A Kinder, Gentler Diplomacy

But at least our president and his diplomats are showing a kinder, gentler side of American diplomacy? Not really. Messianic moralists and the loudly self-righteous — whether a Woodrow Wilson, a Jimmy Carter, or a Barack Obama — are seldom tolerant of mere mortals.

Hillary alienated the Pakistanis by lecturing them on everything from catching Osama bin Laden to taxing their own people. Richard Holbrooke hectored the Karzai government, to no avail. George Mitchell has done very little other than to convince the Israelis that America is no longer their ally and that he is George Mitchell, Mideast Czar.

The supposed “bad” war in Iraq is essentially won and the country quiet; the much-ballyhooed “good” war in Afghanistan is heating up, with a split-the-difference American battle plan focused more on exit strategies than on victory.

Radical Islam looks forward to a show trial in New York, in which its self-confessed mass-murdering heroes will tell the world why America deserved what it got on 9/11. Meanwhile, for the two years of the presidential campaign, terrorists heard from candidate Obama that the Americans’ tribunals, renditions, wiretaps, intercepts, drone attacks, and Guantanamo were as illegal and unfair to them as they are still open for business under President Obama. And what a message that is: You Islamists were right that we shredded our Constitution to go after you, but we are going to continue to shred it anyway!

Good for Thee, Not for Me

The image abroad was supposed to be a new hope-and-change multilateral deference. Instead, there is a new whiny, self-indulgent, and loquacious America, as mixed up and inconsistent in its sermonizing message as it is consistently self-righteous in tone.

We want to protect our new state-run industries — at others’ expense. We want the world’s available capital to finance ever more government entitlements for our own comparatively well-off citizens. We want you to drill for oil and natural gas in terrain we would never consider here in the United States. We want to apologize for the old America, but in the bargain expect the world to listen to our new sermons. We want you to seek democratic reform, but don’t ask us to say a word on your behalf when your own thugs push back.

Old friends of America from Colombia to Israel are getting the message that they did something wrong in befriending pre-Obama America; while old enemies like Ahmadinejad and Chávez gloat that at last America understands why they were so hostile in their prior serial trashing of America.

Dean Obama

Ronald Reagan told the world that he would side with freedom against Communist aggression and autocracy. George Bush the elder told the world that its borders would stay sacrosanct, and one country could not swallow another. Bill Clinton finally showed that a genocidal dictator could not practice mass murder in the heart of Europe and get away with it. George Bush the younger removed two of the worst terrorist regimes on the planet, the Taliban’s and Saddam Hussein’s, and replaced them with constitutional systems, while keeping the U.S. homeland free from another 9/11 attack.

Barack Obama is telling the world that all of the above was far too complex — and characteristic of an America that was not listening, but dictating.

Instead, like any good college dean, Obama is now running a faculty seminar on a global scale. We listen to everyone’s gripes, add in our own personal angst, draw up pros and cons, offer polite, non-judgmental suggestions to all sides, and recommend 50-50 solutions that can be ratified by the newly revitalized U.N. — all to be summed up by a bow or two and a soaring address touting our own wisdom and success.

We may hope that some old wise men are now whispering to the Obamians to reset their reset button. You see, it’s doubtful that the world can take another three years of this.

©2009 Victor Davis Hanson

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