Free Markets, Free People

The Post-American Presidency?

Elliot Abrams, with a sense of deja vu, reviews Carter era foreign policy as one of weakness and accommodation leading to disaster. He’s seeing some eerie similarities in the foreign policy the Obama administration seems to be fashioning.

One begins to wonder how far we will drift into a new period of generalized disaster. In Honduras, we back the Hugo Chávez acolyte and say we won’t respect November’s free elections. In Israel, we latch on to the bizarre theory that settlement growth is the key obstacle to Middle East peace and try to bludgeon a newly elected prime minister into a freeze that is politically impossible–and also useless in actually achieving a peace settlement. In Eastern Europe, we discard a missile defense agreement with Poland and the Czechs and leave them convinced we do not mean to fight off Russian hegemony in the former Soviet sphere.

Manouchehr Mottaki, foreign minister of Iran, visited Washington, as noted, after such visits had been forbidden for a decade. High-ranking American officials have made six visits to Syria, even while the government of Iraq and our commanding general there complain of Syrian support for murderous jihadists. The highest ranking U.S. official to visit Cuba in decades recently toured Castro’s tropical paradise. The president won’t see the Dalai Lama, however, for fear of offending the Chinese.

This, of course, isn’t a particular surprise to those who listened to what Barack Obama said during the campaign. You really can’t hold something against a person who does what he says he’s going to do. The question is why weren’t enough listening to decide the possibility of disaster in the foreign policy arena was real enough to disqualify him from holding the highest office in the land? A question for a different post, I suppose. However, the most interesting part of the Abrams piece (Abrams, btw, used to work for Democrat Henry “Scoop” Jackson – sort of the Joe Liberman of his era when it came to foreign policy) was his take on the Obama UN speech:

See a pattern here? The president’s U.N. General Assembly speech tied all this together, perhaps unintentionally: Talk of allies and enemies and national interests was absent. Getting something for concessions we make is contrary to the new spirit of engagement. The president, transcending all such anachronisms, poses as the representative of .  .  . the world. So why would his country treat friends better than foes, and why would we bargain for reciprocal concessions? So old fashioned, so Cold War.

Former UN Ambassador John Bolton called Barack Obama the “post-American” president. Abrams analysis seems to agree with that characterization. So the question, then, isn’t “why would his country treat friends better than foes”, but “why would he put American interests before those of the world at large as he hopes to shape it?” If Bolton and Abrams are correct, he wouldn’t.   And his speech confirms that:

Instead, he told us, “I am well aware of the expectations that accompany my presidency around the world. These expectations are not about me. Rather, they are rooted–I believe–in a discontent with a status quo that has allowed us to be increasingly defined by our differences.” (Did speechwriters substitute “discontent” for Carter’s famous “malaise”?) So we will turn away from such thinking: “It is my deeply held belief that in the year 2009–more than at any point in human history–the interests of nations and peoples are shared.” Acting in the narrow interests of the United States and its friends and allies is passé: “Because the time has come for the world to move in a new direction. We must embrace a new era of engagement based on mutual interests and mutual respect, and our work must begin now.” This must sound to Ahmadinejad–or Putin or Assad or Chávez or Castro–rather the way Carter’s call to end our “inordinate fear of communism” sounded to Brezhnev.

Of course the key to the Obama vision is much like the key to world-wide nuclear disarmament. Unless all the players agree with the vision, it’s so much hot air. And nothing that is happening in the world today gives any indication that the players named by Abrams have any inclination at all to play Obama’s game.

In fact when I think of how Chávez and the rest must be reacting to this privately, Flounder from “Animal House” comes to my mind unbidden yelling, “Oh boy, is this gonna be great”. Naivete and narcissism (Count the unprecedented number of times he refers to himself in the UN speech. He did it 23 times in 13 paragraphs in his Olympic speech) in one package and the predators licking their chops and circling the prey, each trying to decide what piece they can tear off and get away with.

Unfortunately my guess is if we pursue this post-American foreign policy, as it appears we will, we won’t have long to wait to see the disasters begin to pile up as the world’s despots exploit the situations with which they’re naively presented.



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12 Responses to The Post-American Presidency?

  • This makes things a little weirder …

    Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has handed the Kremlin a list of Russian scientists believed by the Israelis to be helping Iran to develop a nuclear warhead. He is said to have delivered the list during a mysterious visit to Moscow.
    Netanyahu flew to the Russian capital with Uzi Arad, his national security adviser, last month in a private jet.
    His office claimed he was in Israel, visiting a secret military establishment at the time. It later emerged that he was holding talks with Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, and President Dmitry Medvedev.
    “We have heard that Netanyahu came with a list and concrete evidence showing that Russians are helping the Iranians to develop a bomb,” said a source close to the Russian defence minister last week.

  • In a perverse way I sort of welcome the disasters. If the other democratic nations of the world realize that they have to help each other because they cannot rely on the USA. Then we might all be better off.

    We simply cannot afford to fight all the battles of the free world by ourselves anymore. Obama will lead to some major catastrophe’s but the sooner the rest of the world understands that Uncle Sapp will no longer be around to bail them out, then the sooner they might find a pair of balls of their own.

