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.