Work and Days

The Postnational, postmodern, post-everything Presidential Trip

 

 1.  Do They all Do This? A good argument could be made that Jacques Chirac was deeply unpopular (along with his foreign minister Dominque de Villepin) in the US and the UK. Even more so was Gerhard Schröder, and to a lesser extent his postmodern foreign minister Joschka Fischer, veteran of the 1960s Days of Rage.

No need to comment on the controversial career of Vladimir Putin. But one rarely sees Mr. Sarkozy trash Chirac, or Merkel dump on Schröder, or Medvedev reject Putin. Is the trashing of your predecessor an Obama phenomenon? Why do transnationalist, internationalist European leaders not attack their own countrymen, much less their own cultures, but supposedly chauvinistic Americans now do? (We were told that Europeans were engaged, but not lately due to the awful Iraq and worse Bush; but with Iraq quiet and a messianic American President, do we dare suggest that its failure to involve itself in Afghanistan or to galvanize against Korea or Iran (much less in Darfur) suggests that “we hate Bush” was just pretense?

2. On Being Liked. Gaddafi likes us now thanks to Obama. So do Putin & Co. The Black Caucus just returned singing Fidel Castro’s praises, who apparently likes us now thanks to Obama. No need to mention the Europeans.

But let us distinguish popularity from respect or even credibility. Take Europe: they are going to send combat troops to Afghanistan (not); stimulate the world economy (ask Ms. Merkel); have their transnational financial czar (so says Mr. Sarkozy), help stop Iran or North Korea (will we?)? Try Russia: they now like us too, since we did what? Stood firm on missile defense? Suggested moderation on energy blackmail? Asked to show deference to the former Soviet republics? Suggested Putin stop murdering dissidents abroad?

Given the world’s cheap moralizing, could not Obama have just voiced one thought? Try: “It is easy to fault President Bush for much of the ill-feeling toward the United States. That is too facile an explanation. As a global leader with often conflicting world responsibilities, America is presented with bad and worse alternatives and our choices simply will never please everyone.” That would be true and honest, given that Obama trashed Bush, but kept his Iraq and Afghanistan policies, and so far has not found any new solutions to old problems with Iran, North Korea and Russia. 

3. The sorta, kinda, maybe war. The world was told Guantanamo will close (when exactly?), that we no longer “torture”, that we don’t rendition, that Iraq was a mistake, that Obama agrees with the world that Bush was (fill in the blank). So there are no longer “enemy combatants” or “a war on terror”—but then again there are.

Ponder: Daily those from Waziristan to Kuwait promise another 9/11 like hit. Iran tries everything under the sun to get its bomb. We send thousands more soldiers to Afghanistan; we kill dozens each month with Predator strikes in Afghanistan (rather a bit meaner than putting terrorists into Guantanamo cells with Korans and Mediterranean food).

This seems to me quite dangerous. Go through the logic: radical Islam is still trying to kill large numbers of Americans (such as they can after losing thousands in Afghanistan and Iraq the last eight years). We are killing lots of terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and upping the ante. But all the while we are reassuring the world we reject Bush’s prior war (that kept us safe) and have a new approach to foreign policy based on assurances that we are now caring, listening, multipolar, etc. It seems to me that at a time of defense cuts, and repeals of the Bush anti-terrorism agenda, and increased vows of our enemies to kill us, reassuring everyone we are no longer quite at war sends a surreal message to our enemies: just enough reassurance that we are no longer unpredictable, angry, and punitive, and just enough war to really anger fascistic terrorists. There must be some sober advisors like Gen. Jones and others who see the paradox.

4. Turkish Delight? I have real reservations of the method of Obama’s outreach to Turkey. Of course, all outreach is good in some sense. But the Turkish government is whipping up Islamic fundamentalism, has a long record of questionable behavior vis a vis the Kurds, poses real problems with membership to the European Union, and uses NATO for blackmail as much as participation (now they want an apology from the new NATO chief for not censoring a cartoon). Cyprus and Aegean overflights are not signs of multipolar world citizenship. And when we collate our histories–Ottoman/Turkish (e.g., long imperial enemy of the West, German imperial ally in World War I, rather tough on the Armenians, Nazi-friendly in World War II, quite murderous in Cyprus) versus American–I don’t see any reason to kow-tow.

