How the U.S. Lost the World’s Respect

All polls and even informal observations by well-connected people confirm that the world’s opinion of the United States as a serious world power has eroded markedly. As President Obama and his entourage and imperishable following persevere in their conviction that this president’s benign championship of non-intervention, arms control, and giving rogue states the benefit of the doubt is winning hearts and minds to a new conception of a kindly, detached America, it is clearer every week that this administration’s foreign policy is contemplated with astonishment and contempt by practically everyone else.

The Europeans, putative allies — a fact that, since the U.S. abandoned isolation, has meant a ready preparedness to have the U.S. liberate them from the Nazis and then protect them from the Soviet Communists, but means almost nothing now — are almost uniformly incredulous at the syncopations of recent American foreign policy.
President Carter was instrumental in removing the shah of Iran, the greatest ally the U.S. has ever had in the Middle East, not excluding Anwar Sadat and the Israelis, and the most enlightened leader in the 5,000-year history of Persia. President Reagan maintained civilized relations with Iraq in order to be on normal terms with one of the major Persian Gulf countries, and it may be a long time before there is agreement on exactly what Saddam Hussein concluded from his meeting with U.S. ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie on July 25, 1990, before subjugating Kuwait. (Ms. Glaspie’s next overseas posting was consul general in Cape Town.) President George H. W. Bush conducted a masterly coalition response to evict Saddam from Kuwait, but left him in power in Baghdad, massacring Kurds and putting on airs of triumph before the Muslim world. President Clinton pursued his zeal for nuclear non-proliferation to the point of imposing embargoes on both India and Pakistan when they acquired that capability, leaving the U.S. without any country to speak with in a normal and constructive manner all through South Asia between Jordan and Thailand. The initial campaign against terrorists, which attracted universal support and has been largely successful, mutated into overthrowing Saddam Hussein. George W. Bush promoted democracy to the point of destabilizing the friendly governments of Egypt and Pakistan and securing the democratic election victories of the anti-democratic Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. By dismissing the entire government and armed forces and police of Iraq, 400,000 men unemployed but retaining their weapons and ammunition, Bush ensured the country’s descent into an unorganized bloodbath, and President Obama, by his abrupt withdrawal, ensured the preeminence, in most of the country, of Iran, and a slugging match between Iranian proxies and the Islamic State death squads.

It is now impossible to make the case that the operation to remove Saddam was strategically justifiable. But President George W. Bush at least left his successor a war that was being conducted more or less successfully by the Americans and their allies on Inauguration Day, 2009. President Obama’s withdrawal of all American forces, after a disagreement about applicable law for U.S. servicemen with the admittedly impossible prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki (an Iranian stooge, but one whose stolen reelection the Obama administration tolerated), has led to a fairly steady and recently precipitate descent of international comprehension of long-term American goals and perceived interests.

The Obama administration believes that U.S. involvement in the world has been largely harmful. At the outset of his administration in 2009, Mr. Obama gave portentous addresses in Cairo and in Ghana that indicated that he thought all previous frictions that the U.S. had had with Middle Eastern and African countries could be laid at the door of the formerly entirely Caucasian and Judeo-Christian leadership, and that, given his more multiracial and multi-sectarian ancestry and orientation, these frictions had become obsolete. It was as if the president imagined that relations between states were ultimately determined otherwise than on the basis of their interests; that pigmentation and the religious and racial connections of ancestors could seriously influence interstate relations. Having abandoned George W. Bush’s sophomoric confidence in the panacea of democracy in countries inhospitable to it, Obama destabilized the Egyptian dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak while turning a blind eye to the brutal theft of reelection in Iran by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He thus completed the elevation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (the Arab world’s 900-pound gorilla for 75 years), which ransacked the Israeli embassy, poured sophisticated ordnance into Gaza for Hamas to use against Israel, and subverted the democratic constitution, Allende-style (Chile, 1973). Even when overthrown by the military high command that the Muslim Brotherhood had itself installed, the Muslim Brotherhood continued to be solicitously referred to not only by the Obama administration but by prominent Republican senators such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

It is a painful and notorious narrative. The Obama administration believes that U.S. involvement in the world has been largely harmful: Obama has decried the lack of alliance consultation by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill as they directed the war efforts of the Western Allies “brandies in hand.” He has apologized for President Truman’s use of the atomic bomb against Japan and for President Eisenhower’s approval of the removal of (the wildly incompetent if not mad) Mohammad Mosaddegh as leader of Iran and the return of the shah. This was an astonishing sequence of criticisms of three of America’s most distinguished leaders and arguably the most generally esteemed statesman in the world of the past 150 years (Churchill).

It is understandable and defensible that the president thought the U.S. should be less involved in the world, but the way to execute such an important change of course, like the manner of America’s emergence from isolation after World War II, was to explain the reasons for it, gain a national and congressional consensus for the policy change, and implement it in consultation with affected countries. Instead, this administration has tried to suck and blow simultaneously: To its domestic followers, it has been curbing adventurism and closing open wounds in Iraq and Afghanistan. To the world, it has been withdrawing from some areas, where America’s mission has been completed (as in the elimination of organized terrorism, despite al-Qaeda’s murder of the American ambassador to Libya in Benghazi), but what was really a retrenchment to America was billed as a “pivot to Asia.”

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