The Obama reset foreign policy has, in an unintended way, brought clarity to America’s traditional role in the world. After 2004, “blame Bush” proved an easy way for Europeans and American liberals to delude themselves into thinking the world’s problems neither predated nor transcended George W. Bush: Tensions arose, America was at fault, Bush was the culprit, presto! Remove Bush, elect his antithesis, and a natural state of calm would return.
But suddenly Barack Obama’s brief tenure has reminded us that, in fact, almost all the world’s crises arose before the Bush presidency and continued during and after it. Examine current American foreign policy toward every region, and one of three general patterns emerges: Either things are no better since the end of 2008, or they are much worse, or the Obama administration has reverted to the Bush way of doing things — despite constant assurances to the world that Bush was at fault, American foreign policy was now reset, and global animosity arose out of past misunderstanding, insensitivity, and American hubris.
Take first our most vocal and overt enemies. Fidel Castro, after a few mixed messages, is still recycling his 1960s anti-American boilerplate. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad is cementing relations with Iran and Hezbollah, and doing nothing to help matters either in Iraq or in the Mideast generally, despite being assured by Obama that he can do business with someone who is not “smoke ’em out” George Bush.
North Korea’s unhinged rhetoric and occasional missile or torpedo shots escalate. Hugo Chávez is becoming more authoritarian and more anti-American the more he need no longer call Bush a devil. Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the world at the United Nations that the United States might well have planned to kill the 3,000 of its own citizens who died on Sept. 11, 2001; apparently the tired American apologies for the removal of Mossadeq nearly sixty years ago still do not register.
Note that in each of these instances, appeasement — failing to support the Iranian freedom protestors, ignoring the abuses of the Cuban and Syrian totalitarian regimes, and keeping silent about the destruction of democracy in Venezuela — has resulted in even more animus, just as appeasement of the unhinged and dictatorial always does. One might almost conclude that dictatorships hate American freedom, the global stature and power of the United States, and our propensity to oppose aggrandizement, and that they do not much care who happens in any given year to be in the White House.
Then there are the big four. China is more confident today in confronting the Japanese and its other neighbors in the Pacific. It sees no obstacle to being the new ascendant power, flexing its growing muscles as Japan did in the 1920s, and imperial Germany at the turn of the 20th century (and we know how all that ended up). Turkey wishes to become the new Ottoman Empire, and it sees the United States as largely indifferent to its ambitions, and perhaps even quietly sympathetic. Relations with India are no better than they were under Bush, and perhaps less friendly. Russia, in contrast, seems to be quite fond of the Obama administration — to the degree it is given concessions in return for empty promises. It weighs the downside of having a nuclear Islamic Iran in its neighborhood against the upside of having such a rogue state, which, at least in the short term, is more a problem for America than for Russia. Chaos in the Middle East, Putin knows well, is always good for the oil business.