    I am sure we can weather the storm in the next 3 and a half years, and then, maybe we can make some new, more mature agreements with our so called allies.

  • This is a replay of the lessons the US learned the hardway in Vietnam, and now is relearning due to President Bush’s choice of going into two missions where success is all but impossible — to democratize and reshape Iraq and Afghanistan. This article is spot on:

    The realists like George Kennan knew that a country must understand its limits, and undertaking something beyond its capacity is a recipe for disaster. Indeed, as the article notes, the Bush failures are proof of this — very dramatic proof. Obama needs to understand that Bush’s failures were NOT because Bush had bad strategy or wrong tactics, but he fundamentally over-estimated the ability to reshape the world, idealistically, but naively, thinking democracy was somehow natural and would work if only we could eliminate dictatorial regimes.

    The US is learning that the arrogance of power always reveals the limits of power. If Obama, out of fear of a backlash from the naive right wing, is afraid to cut US intervention and embrace the need for diplomacy (an old fashioned realist favorite, even if it’s called ‘post-American’ by the neo-con crowd that wants us to bluster and brashly do whatever we want in Kaiser Wilhelmian style), then the criticisms of him as a leader are true. He needs to be strong enough to make real fundamental changes in foreign policy, and maintain them for three years, no matter how the right wing moans and whines.

    • You are so simplistic. You wave the word diplomacy around like a fetish.

      Diplomacy is forming a useful coalition when you need to go to war.

      Diplomacy is getting warring factions to form a working governing coalition as has happened in Iraq, which by the way is not the colossal failure you seem to imply.

      What Obama is doing seems more like abasement of his own nation, and aggrandizement of his own person, neither very effective diplomatic tools.
      In fact I do not see any great diplomatic success so far. If he does get the Iranians to back down from opening a nuclear plant then I will give him credit. But I doubt that will happen.

      In Iraq I give him credit for following Bush’s policies even while he continually attacks the previous administration (something else that seems unseemly and undiplomatic).

    • ” . . no matter how the right wing moans and whines.”

      And no matter what sort of Carteresque disasters he drives us into? You remember that buffoon don’t you there Erb – Carter? Your hero. The one who shunned the Shah and decided the Ayatollah was the better man for the job because he was a “man of God.” The one who took on the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan by boycotting the 1980 Olympics. The one who decided that the US foreign policy must be driven by Human Rights – yet cozied up with Tyrants to this very day.

      So no matter what disasters he rolls us into, we should just keep our traps shut, bend over, grab our socks and take it like a man?

      Yeah, that’s the ticket!

      Exactly what color is the sky in your world, Erb?

    • Erb, Obama can’t even get the Olympics for Chicago. He’s failing at everything.

      I was a kid when Carter came into power. Did he fail this fast?

  • “Bush’s failures were NOT because Bush had bad strategy or wrong tactics … but naively, thinking democracy was somehow natural…”

    He and the founding fathers. Try learning American history Erb.

  • I suspect that TAO and like-minded libs would say that, “What’s good for the world is ultimately good for America.”

    There’s something in this: a world at peace, a world that doesn’t rely on force of (American) arms to settle disputes, a world in which justice reigns supreme, a world in which the strong do not prey upon the weak, a world that isn’t divided into “us” and “them”, WOULD be pretty good for our country.

    The problem is that the world is populated with people, and quite a few of them are absolutely not interested in “getting along with everybody else”, and are more than willing to use force to get whatever they want IF they think they can get away with it. The only thing that will deter them is the concern that they WON’T be able to get away with it. For the past sixty years or so, the United States has been the principle stumbling block to would-be tyrants, thugs, dictators, and conquerers. The dems actually regard this as a bad thing: NO country should have the power to bully another (unless it’s Honduras, that is). Hence, we get statements like those of Madeline Halfbright that they yearn for the end of American “hyperpower”.


    They seem determined to repeat the mistakes of Munich again and again and again, stuck in the belief that the Hitlers of the world are perfectly reasonable people who can be dissuaded from their schemes with the proper combination of reason and concessions.


    • It’s amazing to watch. One thing that people learn early on is that you cannot please everyone. No matter how hard you try, it doesn’t work. Some people respond in kind and it’s great. But other people see your desire to please them as a ticket to taking advantage of your kindness. Still others will see you treating their enemies well and hold it against you. At some point you have to make hard decisions and not just nod your head and wag your tail like a good little dog.

      This is no less true on the world stage. Obama, like Carter, takes it an extra step, where the idea is to treat those in opposition to you as well as possible, to the extent where you are willing to upset your allies, sometimes directly and deliberately. Poland? Czechoslovakia? Unimportant. The UK? Dismissed, here’s your collection of worthless DVDs. Honduras? Bad guys! The list goes on. ‘If we treat enough of our friends like dirt, maybe our enemies will think we’re sincere.’ That’s the kind of thinking driving this kind of foreign policy. Utterly insane.

  • “thinking democracy was somehow natural ”

    Right, we should go along with you wise leftists and recognize that socialist totalitarianism is the natural order and succumb to it sooner rather than later. Up the People’s Republic!

    And I think it’s still a little bit too early to count Iraq as a total failure. Course you’ve been calling it a failure since day one. I doubt you’re an objective judge.