Resetting the Reset Button
Obama wanted to set our diplomacy on a new track. And that's just what he has done.


Victor Davis Hanson

After ten months of “Bush did it” diplomacy, the Obama administration needs to reset its reset button.

On substantial issues, relations with Europe have not improved. The governments in France, Germany, Italy, and, soon, Great Britain are conservative, and increasingly skeptical of Obama’s diplomacy.

Germany bowed out on further stimulus. Sarkozy lectured us about utopian rhetoric without action on Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The British press is collating a daily litany of our snubs and slights — and is beginning to conclude that, in Obama’s eyes, the British are not centuries-long invaluable American allies, but pesky, bothersome has-beens, forever culpable for colonial imperialism. If only their queen were a royal Saudi theocrat or a deified Asian emperor, she’d win an Obama kowtow.

The Czechs and Poles will never again rely on a distant ally in confrontation with a proximate enemy; they do not need to relearn the lessons of 1939. Autonomous former Soviet republics understand that Russia’s Putin has a de facto green light to “readjust” their present-day, “ad hoc” borders — with President Obama about as clear on any future dispute as candidate Obama was about Georgia.

Don’t expect more European troops in Afghanistan. The NATO allies believe that our hearts aren’t in the war, and they fear being part of a humiliating Suez-like defeat. And after preening for a “green” American president, half of Europe is angry that Obama’s soaring hope-and-change rhetoric will not be followed by any concrete cap-and-trade commitment; while the other half is scared that Obama really believes the hocus-pocus science that the world got a recent glimpse of from the corpus of East Anglian e-mails.

India and China — one-third of the world’s population — have not fallen for the hope-and-change trope. China won’t hear our sermons on Tibet, human rights, carbon imprints, or Taiwan — not with new American hyper-deficits that will lead us to ask China to cough up trillions in capital to finance new entitlements for Americans that are not accorded to the Chinese people.

India wants to ensure that the Bush administration’s support for outsourcing, free trade, nuclear development, and India’s position in Kashmir is not replaced by a moral equivalence in which a democratic English-speaking India is simply unexceptional, and thus indistinguishable from an Islamic, bellicose, and unstable Pakistan.

But didn’t Obama’s new Middle East outreach — stamped with Bush culpability, recognition of Islam’s brilliance, monotonous promises of friendship, and emphasis on Obama’s unique name, heritage, and patrimony — at least bring political dividends?

Hardly. Iran has announced an expansion, not the cessation, of its nuclear-enrichment program. We have achieved the paradoxical result of having polarized our democratic ally Israel without winning over the autocratic Palestinians. The Sunni Arab world assumes that a Shiite Persia will go nuclear, and in response the Arabs will probably seek their own deterrent. Obama’s cozying up to Syria has achieved nothing other than bolstering Damascus’s confidence about re-entering Lebanon and copycatting the Iranian model of nuclear acquisition.

In general, the Arab world is suspicious of those who trash their own. Its leaders interpret Obama’s apologies for his own country as being as much a character defect as proof of any new accommodation. And while Obama repents for America’s misdemeanors, most leaders in the Middle East have no intention of apologizing for their countries’ felonies.

After the loud outreach to Castro, Chávez, Morales, Ortega, and Zelaya, Latin America may truly believe that we have flipped. Imagine! America is now more on the side of socialist, non-democratic leaders who agitate for radical social and economic changes.

But that about-face only means more turmoil, not less, as Venezuela’s Chávez weighs the pros and cons of a border dispute with Colombia and leaders in Ecuador and Peru see the tangible advantages of shutting down the opposition, as Chávez has done.