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Friday, April 29, 2011

Obama's approach to foreign policy

Charles Krauthammer takes his column today from the examination of Obama's foreign policy in the New Yorker. Lizza described the Obama approach as a modest thing.
One of his advisers described the President’s actions in Libya as “leading from behind.” That’s not a slogan designed for signs at the 2012 Democratic Convention, but it does accurately describe the balance that Obama now seems to be finding. It’s a different definition of leadership than America is known for, and it comes from two unspoken beliefs: that the relative power of the U.S. is declining, as rivals like China rise, and that the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world. Pursuing our interests and spreading our ideals thus requires stealth and modesty as well as military strength.
As Krauthammer points out, the idea of our power declining relative to China doesn't apply to our current foreign policy steps.
Amazing. This is why Obama is deliberately diminishing American presence, standing and leadership in the world?

Take proposition one: We must “lead from behind” because U.S. relative power is declining. Even if you accept the premise, it’s a complete non sequitur. What does China’s rising GDP have to do with American buck-passing on Libya, misjudging Iran, appeasing Syria?

True, China is rising. But first, it is the only power of any significance rising militarily relative to us. Russia is recovering from levels of military strength so low that it barely registers globally. And European power is in true decline (see Europe’s performance — excepting the British — in Afghanistan and its current misadventures in Libya).
Krauthammer then takes a hammer to the idea that the U.S. is especially reviled today in contrast to other periods in our recent history.
Proposition two: We must lead from behind because we are reviled. Pray tell, when were we not? During Vietnam? Or earlier, under Eisenhower? When his vice president was sent on a goodwill trip to Latin America, he was spat upon and so threatened by the crowds that he had to cut short his trip. Or maybe later, under the blessed Reagan? The Reagan years were marked by vast demonstrations in the capitals of our closest allies denouncing America as a warmongering menace taking the world into nuclear winter.

“Obama came of age politically,” explains Lizza, “during the post-Cold War era, a time when America’s unmatched power created widespread resentment.” But the world did not begin with the coming to consciousness of Barack Obama. Cold War resentments ran just as deep.

It is the fate of any assertive superpower to be envied, denounced and blamed for everything under the sun. Nothing has changed. Moreover, for a country so deeply reviled, why during the massive unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan and Syria have anti-American demonstrations been such a rarity?
There is something truly bizarre in the leader of his country molding his country's foreign policy around the idea that everyone dislikes us and, in Obama's view, rightly dislikes us. Can you think of any great leader whose governing principle is that his own country is morally deficient and deservedly reviled.
Who truly reviles America the hegemon? The world that Obama lived in and shaped him intellectually: the elite universities; his Hyde Park milieu (including his not-to-be-mentioned friends, William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn); the church he attended for two decades, ringing with sermons more virulently anti-American than anything heard in today’s full-throated uprising of the Arab Street.

It is the liberal elites who revile the American colossus and devoutly wish to see it cut down to size. Leading from behind — diminishing America’s global standing and assertiveness — is a reaction to their view of America, not the world’s.

Other presidents have taken anti-Americanism as a given, rather than evidence of American malignancy, believing — as do most Americans — in the rightness of our cause and the nobility of our intentions. Obama thinks anti-Americanism is a verdict on America’s fitness for leadership. I would suggest that “leading from behind” is a verdict on Obama’s fitness for leadership.
Exactly so. This view of Obama is no surprise to anyone who followed Obama's political history. And now we're seeing how incoherent a foreign policy is created out of such a view.


Pat Patterson said...

Leading from behind? In the military the response to that aphorism is asking if that person has ever tried to push a string?

tfhr said...

Pat Patterson,

Of course there's also the ever popular acronym, BOHICA, to describe leadership from the rear.

pumping-irony said...

Leading from behind, kinetic military action, bending the cost curve down, integrative complexity, quantitative easing, etc, etc. When the agenda and policies are failures, generate more gibberish and tell the angry proles they are just too simplistic to understand the lack of results doesn't imply failure, it's merely means the definition of "success" needs reworking. Nuance.