One wonders whether President Obama, for all the soaring rhetoric, grasps why certain nations really do hate us. Does he think a Grozny, Darfur, Rwanda, Serbia, or Tibet happen in reaction to US global sinful conduct? Does he appreciate why hot spots like Cyprus, Taiwan, or Georgia, do not boil over—or under what conditions they might? Does he really believe that in the pre-Bush era we all got along (cf. his al Arabiya interview); then Bush’s strutting, unilateralism, and preemption, presto, caused anti-Americanism?
Take Iran. It wants to be the preeminent regional power in the Middle East, and win for the Persian Shiites the mantle of Islamic frontline leadership in the long war to destroy Israel. That requires oil revenue, sponsorship of terror, and nuclear weaponry.
Despite Bill Clinton’s past ramblings, it is not democratic; instead, prescreened, preapproved candidates are confirmed by plebiscites, and civil liberties are nonexistent as we know them. The history of Khomeinism is one of executing thousands of Shah-supporters, sending tens of thousands to their deaths in mass wave attacks in Iraq, and using surrogate Hezbollah and Shiite operatives to blow up Americans from Lebanon to Iraq. In other words, a democratic internationalist America stands in the way of their megalomaniac aspirations.
After the Carter humiliations, the Reagan disaster with Iran-Contra, the Clinton feeble attempts at appeasement, Americans gave up on the Khomeinists, and more or less hoped to distinguish the Iranian people from their theocracy, talk up democratic change, and contain the mullahs’ terrorist aspirations. We can do this adroitly or clumsily, but existential differences will remain nonetheless—until a change in ideology on their or our part. Either they reenter the family of nations, or we redefine the family of nations to include thugocracies.
And now? What is there to negotiate over? How soon they can have the bomb? Triangulation with them over Israel? Promises to quit sending shaped charges into Iraq to kill more Americans.
Why does Hugo Chavez hate us? Is it because Bush’s ‘dead or alive’ed him or ‘with us or against us”ed him? Hardly. Chavez wants to end democracy in Venezuela for good, turn it into a Cuba-like communist dictatorship, use his oil revenues to whip up liberationist, anti-Yanqui feelings throughout South America, and end up with himself as some sort of messianic caudillo of the entire socialist continent.
Sound crazy? No more crazy than the daily Chavez communiqués. Again, by good or bad diplomacy we can soothe or excite him–but otherwise his aims are antithetical to the notion of democratic, capitalist states, with close ties to the North American democracies.
We can ditto all this with North Korea, Cuba, Russia, Syria, etc. So far all the Obama apologies for the sins of his own country (note always before he came on the scene), the serial “Bush did it” invective, the promises of a brave new Obama transnational world, the evocation of his middle name, and non-traditional lineage, and shared demagoguery against “them” (Wall Street, the greedy, the unpatriotic who make over the mythical trip wire $250,000), have not, and will not, change much abroad. Has Cuba promised to release prisoners, or apologized for all those killed? Has Chavez vowed to restore constitutional governance and quit subversion of his neighbors?
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 ..."