George W. Bush got banged up badly for his foreign policy choices: Iraq, Guantanamo, "torture," a certain tonal disdain for critics foreign and domestic. It will be interesting to see, in a matter of weeks or possibly days, how his successor, Barack Obama, fares with the critics.
Many on the right sound angry right now over what they see as Obama's dithering, apologetic tone in all he does from a foreign policy standpoint. What? He can't make up his mind about how to handle Afghanistan? He's had just one meeting with the head of our forces there? He thinks he can charm the Iranians into coming clean about their nuclear program? And all the emphasis in his recent United Nations address on our desire for "a new chapter in international cooperation" -- what was that about?
Two considerations come immediately to mind: First: The ordeal of George W. Bush in 2006 and 2007, as the left hurled malignities and malefactions and some of the right soured on his approach to Iraq. One slogan comes to mind with special clarity after the national uproar over a two-word taunt -- "You lie!" -- hurled at Obama by a member of Congress from South Carolina. The slogan, employed routinely by Bush critics: "Bush lied, people died." A congressman can't use the word "lie" (even to mean "misrepresent"). Splenetic bloggers and talking heads can use it all they like.
The quick, effortless take on Bush was that he had tricked his countrymen into waging a war almost no one but he had wanted. Then the take became, we've lost the war. All over, sorry! That was, of course, until Gen. David Petraeus deftly turned the situation around.
The second consideration I would bring up: In a splintered, fragmented world of 192 nations -- the current United Nations membership -- how does any U.S. president get it right every time? What's "right" for all these varied entities, including the one that supposedly counts most: our own? A president -- liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat -- will, let us just say, misjudge from time to time. The point to notice will be the grounds on which he misjudges: concern for American freedoms and security -- or other concerns entirely.
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