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Belmont Club

Unilateralism

March 17th, 2010 - 7:26 pm

Robert Kagan says that whether Israel deserved a tongue-lashing from Barack Obama or not, it can console itself by observing  that it is in good company on the outs. Britain, France, India, Poland, the Czech Republic and Japan are all huddled under the bus along with it. That’s not to mention the occasionally abandoned, like the Iranian dissidents or the Dalai Lama, who had to come through the door where they take out the trash to talk to the press. Israel is where all the other allies have been at one time or the other. What’s instructive, Kagan says, is who’s remained inside the bus and not crushed under the wheels.

Who has attracted attention in the Obama administration? The answer, so far, seems to be not America’s allies but its competitors, and in some cases its adversaries. If there were a way to measure administration exertion in foreign policy, the meter would show the greatest concentration of energy, beyond the war in Afghanistan, has been devoted to four endeavors: the failed first-year attempt to improve relations with Iran; the ongoing attempt to improve relations with Russia; the stalled effort to improve cooperation with China; and the effort — fruitless so far — to prove to the Arab states that the United States is willing to pressure Israel to further the peace process. Add to these the efforts to improve relations with Syria, engage Burma and everything with Af-Pak, and not much has been left for the concerns of our allies.

Maureen Dowd doesn’t see any pattern to the President’s actions. She believes that the President’s pique at Israel was spontaneous because of the “supremely aggravating character of Bibi Netanyahu”, but Kagan suggests the President has a tendency to take alliances for granted while attempting to mollify enemies. This makes sense from a certain point of view. He’s a wooer, not a keeper. His whole life has been focused on getting to the next rung, the next office. Once that rung is attained, why it’s meant to be stepped on to get to the one above. And why not? Since your friends are already your friends you don’t need to be nice to them. On the other hand you have to convince your enemies to like you because they don’t like you yet. And a smart man should unsentimentally work on them.

As for your friends, well Carly Simon captured the attitude of the alpha man who expects friends to be grateful if he doesn’t kick them. It’s enough to be a sometime entry his black book. What do they want to be, the final stop?

You walked into the party
Like you were walking onto a yacht
Your hat strategically dipped below one eye
Your scarf it was apricot …
But you gave away the things you loved
And one of them was me
I had some dreams they were clouds in my coffee
Clouds in my coffee

Carly Simon may have been miffed by whoever it was, but wrote the song for him anyway. I had a friend once who came home the same time each afternoon, turned over his whole paycheck and went to bed at exactly at 10 pm each evening. His wife left him because she said it was like being married to a corpse. The excitement is in the pursuit. You don’t expect anybody to write a song for Poland or Israel. That’s just nuts. There’s no glamor in it. A Palestinian Keffiyeh is a fashion accessory, but a Polish sausage or a potato knish is something you leave in the back of the refrigerator until the cat thinks it’s something dead. Maybe it is better to have a President who can bridge the gap with America’s enemies even if he has to walk over the backs of America’s friends. That’s what peace making is about isn’t it?

Maybe not. The problem is that over the long haul international relations are about the keeping, not the wooing. Building a really stable international framework, as opposed to getting a photo op, means creating a foundation based on shared values. Sometimes the bad guys like being bad guys. After all is said and done, Venezuela will import 30,000 Cuban advisers whether Obama has been nice to Chavez or not. Although it’s politically incorrect to say it, one reason why America has enemies is because there are some countries out there that are not worth making friends with.

Robert Kagan wrote that “this administration pays lip-service to ‘multilateralism,’ but it is a multilateralism of accommodating autocratic rivals, not of solidifying relations with longtime democratic allies.” I think Kagan is wrong. The administration sometimes acts like it is the center of the universe. Real multilaterism is possible only when an administration is able to see itself as part of a community; a leader perhaps, but not separate from a group of nations which shares certain common interests and beliefs. President Obama’s foreign policy is strikingly unilateral in the sense of the kind of man who flies on a whim to “see the total eclipse of the sun” because it really revolves around him.

You’re so vain
You probably think this song is about you
You’re so vain
I’ll bet you think this song is about you
Don’t you? Don’t you?

Once a single, overarching point of view is established then “friends” are there fore one and only one reason. To support the official line. Rahm Emmanuel called liberal activists “retarded” at a meeting on health care. You would have thought that people don’t call their most ardent admirers retarded. The Politico reported:

Last August, Emanuel “showed up at a weekly strategy session featuring liberal groups and White House aides,” the Journal’s Peter Wallsten reported last Tuesday.”Some attendees said they were planning to air ads attacking conservative Democrats who were balking at Mr. Obama’s health-care overhaul. ‘F—ing retarded,’ Mr. Emanuel scolded the group, according to several participants. He warned them not to alienate lawmakers whose votes would be needed on health care and other top legislative items.”

But that would be to misunderstand the nature of friendship. Dan Riehl says that just as Emmanuel predicted, the administration got clean away with slapping them around. What were the “activists” going to do? Starting believing in the free market all of a sudden?

Alliance politics on the left is really the science of taking useful fools for a long ride in the country to a predetermined destination. And the really amazing thing about it is however hard you kick them in the face, these are the kinds of friends who’ll be back for more, right there, drooling on the kicker’s shoe through their broken teeth. “United Front” tactics aren’t about multilateralism as about one line, one leader, one bright and immutable way. Health care can be “deemed” to have passed — a word which by the way is etymologically related to “doom”.  Get with the program. And if you disagree, why, you’re no friend.

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