The news is full of Michael Jackson and of the non-coup in Honduras, and, of course, Michael Jackson. Poor MJ always appeared a sad, pathetic figure; this feeling drove me to avoid his music, though others’ estimations of his talent seem plausible,but not compelling enough to make me want to hear him. And since the “coup” in Honduras turned out not to be toppling the government, this first public fisking of the Obama administration by John Bolton is far more compelling than either of those stories.
Mr. Bolton has taken his time going public on his views of Obama. His anger at Bush’s lack of action in his second term has been more obvious; Mr. Bolton was and remains clearly perturbed at the lack of clear policies. If Bolton doesn’t mind airing his views on the President under which he served (now that Bush is out of office), it makes one ponder just what Dick Cheney is planning to say in his forthcoming book about those eight years in office as the Vice President. Both men are equally judicious and equally plain-spoken.
But Cheney’s opinions will have to wait for the book. What we have now is an article by John Bolton in Standpoint, a British magazine. Why he chose this as his venue isn’t clear, but I’d sure like to know why he didn’t choose to go with a conservative American publication.
At one point in his essay, “The Post-American President”, Bolton calls Obama “the un-Bush”. It’s true that Obama spends an inordinate amount of time verbally distancing himself from Bush’s policies while he continues to implement them: Gitmo is still open despite his big signing ceremony (where it became obvious he was clueless as to the contents of his own executive order); the troops are moving out of Iraq on a schedule arranged by Bush and the Iraqi government; a buildup of troops in Afghanistan has been ordered by a president who made his reputation on being against war. Nor has the un-Bush had any more luck in engaging Iran or North Korea than did his predecessor.
What qualifies Obama as the first post-American president is his refusal to acknowledge American exceptionalism:
“I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”
Nice level playing field you have there, Mr. President. Is that why you’ve ignored the Greek economic implosion and dissed the Brits repeatedly? Do you dislike them as much as you dislike America?
American exceptionalism is a fact. What with our demoralized economy that characteristic may indeed be melting faster than an ice cream cone in August but for the length and breadth of its history, that exceptionalism has been a defining fact for America. Obama is busy trying to erase it.
Do Americans care a great deal about this characteristic? Do they care that Obama wants to erase it? Probably not a whole lot. Not anymore. As a people, we are under economic assault by this administration and we’re tired of the potshots across our bow from the rest of the world. If we could just rein in our foreign aid (let’s start with the UN!), the whole country would be better off for it.
Bolton did his research:
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It fell to an admiring media commentator to lift the cover more fully, and indeed unknowingly since he intended a compliment. Following Obama’s D-Day 65th anniversary speech, Newsweek editor Evan Thomas contrasted him with Ronald Reagan in 1984:
“Well, we were the good guys in 1984, it felt that way. It hasn’t felt that way in recent years. So Obama’s had, really, a different task….Reagan was all about America….Obama is ‘we are above that now’. We’re not just parochial, we’re not just chauvinistic, we’re not just provincial. We stand for something. I mean in a way Obama’s standing above the country, above – above the world, he’s sort of God…He’s going to bring all different sides together.”
Thomas was dramatically wrong about Reagan’s speech, which included sustained praise for America’s allies, and equating Obama to God was breathtaking even for the US press corps. But Thomas’s central observation was unquestionably correct: Obama is above all that patriotism stuff.
Which is why I’m glad we’re going to another Tea Party on the fourth of July this year. I think the White House is having a barbeque. They invited the Iranians – Obama is notoriously without a sense of irony – but Iran sniffed. They wouldn’t be caught dead at a White House event.
Two other elements in Obama’s thinking are critical. First, he is not George W. Bush. He is Barack Obama, a man who has already written two autobiographies and who has ascended continuously and effortlessly to ever-higher public office. Hence, Obama need do little except show up and “change” will occur in the global arena, without the need for “chauvinistic” exertions on behalf of “parochial” American interests, which, as embodied by President Bush, are inevitably arrogant and disrespectful of others. Second, Obama has not yet adjusted to governance rather than campaigning or to being in the Executive rather than the Legislative branch of government. Campaigning is now continuous, but not since Reagan has a President struck the right balance with governance. Moreover, failing to shift psychologically from Senator to President is a perennial US problem. Being President actually means governing, as opposed to flitting from speech to speech and vote to vote, which “showhorse” Senators (contrasted with their “workhorse” counterparts) are all too happy to do. Moreover, whether as legislator or as campaigner, Obama has concentrated on, and manifestly feels more comfortable with, domestic rather than foreign policy (with the singular exception of opposing the Iraq war in the 2008 campaign).
Bolton nails it there. It’s something I’ve noticed before: Obama flits. He’s restless and impatient. He has no executive experience, and foreign policy bores him. I wish it interested him more than the drastic hemorrhages he’s inflicting on us with his statist domestic avalanches of legislation.
We’ve had the stimulus attack (so where’s the money? Who knows…they say it’s coming any time now), the House just passed that job-killing “energy” bill, and before the Senate can consider it, everyone will have to do another left turn into the morass of health care legislation. Imagine the thousands of pages of closely-worded, complex formulations the Dems will generate for purposes of obfuscation.
