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There Is No Room For Narcissism In Successful Foreign Policy
Have you ever heard a speech, digested it and then thought, “am I hearing something that really isn’t there?” I’m talking about President Obama’s UN speech. I’ve listened to this guy for 3 years now and I’ve come to at least have a familiarity with his style of speaking. I’ve also caught on to the fact that the content of his speeches is much different when addressing an international audience than a domestic one. And, has been noted by many, his speeches to the international community have been based in series of apologies for America.
But never have I heard what I heard before the UN. So I had to think about it and wonder if, in fact, I was just reading way too much into it. That’s until I read Michael Gerson today in the Washington Post. He put into words exactly what I thought at the conclusion of the speech that day:
Obama’s rhetorical method in international contexts — given supreme expression at the United Nations this week — is a moral dialectic. The thesis: pre-Obama America is a nation of many flaws and failures. The antithesis: The world responds with understandable but misguided prejudice. The synthesis: Me. Me, at all costs; me, in spite of all terrors; me, however long and hard the road may be. How great a world we all should see, if only all were more like…me.
On several occasions, Obama attacked American conduct in simplistic caricatures a European diplomat might employ or applaud. He accused America of acing “unilaterally, without regard for the interests of others” — a slander against every American ally who has made sacrifices in Iraq and Afghanistan. He argued that, “America has too often been selective in its promotion of democracy” — which is hardly a challenge for the Obama administration, which has yet to make a priority of promoting democracy or human rights anywhere in the world.
The world, of course, has its problems, too. It has accepted “misperceptions and misinformation.” It can be guilty of a “reflexive anti-Americanism.” “Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world’s problems alone.” Translation: I know you adore me because I am better than America’s flawed past. But don’t just stand there loving me, do something.
I realized that the simple word I was searching for to describe it all was “narcissism.” Some may prefer to use “malignant narcissism”, but I’m not a psychologist or psychiatrist, so I’m unable to make that determination. But as Gerson demonstrates in his analysis of the speech (and my first impression and the impression I retained after reading the speech), it was indeed an indulgence in classic narcissism. Obama’s come to believe his own press clippings. I find his indulgence of this narcissism to be extremely dangerous, especially in a man with so little experience in foreign affairs. It is a weakness the jackals who inhabit the world of international politics will surely see as a weakness and attempt to exploit.
A lot of things are perking in the world right now. The reason this sort of narcissism is dangerous is because it assumes an ability, undemonstrated to this point, to handle any crisis. That sort of an assumption, especially without any context or framework of experience could lead an overconfident leader into a foreign policy disaster. As anyone paying attention knows, there are plenty of potential disasters on the horizon. If this speech is any indication of the President’s state of mind, his name may be all over at least one of them.