American Elephants

America the Unexceptional: That’s Not Working Either. by The Elephant's Child

Bret Stephens who addresses foreign affairs for the Opinion page at the Wall Street Journal’s column today carries the headline “Barack Obama, Global Has-Been.” Ouch. The thrust of Mr. Stephens’ argument is that Barack Obama has confused popularity with respect.  He would rather be liked than feared. He wants America to be simply one among many nations, not exceptional, not special. And he has said just that.

But Mr. Obama confuses the meaning that Americans have of “exceptionalism.” Oh, sure, in contests, Americans will proudly annoy everyone else by shouting “USA, USA, USA”. People who come to this country for the first time are amazed by the flags flying everywhere, at private homes, and yes, at car dealers. We think we’re exceptional because we love our country and we want everyone else t know it. That doesn’t mean that others don’t love their country — no comparison is intended — simply that we do.

For Mr. Obama,…his core foreign policy concept —that global popularity generates global power — has failed. No U.S. president since John F.Kennedy has come to office with more global goodwill than Mr. Obama; no US. president since Jimmy Carter has been so widely rebuked.

Consider the record. His failed personal effort to bring the 2016 Olympics to Chicago. His failed personal effort to negotiate a climate-change deal at Copenhagen in 2009. His failed efforts to strike a nuclear deal with Iran that year and this year. His failed effort to improve America’s public standing in the Muslim world with the now-forgotten Cairo speech. His failed reset with Russia. His failed effort to strong-arm Israel into a permanent settlement freeze. His failed (if half-hearted) effort to maintain a residual U.S. military force in Iraq. His failed efforts to cut deals with the Taliban and reach out to North Korea. His failed effort to win over China and Russia for even a symbolic U.N. condemnation of Syria’s Bashar Assad. His failed efforts to intercede in Europe’s economic crisis. (“Herr Obama should above all deal with the reduction of the American deficit” was the free advice German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble offered this year.) …

That isn’t to say that Mr. Obama hasn’t had his successes. The Libya intervention was a triumph, albeit of an odd sort since it was carried out in such a reluctant, last-minute, half-embarrassed fashion. Killing Osama bin Laden and dramatically expanding the number of drone strikes will forever be to the president’s credit—even if his administration’s tawdry efforts to publicize them for political gain will forever diminish the achievement.

Mr. Stephens adds that he tends “to think that the buzz about American decline mistakes the mediocrity of the president for the destiny of the nation.”

To be absolutely fair, here is Roger Cohen, a columnist for the New York Times: He says:

Well, four years have passed and Obama has adroitly steered the bankrupted United States he inherited away from the precipice but has not provided a “different future” worthy of the hope invested in him; and that imagined team of rivals became a team, or rather a coterie, of idolizers.

There is only one star in the galaxy at this White House and his name is Barack Obama. Everyone in the Sun King’s court has drunk the Kool-Aid. …

To his immense credit he took a big gamble on killing Osama Bin Laden. But elsewhere he has been cautious to a fault, eyeing the political calendar. He held out a hand to Iran but promptly reverted to tired old carrots and sticks; his response to the great popular uprising of 2009 was slow. He took half-steps on Israel and Palestine — criticizing Israeli settlements, saying the pre-1967 lines were the basis for a two-state peace — only to offer zero follow-through. Nothing changed.

On Egypt, he toyed with preserving Mubarak ad interim before the tide became irreversible. On Syria, he has in essence dithered. On Afghanistan, domestic politics dictated the agenda, at a cost in American lives.

Mr. Cohen is a liberal, and I left out the part where  he talks about the “superb job” Hillary Clinton has done, but you can read it for yourself.  Mr. Cohen’s point seems to be that Liberals will just have to hold their noses and vote for Obama anyway.

I believe that Mr. Obama is running against the American grain. He arrived with flowery words promising really good things, and has delivered disappointment. He thought he had everybody lined up behind him, but he didn’t pay attention to see if the people were following. They weren’t.


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