Not being George W. Bush while apologizing for America’s purported sins is not a foreign policy.
Ronald Reagan came into office with the idea of rolling back the Soviet Union. Reagan hoped that such an evil empire might collapse from its inability to match a newly confident United States.
George H. W. Bush sought to oversee a peaceful dissolution of the Soviet empire, the reunification of Germany, and a new Western-led world order that thugs such as Manuel Noriega or Saddam Hussein could not disrupt.
Bill Clinton pushed Western-inspired liberal globalization to lift the Third World out of poverty.
After 9/11, George W. Bush sought to keep America safe from another round of Islamic terrorism while promoting Middle East constitutional government as a way of weakening Islamic terrorism.
But what exactly does Barack Obama wish to accomplish abroad?
In interviews and speeches, Obama emphasizes his nontraditional background and his father’s Islamic heritage. Apparently, he hopes that by reminding the world that he is not George W. Bush, America will be better liked.
But without a strategic vision, “Bush did it” leads nowhere — given that most of the world’s problems predated and transcend Bush. Obama doesn’t seem to understand than wanting people to like America is only a means to an end, not a policy in itself — and an especially dubious means, given the character of many nations in the world today.
Nor does Obama comprehend that global tensions often reflect fundamentally different views of the human condition, rather than simple miscommunication or clumsy diplomacy — and so can’t be solved by serial apologies.
Last I heard, the Chinese Communist government has not said a word about the killing of millions of its own, or about past fighting with many of its neighbors. Russia does not apologize for its bloodletting in Chechnya — or for any of the other countries it has invaded and crushed.
Only Obama’s America offers atonement, as if apologies will singularly achieve our new goal of being liked. Yet when there is no upside for a country’s being democratic or pro-American, and not much downside for its being dictatorial and anti-American, global confusion follows over the proper path that civilization should follow.
So, after 16 months of the Obama presidency, we are starting to see the sort of chaos that results from America’s lack of strategic vision or advocacy of its own values.
Suddenly, democratic allies such as Colombia, Israel, and India cannot count on our support in their rivalries with aggressive neighbors, while overt enemies such as Iran, Hamas, and North Korea wonder whether a brief window has opened for aggrandizement without repercussions.
In the Middle East, Israel is being tested as never before by Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, and now Turkey — under the cloud of a soon-to-be-nuclear Iran. Apparently, they all think that suddenly the U.S. is no longer Israel’s protector, and the opportunity for upping the ante should not be missed.
North Korea warns that Seoul might be “a sea of flame,” while jittery Japan cannot seem to stabilize its government. Turkey is starting to sound more like the old Ottoman sultanate, eager for a showdown with the West, than a NATO ally.
Along with Brazil and Russia, Turkey is seeking to water down American efforts to stop Iranian nuclear proliferation. Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez now insults an obsequious Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as much as he once did a tough-talking George W. Bush. In fact, the more we reached out in 2009 to Iran, Russia, Syria, Turkey, and Venezuela, the more they all now seem hostile — suggesting magnanimity is often seen by such governments as appeasement that in turn encourages aggression.
A cash-flush China wonders why it should finance record U.S. borrowing for entitlements it cannot afford for its own people. We seem to gratuitously offend our oldest and best ally, the British, in novel ways each week. The European Union is in a meltdown, and many of its key members suspect that America no longer sees itself as a leader of shared Western interests. Or that if it does, it is now too broke to do much anyway.
In all these crises, trashing George W. Bush, reaching out to enemies and taking friends for granted is not proving to be a coherent foreign policy. Instead, it is a prescription for a disaster not seen since 1979, when another messianic American president thought he could charm the world by making our enemies like us.
And we all know how that ended.
– Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern. © 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.