Victor Davis Hanson

Thousands in Tokyo have been echoing Barack Obama's signature call for "change" -- but as in "Change! Japanese-U.S. relations."

Our military is rushing anti-missile batteries to Iran's Arab neighbors in the Gulf in anticipation of new Iranian military escalation.

As in the case of the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, the U.S. both gives the most aid to a devastated Haiti and still seems to receive the most criticism.

China has just warned us not to supply more armaments to Taiwan.

Our Predator drones continue to be the judge, jury and executioner of suspected terrorists in Pakistan.

What's gone wrong with Obama's dream of multilateral cooperation?

For starters, the world's tensions were not caused by, and remain far larger, than George W. Bush -- and thus cannot be so easily solved by his absence.

Obama also has apparently confused what people say with what nations do.

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The world's masses -- most of them young, poor and non-Western -- may applaud a hip, post-racial Barack Obama more than they ever would an old-money Texan like Bush. Obama may give soaring Wilsonian speeches abroad and be crowned with the Noble Peace Prize for his anointed vision of a new global brotherhood.

But, unfortunately, national leaders themselves do not behave like excited concertgoers or European intellectuals. Instead, they have only long-term self-interests -- not temporary emotional crushes -- and so seek to expand their influence whenever they can.

Obama better understand that difference. A world without strong U.S. leadership really would become a far more dangerous place where the strong do as they please and the weak obey as they must.

After World War II, a reluctant America guaranteed a global system of secure trade and encouraged free-market capitalism and democracy. Both communist and fascist tyrants fought those efforts, eager to expand totalitarianism beyond their borders. And envious allies and neutral countries that benefited enormously from the American-enforced system resented the high profile of the United States.

All that responsibility was unpopular and costly for the United States. But the American people felt the activist bad choice was far better than the worse passive alternative of allowing more of the kind of chaos that had wrecked much of civilization in the first half of the 20th century.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.