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.