In the Obama way of thinking, adversaries can claim an indigenous authenticity by the degree to which they share the progressive suspicion of the United States. What an Ahmadinejad or Assad shouts about America is simply a crude and bombastic version of what is too often taught in university ethnic-studies or political-science classes. That is why the unhinged Dr. Zawahiri or Osama bin Laden loved to quote back at us everyone from a like-minded Noam Chomsky to a befuddled Jimmy Carter.
We did not “meddle” in Iran, because we were convinced that America was still culpable — a half-century later — for the Mossadegh mess. To support spontaneous democratic demonstrations of brave reformers might carry the smell of neoconservative democratic advocacy. And the protesters, nearly one million strong in the streets of Teheran, in turn were deemed less genuine by the very fact that they found something akin to our own system preferable to their home-grown theocratic nightmare.
The Arab League’s resolutions on Libya are honored while the U.S. Congress is not even consulted. The unelected members of the former are true representatives of the region, and their wisdom is thus legitimate; the elected representatives of the latter would only be guided by their Western prejudices and thus are suspect. Given the history of Yanquis in Latin America, we must consider extenuating circumstances that “locate” the oppression of a Castro, Chavez, or Ortega — while wondering why in the world a Chile, Colombia, or Honduras has at times emulated the United States. Questions of whether a Chilean is freer and more prosperous and has more legal protections than a Cuban or a Venezuelan are simply not part of the diplomatic equation.
Of course, there are ancillary motives for this bizarre foreign policy in addition to progressive suspicion of U.S. institutions and past behavior. The therapeutic notion of being liked is surely a driving force, inasmuch as the tragic notion of being respected or honored is seen as a 19th-century ossified concept with no relevance in a multilateral, multicultural global landscape. Unease with Europe and its Western heritage is an outgrowth of academic hectoring about its imperial and colonial past: A Nigerian is poorer than a Frenchman not because of an absence of transparent lawful government and property rights — both possible with sound indigenous leadership — but because of past and ongoing oppression by white interlopers.
Where does this new reset diplomacy lead?
Only to irony.
Because we cannot reassure our allies that we will meet our obligations, we will be less, not more liked for our deference and indecision. Leading from behind in Libya will not impress either our enemies or our friends in the Middle East. And if such lethargy was intended to embarrass Europe for its past nitpicking and present impotence, that message of Schadenfreude was sufficiently delivered on about day one of the Libyan bombing. Tilting toward Palestine at the expense of Israel will only remind radical Islamists that we are more afraid of their extremism than we are proud of our own tolerance.
In other words, what is forgotten in all these new ways of thinking about the world — which ultimately derive from half-century-old dogma about power, oppression, and the role of race, class, and gender in constructing norms — is that human nature is unchanging and trumps culture, race, and politics.
The most bloodthirsty Islamist, the loudest French Marxist, the most calculating Chinese realist — enemy, friend, or neutral — nonetheless will alike privately respect, or at least fear, those who live according to honor, consistent principles, and shared values, and take their word as their bond.
In other words, the more this administration tries to conduct its foreign policy in accordance with the values of most others abroad, the more most others abroad will dislike us for what we have become.