Appeasers believe that if you keep on throwing steaks to a tiger, the tiger will become a vegetarian.
—Heywood Campbell Broun.
I don’t think it’s hard to understand Obama’s foreign policy. Although there’s a lot we don’t know about him, his basic impulses are clear enough. He’s told us what they are (although, to be sure, he often misleads and obfuscates), and his actions are in keeping with his announced impulses. Furthermore, there’s nothing unique or surprising about them — you can hear them in our classrooms and our college dorms, and read them in the establishment press every day. He’s an establishment member in high standing.
He believes that most of the serious problems in the world are the result of past American actions. Call it imperialism. Call it meddling. Call it arrogance (as the Iranians do). Whatever you call it, it means that pre-Obama policies were bad. Ergo, it’s mostly Bush’s fault. (Shorthand for “before me, they didn’t understand. Anything.”)
It follows that the single most important action to ensure good policies is to rein in the United States. Get it out of the messes it has created. Weaken its abilities to meddle elsewhere. Ergo the retreats from Iraq and Afghanistan. Ergo the often spectacular dissing of past allies and the embarrassing embrace of previous and actual enemies. Diss Mubarak, embrace the Muslim Brotherhood. Ergo the incredible shrinking military budget, ergo the back-of-the-hand slap to many of our greatest warriors.
It also follows that our foreign policy requires a new language, beginning with making amends for the bad policies of the past, and continuing with a dramatic realignment, aiming at creating a new alliance structure with countries we maltreated in the past. Ergo the global apology tour. Ergo the refusal to respond to insults from the likes of Hugo Chavez. Ergo the Russian “reset” stratagem. And ergo the Iran deal, pursued eagerly and relentlessly even before the 2008 election results were in, wrapped in terms of respect (the careful pronunciation of “The Islamic Republic of Iran,” for example). And ergo the rejection of “American exceptionalism,” putting the United States on the same moral and political platform as contemporary Greece.
Those are his core principles. It’s a highly ideological policy matrix, beginning with his conviction that WE are the root cause of most bad things. It’s not subtle, doesn’t require mastery of nuance or even history, as his error-ridden Cairo speech demonstrated to anyone who cared to actually read it (my favorite is the claim that Muslims invented printing, when the Chinese did that, and Portuguese Jews brought it to the Middle East). Indeed, he and his minions are so uninterested in the facts of the world that they regularly invent the world, as Secretary of State Kerry did when he falsely announced that “last year, not one Israeli was killed by a Palestinian from the West Bank.” Actually there were several.
That’s what happens when an ideological vision blinds us to reality. Obama’s ideology is a “pidgin” version of the standard leftist view, according to which class conflict is the engine of history, with the oppressors (call them the 1%) ruling it over the impoverished and alienated poor (the 99%). The pre-Obama United States is the incarnation of the 1%, and most of the rest of the world, especially the poor, or underdeveloped world, make up the 99%. Obama and his followers have a romantic attachment to the 99%, and his many calls for “fairness” apply to his international impulses as well as to his domestic passions.
This notion of class conflict may have explained European history for a period right after the industrial revolution, but it has little to do with the globalized world we live in. Since it does not explain the world, people who believe it are very poorly placed to make sensible policy, either domestic or international. Yet those who believe it continue to embrace the happy thought that they are morally and intellectually superior to the rest of us, as Fred Siegel elaborates in his wonderful new book The Revolt Against the Masses.
We have been told that Obama considers himself so smart that he is bored with the problems that afflict the real world. He evidently thinks he’s got the answers. If you suggest that he’s failing, he lifts his chin and mentally tosses you into the “they don’t get it” pot.
Obama is actually easy to understand, although plenty of smart people keep trying to find other explanations. Of late, Peter Foster, Lee Smith and Mike Doran have been hard at it, looking for new ways to explain Obama’s Iran policy. Lee Smith argues that Obama’s a “realist,” and that his guru is Harvard’s Professor Walt. He suggests that Obama views the Middle East in old-fashioned balance-of-power terms, and accepts Iran as a major player with whom we must come to terms. Mr. Doran doesn’t think Obama really cares if Iran gets the bomb, and has been bluffing all along, and Mr. Foster thinks Obama doesn’t really care if the sanctions break down, since if Iran makes lots of money via deals with the P5+1 countries, they will be very reluctant to go back into the misery of the sanctions regime, thus making a final deal more likely. He quotes Wendy Sherman to that effect.
I agree with Doran and Foster, but I think their focus is too narrow. Iran policy isn’t a singular effort, it’s part of a pattern. Obama sympathizes with the regime’s ideology, he agrees that our past actions justify branding us the “Great Satan,” and he wants to make everything right with the mullahs. He doesn’t see the regime’s enmity toward America as a fixed principle, as their raison d’etre, and he has undertaken to change it. He has been secretly negotiating with them all along, convinced by his ideology that it will all work out. So he doesn’t fear a nuclear Iran any more than I fear a nuclear Britain, France or Israel.
Lee Smith’s surprising suggestion that Obama’s a “realist” strikes me as too far out. Yes, Walt and the president agree that Israel is a terrible nuisance, but Obama’s foreign policy–of which Iran is just one component–is hardly realistic. It’s driven by passion and a false vision of the world, not by tough-minded geopolitical analysis.
If you want a good two-word description of Obama’s approach to the world, call it passionate appeasement. And go back and read the quotation at the top.