The Bush era careened into the Obama era and the world cheered. That is what we are told over and over again. The world has become a more welcome place for Americans. We have become less belligerent and the world has breathed a heavy sigh. That is indisputable, incontrovertible knowledge.
That was what I was being told at lunch the other day. My companion was not some wild-eyed leftist. In the best of times, this gentleman clings to the middle of the political spectrum. He presently has serious reservations about Obama, and believes that he is destined to be a one-term president. Yet when it comes to foreign affairs, somehow Mr. Obama is brightening our prospects around the world.
In a way my friend is correct. President Bush did not pander to public opinion in order to enhance his image. If foreign governments acted in a manner contrary to our national interest, Bush had relatively cool relations with them. Furthermore, whatever plans he may have wanted to pursue upon stepping into the Oval Office changed irrevocably on September 11, 2001.
Yet my friend was sucked into this commonly-accepted mindset. Does that mindset have any basis in reality? It depends on your reality. The demagogues of the world appear to be happier with Obama, as are the intellectual elite in Europe, most of whom shared a particular distaste for Bush. But that was only in parts of Europe.
Certainly Gerhard Schroeder and Jacques Chirac – respectively the former leaders of Germany and France – used Bush as a political soccer ball to enhance their own political positions. But they have been replaced by Angela Merkel in Germany, who enjoyed a warm relationship with Mr. Bush, and Nicolas Sarkozy in France, who seems to doubt the intellectual capacity and trustworthiness of Obama. Other close allies of President Bush included Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as well as Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar (who was narrowly defeated for re-election after the Madrid subway bombing in 2004).
Was the rift with Old Europe triggered entirely by America? Not according to Lord Charles Powell, an advisor to Prime Ministers Thatcher and Major, who recently stated that “People like to blame George W. Bush for the trouble in the transatlantic relations, but Europeans had their part in it.” Europeans didn’t really understand how deeply 9/11 affected the American psyche. While they have become used to armies marching back and forth across their landscape, the attack on the American homeland was unprecedented, and it is likely that any President would have had disagreements with foreign leaders because of our reaction in the ensuing decade.
The elitist perspective of unilateral distaste for Bush completely disregards the admiration for him in the former Soviet Bloc countries. In Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Georgia, Albania and the Baltic States, Bush is viewed as a great friend and statesman – while Obama is considered questionable. The perception that the entire world disliked Bush denies the reality of a huge part of Europe that does not harbor the intellectual elite that interact with the American Intelligentsia.
In 2008, my wife and I vacationed in Eastern Europe. Having the opportunity to experience firsthand the hard-earned freedom of the Czech Republic, East Germany and Poland enriched our lives. In Warsaw, we spoke with the manager of our hotel, asking his thoughts about the geo-political situation that confronts Poland. He expressed profound concern about (in his words) “the Russian Bear’s intentions.” I assured him that unlike their former allies (such as France), we would help defend Poland and protect her from another foreign invasion. Little did I know that in less than a year, Obama would eviscerate much of Poland’s faith in America.
My lunch partner pointed to Russia as a place where Obama would do better than Bush. Certainly, Bush was mocked for his unsophisticated commentary: “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul.” What is often left out is the next line: “He’s a man very committed to his country and the best interests of his country.” That is the most important portion of the statement.
Obama has no better chance of working with Russia than Bush did. Russia today is as it has been for at least four centuries – expansionist. Frankly, I’m not sure why, since their land mass is the largest in the world, but they have attempted to overrun and rule their neighbors through various forms of government. Whether their leaders were Czars, Communists, or whatever you call the current bunch, they have always been the same – thugs and expansionists.
John Lehman, who served as Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan, stated that within thirty days of Reagan’s inaugural, the British and American Navies swept into Mediterranean waters showing the Soviet Union that if they played any games, “We would kick their asses.” When you deal with thugs, you have to show them that you will be tougher than they are.
My friend expressed the commonly-accepted media mantra about what the world was like during the Bush Administration, and how it will magically improve under Obama. It is not only seriously wrong, but has caused several potentially dangerous changes to our foreign policy.
I have some advice for President Obama. The tough tactics being deployed against his perceived domestic political enemies should be redeployed overseas. Let me assure you that Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and Venezuela are a lot more dangerous than Fox News and the health insurance industry.