5. Casting the First Stone. I wrote this on NRO’s Corner on the really bothersome habit of “America bad, but me magnanimous in apologies for it”, which in its essence is a form of narcissism that focuses applause on self, at the expense of the reputation of one’s country.

In this great age of atonement, in a mere two or three days the world has been reminded that (1) the U.S. has been arrogant; (2) dismissive and derisive to Europe; (3) was a slave-owning society; (4) practiced genocide against native Americans; (5) did not let blacks vote; (6) was the only nation to have used nuclear weapons; (7) embraced torture; (8) alienated the world under Bush, and on and on. The subtext has been that those of a different race, of a different era, or under a different president have done terrible things, which I, from my own moral Olympus, must now apologize for.

A modest suggestion: from now on, every president who wishes to go abroad and review all his lesser citizens’ collective past and present sins, with accompanying apologies — to applause from foreigners — must first, in the spirit of New Testament atonement, review his own regrettable transgressions. It would go something like this:

“Today we witness a global financial meltdown — a result of a dangerous nexus between lax politicians and unethical high finance. I know this well, and wish to apologize for taking thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the now-bankrupt AIG financial firm, which sought to escape proper regulation by offering campaign contributions to politicians like myself, who unilaterally renounced the three-decade tradition of public campaign finance.” 

“Smoking is a great plague on the world, killing millions each year and giving great profits to modern merchants of death. I, President Obama, as a long smoker, know that temptation well and the global health problems entailed with tobacco addiction. We all also most avoid the perils of drug usage, a plague on all our nations. I can attest that as a youth I used cocaine, not only endangering my health, but doing my small part to send profits back to drug cartels abroad that cause so much death and destruction.”

“Racism is an insidious pathology that reaches even into the pulpit; it is a human sin that no one race has a monopoly on. I am well aware of the havoc it causes the innocent — after failing to say “No! Stop!” to my own Rev. Wright as he caricatured in my church whites, Jews, Italians, and almost anyone else who does not look like himself and our congregation. Likewise, class prejudice and stereotyping are often at the heart of much of the world’s problems; I too have engaged in such hurtful condemnations when just recently I labeled, in blanket fashion, the working class of rural Pennsylvania as xenophobes, fundamentalists, and nativists.” 

“We need to adopt a new attitude toward the mentally and physically challenged; too often we flippantly make fun of the disabled, as I did, when I unthinkingly made a joke in front of a national television audience at the expense of those who participate in the Special Olympics.”

“Now turning to my country’s own regrettable past, let me begin with an apology for its . . .”

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 Footnote.  The once insightful Fox News is rapidly devolving into a sort of entertainment circus. That is a tragedy, since the network for years has done wonders in offering an antithesis to the supposedly non-biased biased network news. Each news show now interviews hosts from the other Fox news hours (To save money? Free publicity?). Hawking books (written in short, breezy style, without much analysis) is done on the air rather than as commercials. Anchors show old clips of themselves and invite in analysts to praise their on-air interviews (are they going to be invited back if critical?).

The hosts now constantly blare out their own ratings. Murder and rapine often headline the news in the manner of the local 6PM affiliates. Quiz shows are part of the news; female analysts are almost always either young or blond or usually both, rather than simply insightful. The sober and judicious Brit Hume’s presence is missed. Take away a few top-notch correspondents, and Charles Krauthammer’s  sagacity and depth of thinking, and there is increasingly not a lot there. (but I like Neil Cavuto’s business hour and Dennis Miller’s op-eds) All in all, an unfortunate development, since there is no disinterested counterpart to a 60 Minutes or NBC News, and for years Fox offered an invaluable alternative in airing real news deliberately ignored by the mainstream networks.