Politics & Policy

Back to the Good Ole Days Before Dubya?

How Obama will restore America's standing in the world.

We know the critique of present American foreign policy under George W. Bush — unilateralist and preemptive — and to some extent we know Sen. Obama’s promised corrective — multilateral and reflective. So let’s take a serious look at what exactly is wrong with the former, and how things would substantially improve under the latter.

Let’s start with India. Indians poll pro-American by wide margins — due no doubt to America’s unnecessary coddling of the world’s largest democracy. If Sen. Obama acts on his complaints about the outsourcing of U.S. jobs to India and institutes his anti-NAFTA preferences in U.S. trade relations, India may finally receive the tough love it has been needing. After all, didn’t President Bush give away the nuclear game with India? Perhaps a President Obama will back out of existing agreements in order to ensure that India does not receive advanced nuclear technology. (In recompense, they’ll have little reason to complain, relatively speaking: Sen. Obama has suggested the U.S. should preemptively invade our ally Pakistan in order to hunt down Osama bin Laden.)

#ad#And China — what are we doing wrong there? Its increasing appetite for world resources means it cares not a whit what happens in the Sudan, as long as it gets its oil. Some Chinese products, as Sen. Obama rightly reminds us, are shoddy and sometimes dangerous — no doubt a result of our indiscriminate free-trade policy. The way China treats Tibetans and Uyghur Muslims violates canons of human decency. Will a President Obama protect American jobs, champion human rights, and ensure fair and safe trade by redefining our relationship with China — which holds a trillion dollars in U.S. government bonds?

Anti-Americanism runs rampant in Europe. Under an Obama administration, should we expect friendlier governments than Sarkozy’s France or Merkel’s Germany? Perhaps Obama might cancel that provocative missile-defense system in Eastern Europe designed to stop an Iranian nuclear guided missile — a welcome end to the saber-rattling of George W. Bush’s cowboy diplomacy.

Or will Sen. Obama try to save American jobs by nullifying contracts with the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. to provide refueling tankers to the U.S. Air Force? We can be sure that he will embrace the emissions-reduction targets set in the Kyoto accords — in that way, he will encourage Europeans to do the same, since their repeated failures in meeting their promised reductions must surely be laid at Mr. Bush’s feet: the EU has been waiting for America to show the way. Perhaps Sen. Obama could regain EU goodwill by pressuring Europeans to drop agricultural subsidies — and eliminate our own — and so give former third-world farmers a break. That would be liberal change I could believe in.

Then there is Russia. Surely Obama will do something about Putin, who seemed too cozy with Bush while he hijacked Russian democracy and used his oil to bully Europe. Perhaps Obama can craft an ingenious speech that will persuade the Kremlin’s ex-KGB kleptocrats to act more civilly in the world, especially concerning their trafficking with the likes of Iran and Syria?

Speaking of the Middle East, how will Obama restore American prestige there and ameliorate the damage done in the Bush years? Perhaps he could send Nancy Pelosi back to Syria to engage Mr. Assad? Or ask the Democratic Congress to condemn Turkey for the Armenian genocide?


Will Obama’s fast-track pullout of Iraq — and his willingness to sit down, without preconditions, with the mullahs of Iran — assure stability in the region, and win the confidence of our Arab allies? Sens. Obama and Clinton have both written epitaphs for the surge: Why, then, continue a failed policy? Once Americans are out of Iraq by mid-2009, Iraqis themselves — as Afghans, Cambodians, Somalis, Rwandans, and Yugoslavs have done before them — can work out their differences on their own. And since we were always the gratuitous targets that created terrorists ex nihilo, no doubt Dr. Zawahiri and President Ahmadinejad will move on to other Great Satans, once they see that those provocative American GIs have turned tail and fled their neighborhoods.

Since it is self-evident that the absence of another 9/11-like attack here at home was a fluke — and had nothing to do either with Guantanmo, the Patriot Act, wiretaps, the destruction of al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan, or the annihilation of Wahhabi terrorists in Iraq — President Obama will be free to shut down all such legally dubious homeland-security measures. All that will reassure Americans and Europeans that those efforts were both unnecessary and antithetical to our values. There never was, and won’t be, any danger of another 9/11.

#ad#Since NAFTA was a sell-out of American workers, President Obama can, as he seems to promise, withdraw from the association and restore tariffs on Canadian and Mexican goods, while ending our xenophobic paranoia about “secure borders” — especially silly ideas like fences and walls. There would be no need to extend NAFTA-like accords to Colombia, and we should also reexamine sweetheart deals with Middle-Eastern countries like Jordan.

The world between 1992-2000 is the model we are to emulate, it seems. The world was much safer then — before George W. Bush’s indiscriminate wars — and it can be so again. In those golden days, the U.S. rightly contextualized “random” terrorist acts — making the proper distinctions between war and “police matters.” Yes, it’s true that thousands of American soldiers died in those peaceful days — about 7,500 between 1993-2000 — but they did so in noncombatant-related operations. Back then, our experts appreciated the hard lines and firewalls that separated Hezbollah from Iran, Sunni terrorists from Shiite killers, and were always careful not to overreact and turn mere responses into needless wars. In extremis, we can employ tried-and-true tools like no-fly zones, oil-for-food embargoes, U.N. sanctions, and the occasional cruise missile — avoiding the mess of President Karzai’s Afghanistan or President Maliki’s Iraq, and the peripheral blowback involving a jittery Libya, Syria, and Pakistan’s Dr. A. Q. Khan.

Presently the United States does the world’s heavy lifting under a Texan who says “nucular.” But soon it may well be charmed and mesmerized by a smooth-talking icon who raises trade barriers, leaves the Middle East to the Middle East, gets tough on China and India, relaxes relations with Iran, Syria, Cuba, and Venezuela, while redefining existing ones with Pakistan — and says to Europe, “We’re right behind you!” Let’s hope it will be as pleasant to see the results as it has been to listen to the utopian rhetoric.

– Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Yes, They Are Coming for Your Guns

At the Democratic-primary debate in Houston last night, Beto O’Rourke formally killed off one of the gun-control movement’s favorite taunts: The famous “Nobody is coming for your guns, wingnut.” Asked bluntly whether he was proposing confiscation, O’Rourke abandoned the disingenuous euphemisms that have ... Read More
White House

Politico Doubles Down on Fake Turnberry Scandal

It's tough to be an investigative reporter. Everybody who feeds you a tip has an axe to grind. Or, alternatively, you find yourself going, "I wonder if . . . ?" You put in your research, you talk to lots of people, you accumulate a huge pile of information, but you still haven't proved your hypothesis. A wise ... Read More