Now that foreign leaders have had more than a year to size up the Obama administration, I think things abroad are going to begin to happen quite quickly. At best, American policy is so lethargic that it will force freeloaders and opportunists to grow up and get out on their own; at worst, we have flipped — and are no longer the world’s staunch bastion of support for free-market capitalist democracy.
At the U.N., America is now indistinguishable from Europe. Most have gotten the message by now that the United States is not particularly committed, at least in the old fashion, to defending Israel from its myriad of material and intellectual enemies.
The world’s troublemakers — Ahmadinejad, Chávez, Castro, Putin, etc. — assume that the world’s Marshal Will Kane took that buckboard ride out of Haldeyville and just kept on going. China, in its latest tantrum, has essentially announced that we are belligerent rivals. Japan doesn’t quite know what it is doing — only that the U.S. doesn’t either. India is worrying over what happened to the new, now old special friendship.
Latin America realizes that it is “progressive” ideology that wins American attention and understanding, regardless of the economic chaos or repression that goes on in places like Venezuela or Cuba. Iran — well, at this point, the world shrugs that it is a question of when, rather than if. There is a sort of calm for a bit on Russia’s periphery, since its scared former satellites need time to digest that they are entirely on their own if a Georgia-like dispute flares up.
Europe is also in sort of a deer-in-the-headlights trance. It is worried about “the future is Greece,” yet sees no disapproval from the U.S. of such fiscal recklessness; quite the opposite, they see American fiscal recklessness to trump their own. And while the Euro public still is hypnotized by Obamania, the leaders are starting to make some troubling “we got what we asked for” conclusions that a Dreams From My Father Obama doesn’t feel all that attached to either a shared Western tradition or any exceptional commonalities.
The war on terror is a confusing mishmash — part silly new euphemisms about war as legal wrestling, part trumping Bush on renditions, Predator attacks, wiretaps etc., part P.C. revisionist appeals to the Islamic world, and part infantile empty gesturing like closing Guantanamo within a year, trying KSM in a civil court in New York, or hounding former CIA interrogators. If we can’t figure it out, how could any abroad?
In other words, we’ve passed the look/see period of 1977–8, and a gut-check 1979 year of decision is almost upon us.