There are many ways to learn about the bleaker aspects of human nature. One would be to run a pizza shop, or regularly to have to clean a public restroom. Perhaps giving close attention to the text of Thucydides might give a more abstract lesson. Also, the Old and New Testaments offer plenty of examples of the fallen state of man.
Obama apparently did not get the message. What is the common denominator of his failed foreign policy initiatives (reset with Russia; a new, kinder, gentler Middle East; supposed breakthroughs with China; outreach to Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela) and his domestic catastrophes (Obamacare, deficits, huge debts, chronic unemployment)? In a nutshell, he does not seem to know much about human nature, whether in the concrete or abstract sense. Obama never held a menial job or ran a business. In lieu of education in the school of hard knocks, he read the wrong, if any, seminal texts.
The problem with a thug like Vladimir Putin is not just that he does not respond to “outreach” and “reset,” but rather that he interprets such loud magnanimity as weakness. And when sermonizing and lectures are added to perceptions of American impotence, the impression of timidity leads further to contempt, and ultimately to a devilish desire to humiliate and disabuse a naïf Obama of his moral pretensions. And what of the world watching all this? Unfortunately, it is more likely to enjoy viewing a strong rebuff of utopian idealism than a weak embrace of it.
For the sellout of the Czechs and the Poles over missile defense, the unnecessary effort to enter into more strategic arms talks with the Russians, and the sermons about being a good citizen at the UN or tolerating dissent at home, in return we received Russian snubs over Eric Snowden and Putin’s obstructing U.S. efforts against Iran or Syria. Had Obama from the outset kept quiet about “reset,” avoided trashing his predecessor, and stood firm when Putin pushed, Putin would now respect him as much as he feels contempt.
In his Al Arabiya interview and Cairo speech, Obama sought to reach out to the Middle East on the unlikely premise that his own affinities with Islam (a Muslim father, a Muslim middle name, Muslim relatives), his mixed racial heritage, and his multicultural sympathies for the Islamic world would turn stand-offish moderates into friends and prior enemies into moderates.
But why so? All the silly euphemisms in the world — man-caused disasters, overseas contingency operations, workplace violence — would not make jihadists suddenly like the U.S. just because the new president was not a white, Christian Texan.
Such superficial affinities are as unlikely to promote diplomatic breakthroughs as they are likely to appear insulting. Does Obama have any experience with the particularly disturbing human characteristic — learned both from literature and the experience, say, of going to a dangerous public school — that forced efforts to fit in, to accommodate, to ingratiate, to seek affinities where they don’t exist are not interpreted as outreach as much as condescension?
The almost eerie hatred for Obama seen in Egypt — among the military, the Islamists, the Egyptian street, and even the secular pro-Western reformists — in part derives from a sense that Obama tried to cajole them all with cheap commonalities and mytho-histories rather than negotiate often conflicting national interests through tough transparent talks.