I have tried diligently to detect some subtle rationale for this administration’s policy toward the Muslim world. There have been some good moves, particularly the emphasis on Afghanistan and the serious effort, after eight years of grapefruit-league tokenism, to apply all means — aid, diplomacy, and force — to produce the desired outcome there. The delay before acting was distressing, but better to take a good look before leaping. And yet: Taking the plunge while promising to be out next year was insane. Wars cannot be conducted that way. President Roosevelt did not ask Congress to declare a war that would last only until the day before the next presidential election, and President Truman did not secure the agreement of the United Nations for a “police action” in Korea (in which 33,000 American servicemen died) that would last only until a certain date. It is now clear that the greatest problem in Afghanistan is the corruption of the Karzai government, which was well known before the president committed to the tripling of the American military effort there.
It seemed, after the 2008 election, that Mr. Obama thought that, having convinced the great white moderate political center of America that it should put him in the White House to slake its concerns about 400 years of mistreatment of blacks (and, as a bonus, to be spared having to take seriously the posturings of charlatans like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson ever again), he might be perhaps able also to turn the page in international relations with many countries that were convinced the United States was governed by a self-serving white capitalist apparat. It was worth a try, but it didn’t work. Those countries and political currents in the world that do not wish America well don’t care who is in the White House. They want to pick America’s pocket, overrun its interests, and kill its children. Unfortunately, although President Obama may have made brief inroads on public opinion with his speeches in Egypt and Ghana, public opinion in undemocratic countries doesn’t have much force unless the regime is insufferably oppressive and terribly enfeebled. His words were eloquent in Ghana, rather cloying in Cairo; in both cases, they evaporated like the tropical dew.
Mr. Obama appears to believe some of the guilt-stained profferings he has made to the world: The United States should be more socialistic, like economically stagnant Europe, carried for decades by America’s addiction to Italian and French luxury goods and German engineered products. President Truman should not have dropped the atomic bomb. President Eisenhower should not have been complicit in turfing out Mossadegh (a deranged fellow-traveling demagogue who rarely got out of his pajamas, perhaps the sartorial inspiration for the late don of the Genovese crime family, Vincent “The Chin” Gigante), as prime minister of Iran.
America may just now be coming to grips with the implications of the fact that its president is going forth into the world actually believing the bunk that America pursued its national interest with unjustifiable callousness and behaved reprehensibly by the standards of those who reproach it now, and that there may actually be some merit to the Americaphobic strictures of the Ahmadinejads, Mugabes, and Chávezes.
Equally disturbing, he may also think that enemies like appeasers. Stalin told Churchill after they reminisced about Churchill’s having advocated “strangling Bolshevism in its cradle” in 1919, that “I prefer a candid opponent to a pretended friend.” Mao told Nixon: “I like conservatives, I can deal with them”; he said he admired and respected de Gaulle, Eisenhower, Nixon, and even Edward Heath, but not “these so-called social democrats claiming we really have a lot in common.” It must be clear to everyone by now that the disrespect that engulfed George W. Bush has now settled like an Angeleno smog on Obama. Even relatively well-disposed foreigners disparage, out of envy and habit, all U.S. presidents since Roosevelt, except JFK, as fools (Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Ford, Carter, Reagan, the Bushes), or knaves (Nixon and Clinton). But they think the Great Republic has scraped the barrel with George W. Bush and the incumbent. And unfortunately, for once, America’s critics may be correct.