The world usually turns out to work differently from what American presidents expected when they were campaigning.
Franklin Roosevelt campaigned on domestic issues in 1932 and ran a more isolationist foreign policy for his first years in office than any of the Republican presidents elected in the 1920s. But he became aware of the threat that Adolf Hitler posed earlier than most, and changed course accordingly.
George W. Bush called for a "humble" foreign policy when he was running in 2000. But the attacks of Sept. 11 utterly changed his priorities and policies.
Barack Obama has not had such a stark turning point. But the world certainly seems to be working differently from what he expected during the 2008 campaign.
Obama expected to be greeted as a hero and champion by the peoples and governments of what Donald Rumsfeld called derisively "Old Europe," and by leaders in the Middle East and Third World.
He thought it would matter that he "looked different" from previous presidents. But all presidents have looked different from one another, and the election of the first black president probably had more resonance to Americans than to foreigners who have less emotional connection with our history.
Obama may have been cheered by his reception in Berlin in July 2008, but he has gotten the cold shoulder from leaders of European countries old and new. Rather than hail his long opposition to military action in Iraq, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and other Europeans plunged into intervention in Libya, a bit miffed that Obama was (in the words of one of his aides) "leading from behind."
Obama supposed that leaders of countries like Russia and China would find him, as Sarkozy might put it, a confrere. Not quite. Vladimir Putin pocketed Obama's concessions on missile defense that Obama made in his "reset" with Russia and gave back little in return. Putin is still balking at stopping Iran's drive for nuclear weapons.
With China, Obama has had an edgy rather than trustful relationship. His administration, like Bush's, is trying to induce China to be a responsible stakeholder in world affairs, with mixed results. And like Bush in his second term, Obama is basing policy on the so far forlorn hope that concessions will somehow make the horrifying North Korean dictatorship, now under a 20-something leader, change its ways.
In his first years as president, Obama brusquely rejected the emphasis on human rights that was, in varying proportions, the part of the foreign policy of every president from Jimmy Carter to the second Bush. After all, if it was Bush's policy, it was bad.
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