In the 1930s Franklin Roosevelt realized that U.S. leadership and power were the indispensable elements in any acceptable world order and with extraordinary skill and courage overcame the forces of isolationism in his own country and moved America to the forefront of the titanic struggle against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Ever since then the United States has accepted its role as the world’s principal champion of freedom and chief guarantor of international stability. In pursuing this mission the United States has made many mistakes both large and small, but any credible historical analysis recognizes that on balance America has been the world’s greatest force for good throughout the period in question.
There is however an alternative narrative originating in the left wing of the American and European political spectrum first coming to prominence in the Vietnam Era that sees the mistakes as far outweighing the good, and regarding the exercise of American power as a negative rather than a positive force in world affairs.
For forty years this alternative narrative has been essentially a minority viewpoint able to carp and criticize but only rarely able to dominate the main thrust of American foreign policy. In the last fifteen months however this minority viewpoint has become the reigning orthodoxy of the regime now dominating both the Executive and Legislative branches of American government. Accordingly this ruling majority has boldly moved to reshape American foreign policy in ways consonant with its long held world view.
Evidence steadily mounts that the broad theme of the New American Foreign Policy is best described as “Abuse your Friends, while Kow-Towing to your Enemies”. A major corollary of this policy is that America makes concessions to its enemies in return for nothing, while demanding that our friends also grant concessions to their enemies in return for nothing. A further theme is making serial apologies for imagined American arrogance and misuse of power while blithely ignoring the very real transgressions of our enemies.
The background music to all of this is endless talk from an Administration that believes no world problem is so great that it cannot be solved by yet one more speech by President Obama.
For some specifics in this indictment, let us first look at how we have been treating our friends.
Poland and the Czech Republic- After both at considerable risk to themselves agreed to SDI installations on their soil despite Russian bluster and bullying, the U.S. on the flimsiest excuse abruptly cancelled the whole project.
Israel - While West Bank settlement freezes have never been a precondition of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, on Day One the Obama Administration made that demand, while asking no similar up front concession from the Palestinians. When Netanyahu refused what no Israeli Prime Minister could agree to, the U.S. began a serial campaign of very public sulking and petulant verbal abuse of our only ally in the volatile Middle East while at the same time signaling clearly that regarding the existential threat from Iran the only U.S. support for Israel would be empty rhetoric.
Iraq- The leaders of this fledgling democracy and their enemies see very clearly that the overriding imperative of the new Democratic Administration is rapid withdrawal. They know that U.S. caveats about “conditions on the ground” and residual “technical advisors” are a very small counterweight to the obsessions of Obama’s political base.
Britain- Secretary Clinton’s public pressure on Britain to open talks with Argentina regarding the Falkland Islands- heretofore a settled matter of international law- was a stunning slap in the face to the one great power that has consistently expended its blood and treasure on foreign battlefields in support of U.S. Troops.
Afghanistan- Brought to power by Americans who valued his inclusiveness President Karzai within the last year has been subjected to a steady barrage of public pressure, threats, and insults regarding corruption, electoral practices, and military performance. Karzai who faces daily risk of assassination because of his association with Americans, must increasingly see the U.S. as a distant power that entered his country without invitation in pursuit of its own interests, suffered far fewer casualties than the Afghan army, and now has loudly announced that its soldiers will begin leaving in July. Like his Iraqi counterparts Karzai regards the Obama administration as of most dubious reliability and cannot be blamed for recognizing that he must deal seriously with those who aren’t leaving i.e. Iran, Pakistan and the Taliban.
In contrast to this back of the hand treatment of our friends, the Obama administration has bent over backwards to be generous to our opponents. Principal examples to date include:
China- Beijing has just said “No” to the U.S. on appreciating their currency, sanctioning Iran, curbing North Korea, reducing carbon emissions, promoting human rights, and moderating unfair trade practices, while undiplomatically giving us blistering lectures on Taiwan arms sales, meeting with the Dalai Lama, and our fiscal policies.
The Obama Administration’s response has been an embarrassingly supine Presidential visit to China, delaying the Treasury report on currency manipulation, disrespecting the Dalai Lama, repeatedly announcing imagined “ signs of progress” ( a great conference call!), and an increasingly obvious willingness to settle for just about anything- however hollow- that could be portrayed as Chinese support for Iran sanctions.
Iran- The mullahs’ unrelenting march to nuclear weapons, brutal suppression of democratic opposition, sponsorship of murderous attacks on Israel, and continuing export of sophisticated weapons to kill American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan has done little to curb the Obama administration’s feckless talk of “outreach” and “engagement” regarding Iran. The endless series of unmet “deadlines” concerning nuclear development does much to justify Teheran’s contemptuous mockery of U.S. resolve.
Russia- Moscow has followed up its victory on SDI by toying with the U.S. regarding Iranian sanctions while continuing to sell Teheran arms and technology for their “peaceful” nuclear projects. Similarly they have disingenuously partnered with China in frustrating U.S. efforts to rein in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. The real stunner however is Russia’s success in persuading the U.S. to sign a nuclear arms treaty that will have no practical effect on Moscow’s decrepit nuclear arsenal but require significant reductions in American nuclear armaments. This treaty in tandem with the bizarre and baffling public announcement that future U.S. policy bans any use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states even if they attack us with biological or chemical weapons of mass destruction, overturns a fundamental American defense doctrine that for over sixty years has been absolutely central to world peace and stability.
All of the above has greatly emboldened our enemies and certainly encourages them to push their new advantages even harder in the future. Conversely our friends are discouraged and alarmed.
The emerging profile of the new American foreign policy is an amalgam of wrong-headed ideology, naiveté, and incompetence. When added to America’s domestic economic and political disarray, we see a United States weaker than at any time in living memory and most dangerously diminished as a force for international peace and stability. Reversing this deeply disturbing downward spiral will not be easy, and perhaps not even possible.
William Moloney is a Centennial Institute Fellow and former Colorado Education Commissioner. His columns have appeared in the Wall St. Journal, U.S.A. Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, and Philadelphia Inquirer.