Elsewhere did the “their old America did it, not my new one” Obama approach calm the waters with anything? Russians helping out to prevent a nuclear Iran, or stopping the killing of dissidents abroad, or promises not to bully the former Soviet republics? More European combat units going to Afghanistan? Mexico vowing to curb illegal immigration? Turkey ceasing its new anti-Western Islamic screeds?
His supporters would rejoin, “Oh, but give him time. He’s sowing the field with good will for a bountiful harvest of future cooperation”. I do think he’s sowing, but a minefield rather than a crop, whose explosions will be as inevitable as they will be numerous. Sarkozy’s crude dismissal and appraisal of Obama (nothing is worse for a liberal administration than to have their idolized French brethren bite their extended limp hands) are the template of things to come.
My only confusion is over motive. Does Obama do this for (a) domestic political purposes: trashing Bush abroad*, coupled with fawning foreign crowds and photo-ops, remind Americans that someone made them liked abroad after someone else did not? (b) Is it more personal, as in messianic: he sees himself as a sort of Mandela/Gandhi figure, post-national, post-patriotic, post-American in whom the souls of 6 billion are invested for ‘hope and change’? (c) Is there a touch of Democratic savvy as well—the more these “breakthroughs” are associated with Obama, the more Hillary seems sidelined, and / or forced to implement his lead? Compared to the high Rice profile, her stature seems more and more dwarfish. (d) Does he really believe in conflict resolution theory that postulates escalating disagreements arise from miscommunication and misunderstanding rather than an aggressive party sensing that its putative opponent cannot or will not impede it—in other words faith in the UN rather than age-old balance of power, deterrence, and ‘quiet but carry a big stick’ preparedness? (e) Does Obama, whether being nourished on the mother milk of Wright, Ayers, Khalidi, etc, or from his university training and Chicago organizing, really see the U.S. as historically a uniquely oppressive society in terms of race, class, and gender, and hence perhaps have empathy for a Castro or Chavez, at least more than he does for Americans of the sort who go to tea parties and listen to Fox News? I’ll let readers decide, but so far his rhetoric has been harsher to those on Wall Street, his opponents in Congress, those who make over $250,000, and those who criticize him than it has to those who clearly don’t like us abroad.
And the result will be soon, as Sarkozy presciently saw, a general sizing up of the Obama two-step. They will either believe that we are weak, and cannot stand in the way of their illiberal agendas, or believe that Obama is somewhat sympathetic to their anti-capitalist, anti-democratic scenarios, or believe that he is a true multiculturalist who believes in the “Post-American world”.
* Cf. the latest two-step (From the CNN story of the President’s Trip to Latin America): (A)
“Obama sought to distance his administration from that of his predecessor, noting that he plans to close the detention center at Guantanamo, where "some of the practices of enhanced interrogation techniques, I think, ran counter to American values and American traditions."
With the inevitable (B):
“But he did not dwell on his predecessor's legacy. "I'm a strong believer that it is important to look forward and not backward ..."