Mona Charen
The Obama foreign policy is a mess. In the first 12 months of his term -- let's call it the contra-Bush era -- the president's chief aim seemed to be to undo, to the degree possible, what his predecessor had done. The U.S. would close Guantanamo; eschew the term "war on terror"; withdraw from Iraq on a fixed timetable; befriend Iran, Syria, China, Russia, and even Sudan; stiff-arm Israel; and make a concerted effort (via the Cairo speech among other things) to ingratiate America with the Muslim world.

It didn't work. Guantanamo remains open. Changing the name didn't change the fact of the war on terror. American troops will remain in Iraq and Afghanistan for a long time. Iran has become even more belligerent, and so forth. Has experience affected the administration's approach?

The theme of that first year -- besides Bushophobia -- was that American arrogance, unilateralism, insensitivity to other cultures and peoples, and resorting to military force were what ailed the world. That, and the lack of a solution to the Palestinian problem. If you'd asked any of the president's major foreign policy advisers in 2008 what was roiling world capitals, you would probably have heard some version of the American arrogance/Israeli intransigence theme. Accordingly, American deference, modesty, respect for others, and above all, willingness to shun leadership in favor of subordination into international bodies, would serve both America's image and her interests.

If nothing else, the uprisings in the Muslim world have thrown this narrative into turmoil, demonstrating as they do a continuing world hunger for American moral leadership. In the streets of Tehran in the spring of 2009, demonstrators flung a rebuke at Obama's diffidence (he had declined to condemn the regime that was shooting peaceful demonstrators), chanting "Obama! Obama! You're either with us or you're with them." Since the Iranian regime was implacably hostile to the U.S., and because Obama had invested time and prestige in the pursuit of better relations, he resisted siding with the demonstrators -- though the moral and geopolitical case for doing so could not have been stronger.

The demonstrators in Egypt and Tunisia, on the other hand, were arrayed against leaders friendly to the United States. After a brief pause, they received Obama's blessing (deeply alienating the Saudis, which is a problem for another day). Why? Were Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak less legitimate than Khamenei and Ahmadinejad? Arguably, they were more legitimate -- certainly they were less brutal, if no less corrupt. Why the different standard?


Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
 
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