President Obama’s speech to the U.N. has been called naïve and even “post-American.” It was something else as well: the most extravagant excursion into self-worship we have yet seen in an American leader.
Beware of politicians who claim to be “humbled by the responsibility the American people have placed upon me.” It’s a neon sign flashing the opposite. And sure enough, in almost the next sentence, the president allowed that “I am well aware of the expectations that accompany my presidency around the world.” Really? The whole world pulses with hope and expectation because Obama is president? People in Amsterdam, São Paulo, and Taipei have a spring in their step because an Illinois Democrat won the White House? Well, yes, he says, but it’s not “about me,” rather it’s a reflection of dissatisfaction with the “status quo that has allowed us to be increasingly defined by our differences and outpaced by our problems.” Oh yes, and everyone around the world was electrified by Obama’s campaign slogan because these expectations “are also rooted in hope. The hope that real change is possible and the hope that America will be a leader in bringing about such change.”
Obama is, we are told, the smartest man to sit in the Oval Office in many a year. And yet he is capable of truly flabbergasting fatuities like this: “In this hall, we come from many places, but we share a common future.” You don’t say? That’s right up there with Warren Harding’s declaration that “the future lies before us.” Obama announced that we no longer “have the luxury of indulging our differences to the exclusion of the work that we must do together. I have carried this message from London to Ankara, from Port of Spain to Moscow, from Accra to Cairo, and it is what I will speak about today.” Note the personal pronoun. But what message has this evangelist carried to all these world capitals? That hope and change have been vouchsafed to the fallen world in the person of Barack Obama?
During last year’s campaign, Michelle Obama and her defenders insisted that her phrase “For the first time in my adult life I’m proud of my country” (for supporting her husband) was unfairly wrenched from its context. Maybe, though she said it more than once. But President Obama’s indictment of the U.S. before the U.N. suggests identical sentiments. “I took office at a time when many around the world had come to view America with skepticism and distrust,” the president said. And mostly, it seems, those views were justified. America had acted “unilaterally, without regard for the interests of others.” Addressing himself directly to America’s critics, the president began with, “For those who question the character and cause of my nation . . .” He could have mentioned the Marshall Plan, the Berlin Airlift, the billions spent on fighting AIDS in Africa, tsunami relief, the Green Revolution, and defeating Nazism and Communism, just for starters. But that’s not what the president had in mind. “I ask you to look at the concrete actions we have taken in just nine months. On my first day in office, I prohibited without exception or equivocation the use of torture by the United States of America. I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed.” The audience, composed in part of regimes that pluck out the eyeballs of political enemies and hack off the hands of suspected thieves, applauded vigorously.
There are no limits to the good can be achieved if the world will follow Obama’s leadership. “Consider the course that we’re on if we fail to confront the status quo: extremists sowing terror in pockets of the world, protracted conflicts that grind on and on, genocide, mass atrocities, more nations with nuclear weapons, melting ice caps and ravaged populations, persistent poverty, and pandemic disease.” Yes that’s humble all right. All of those evils can be avoided by the right leadership? The hubris is staggering.
Not that the solutions President Obama proposes could, even if fully implemented in every detail, prevent those catastrophes. Arguably, his solutions would invite worse. He proposes, for example, not just to fight nuclear proliferation (on which he has so far achieved nothing), but also to rid the world of nuclear weapons. By promising this, he (a) ratifies the arguments of Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong Il that it is somehow unjust for some nations to have nuclear weapons and others not; and (b) commits the United States to suicidal unilateral disarmament. If the U.S. did give up its nuclear weapons and, by some miracle, the other nuclear powers did as well, world peace would not dawn. The race to acquire those weapons by lesser powers would intensify, as their relative value would increase immeasurably.
Those are the kinds of cold realities Obama might grapple with, if he weren’t so distracted by his looking glass.