In denouncing Syria and Iran for crushing peaceful protests, the Obamaites acted consistent with the democratic values they preach. In their muffled response to the brutal treatment of demonstrators in Bahrain and Yemen, they put national interests above national ideals.
Indeed, it is this clash between our professed ideals and our perceived interests that has produced the reigning confusion in Washington and the near paralysis of American policy in the Middle East.
"Nations have no permanent friends or allies; they only have permanent interests," said Lord Palmerston. America lacks that kind of certitude. She is conflicted. She cannot make up her mind. Do our interests come first or our ideals? How can they be in conflict?
From World War I to the Carter era, U.S. national interests drove U.S. foreign policy. In Wilson's war "to make the world safe for democracy," we partnered with five empires. In World War II, we allied with Stalin. In the Cold War, we accepted the friendship of autocrats and dictators and caudillos and generalissimos who shared our fear and loathing of communism.
When John Foster Dulles was the face of U.S. foreign policy in the 1950s, the neutralism of nations such as Nehru's India and Sukarno's Indonesia was seen as immoral.
But with the end of the Cold War, moral clarity vanished.
We are now divided over whether kings, dictators and autocrats who share our interests but regard democracy as lunacy or a luxury they cannot afford can be America's allies and friends.
There is a second cause of conflict roiling the American mind.
Even as Moscow was abandoning communist ideology and China was giving up her dream of world revolution, the United States was converting to an ideology of global democracy. At some point in the past 20 years, it became the historic mission of America to make the whole world democratic.
And should we fail in this mission, George W. Bush reminded us, the end of American freedom would be ensured.
So, having defeated -- or rather outlasted -- our enemies with a pragmatic policy of accepting the friendship of any and all who would stand with us in that great Cold War struggle, we set out to remake the world in our own image, even as Moscow and Beijing had sought to do.
As they failed, so will we.
As for Obama, with our foremost Asian ally going through the agony of its worst natural disaster and with revolution raging through the Arab world, he has given us his picks for the Final Four in the "March Madness" of college basketball -- and set off with Michelle to party in Rio.
How relevant is he? And how relevant are we?
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