Of North Korea, Bolton says that the script didn’t go according to Obama’s plan. But did anyone besides Obama think it would? Only an idjit would expect change from the North Koreans:
Pyongyang’s behaviour left the young Administration in a quandary. This was not the script Kim Jong-il was supposed to follow and the resulting policy options were perplexing to Obama’s mindset. Should he reverse Bush’s twin decisions to remove North Korea from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism and to allow it access to international financial markets? Doing so would, stunningly, leave him pursuing a harder line than Bush when he left office. Should Obama, in addition, press for meaningful new sanctions in the UN Security Council, and, if so, could he persuade Russia and China to support him? And what would other proliferators conclude if North Korea successfully called the American bluff? Where was North Korea’s open hand, and why wouldn’t it return to the Six Party Talks?
Duh. Only someone with a background in community organizing would ever have fallen for his own political posing. Sometimes Obama is breathtakingly naive.
Bolton looks at the situation with Iran before moving on to Israel. I urge you to read that section. I am more interested in what he has to say about our relations with the Israelis:
What is making a significant difference is the dramatic change in America’s attitude toward Israel and the seemingly endless “Middle East peace process”. Obama has, among other sea changes: adopted the European view that solving the Arab-Israeli dispute will facilitate solving all other Middle East problems; demanded adherence to the “two-state solution” with no tolerance for heresy; taken the hardest US position against expanding Israel’s West Bank “settlements” since the 1967 war; and insisted on speeding up the “peace process” in ways that can only work to Israel’s disadvantage. And, most importantly, Obama has leaned heavily on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu not to use military force against Iran’s nuclear facilities, despite the overwhelming evidence that Tehran can now fabricate nuclear weapons at a time of its choosing, indifferent to external considerations or pressure.
Israel has never been more distant from a US Administration, but politically Obama has so far covered himself effectively with the pro-Israel community, suffering few if any adverse political consequences. He may read that community more astutely than others, sensing a weariness with Israel’s struggles that he can exploit, or at least use to protect his political flanks. America’s strategic priorities are, of course, independent of domestic constituencies, but the basic political fact is that if the pro-Israel community tolerates Obama’s policies, it should not be surprising that many other Americans simply lose interest. That is what Obama may be counting on, as he whips Israel along the road to Damascus, Tehran and other exotic destinations.
Nice phrase that, “as he whips Israel along the road to Damascus”. In other words, as the Israelis are suddenly knocked off their horse and begin to think differently (a reference all readers of Christian scripture would recognize).
The various fig-leaves Obama is using to cover himself while posing for the “pro-Israel community” are going to shrivel soon, if they haven’t already. Tehran rolls on with its nuclear build up. America or no America, Israel will have to make its own decision at some point. Given its reputation for excellent intelligence, no doubt that beleaguered country will do whatever it has to do to survive.
Will that make Israel a pariah? How would we be able to tell? There has never been a country in its position that has managed to survive this long with such organized hatred arrayed against it. What its detractors don’t recognize is that these tactics feed Israel’s determination. “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” seems to be its motto and standard operating procedure.
Mr. Bolton gives Obama credit for his focus on Pakistan, but wonders how long he can hold out, while I wonder who is advising him on this:
Here, Obama has, to his credit, made Pakistan a far higher US priority, bolstered American assistance to its government, and assigned a Special Envoy on “Af-Pak” issues to highlight their prominence. Here, being the “un-Bush” is a plus, but how long the current Obama approach will continue remains to be seen. As noted above, many Democrats are quite unhappy with his Afghan policy, and the same applies to a tough approach in Pakistan. This is a major question, since of all the “front burner” issues now confronting Obama, Pakistan and its nuclear weapons may turn out to be his greatest and most important test.
Mr. Bolton ends with a prediction and a warning:
If there were just a single issue to watch for major developments in this Administration’s future, it would unquestionably be the UN and multilateralism, both on political questions and on the international “norming” of policies heretofore properly considered domestic in nature, such as gun control, the death penalty, abortion and many others, starting with climate change. Europeans, so amenable to stripping their democratically elected governments of one competence after another to express mail them to Brussels, will soon find soulmates hard at work in Washington trying to do something similar with multilateral bodies. [my emphasis – D]
In all the foregoing areas, Obama is daily acting out his worldview, and the prospect of more of the same should be deeply troubling to America’s global allies. The conceptual road map until at least 2012 is now plainly in evidence, if only incompletely realised to date. Obama simply does not see America’s strength as a particular asset, or its causes and interests as more than many other causes and interests competing in the world out there somewhere between Albania and Zimbabwe. Long after global Obamamania has worn off, the geostrategic consequences of this insouciance will be sorely felt. Of course, by then it may be too late.
The imposition of transnational values will not sit well with the large parts of the American population who consider themselves Jacksonians. The Wilsonians (or the Neville Chamberlains) are fine with severe gun control, international law, and all the rest of the utopian ideas they’ve been selling so hard for the last seventy years. They aren’t any closer to convincing the rest of us, but given their long march through our media, politics and educational systems they have more power now. It remains to be seen how permanent that power is and whether they can wield it successfully.
Yes, I’m rooting for the Jacksonians. Obviously Mr. Bolton is, too.
Hat tip: Zonka