Really, It’s All About Obama II

This WSJ column by Fouad Ajami reminded me of something else I want to put on my “do’s and don’ts” list for Barack Obama:

  • Don’t pretend your election is going to put a halt to anti-Americanism, or that it only started with George W. Bush.

An excerpt:

American liberalism is heavily invested in this narrative of U.S. isolation. The Shiites have their annual ritual of 10 days of self-flagellation and penance, but this liberal narrative is ceaseless: The world once loved us, and all Parisians were Americans after 9/11, but thanks to President Bush we have squandered that sympathy.

It is an old trick, the use of foreign narrators and witnesses to speak of one’s home. Montesquieu gave the genre its timeless rendition in his Persian Letters, published in 1721. No one was fooled, these were Parisian letters, and the Persian travelers, Rica and Usbek, mere stand-ins for an author taking stock of his homeland after the death of Louis XIV and the coming of an age of enlightenment and skepticism.

“This King is a great magician. He exerts authority even over the minds of his subjects; he makes them think what he wants,” Rica writes from Paris. “You must not be amazed at what I tell you about this prince: there is another magician, stronger than he. This magician is called the Pope. He will make the King believe that three are only one, or else that the bread one eats is not bread, or that the wine one drinks is not wine, and a thousand other things of the same kind.” Handy witnesses, these Persians.

The Pew survey tells us that some foreign precincts show a landslide victory for Barack Obama. France leads the pack; fully 84% of those following the American campaign are confident Mr. Obama will do the right thing in foreign policy, compared with 33% who say that about John McCain. There are similar results in Germany, and a closer margin in Britain. The populations of Jordan, Turkey and Pakistan have scant if any confidence in either candidate.

The deference of American liberal opinion to the coffeehouses of Istanbul and Amman and Karachi is nothing less than astounding. You would not know from these surveys, of course, that anti-Americanism runs deep in the French intellectual scene, and that French thought about the great power across the Atlantic has long been a jumble of envy and condescension. In the fabled years of the Clinton presidency, long before Guantanamo, the torture narrative and the war in Iraq, American pension funds were, in the French telling, raiding their assets, bringing to their homeland dreaded Anglo-Saxon economics, and the merciless winds of mondialisation (globalization).


Meanwhile, a maligned American president now returns from a Europe at peace with American leadership. In France, Germany and Italy, center-right governments are eager to proclaim their identification with American power. Jacques Chirac is gone. Now there is Nicolas Sarkozy, who offered a poetic tribute last November to the American soldiers who fell on French soil, before a joint session of the U.S. Congress. “The children of my generation,” he said, “understood that those young Americans, 20 years old, were true heroes to whom they owed the fact that they were free people and not slaves. France will never forget the sacrifice of your children.”

The great battle over the Iraq war has subsided, and Europeans who ponder the burning grounds of the Islamic world know the distinction between fashionable anti-Americanism and the international order underpinned by American power. George W. Bush may have been indifferent to political protocol, but he held the line when it truly mattered, and the Europeans have come to understand that appeasement of dictators and brigands begets its own troubles.

It is one thing to rail against the Pax Americana. But after the pollsters are gone, the truth of our contemporary order of states endures. We live in a world held by American power – and benevolence. Nothing prettier, or more just, looms over the horizon.

It would cost Obama nothing politically to acknowledge this.  In doing so, he need not endorse Bush’s leadership — just America’s.  A change we could really use beginning in 2009 is bipartisanship and greater continuity in US foreign policy.


3 thoughts on “Really, It’s All About Obama II

  1. I’ve seen this point before — that western Europe is now a sudden bastion of pro-Bush leadership — hammered across the Townhalls and places like, well, this blog.

    It ignores the ground reality — how Sarkozy is about as popular in France as Bush is here, how the center-right leadership of Germany doesn’t identify with Bush, etc. In short, they are friendly to America — not Bush.

    In fact its a little presumptuous to treat those leaders as simply pro or anti American, as if that’s all they owe their electoral victories from. They have their own domestic issues, and their governments aren’t mere referenda on American power.

    The entire article has that same smug, hubristic stance so many neo-cons had before and during the early months of war — Everyone loves their new empire! Everything’s fine in the middle east! Ignore anyone who says otherwise! There is no reality in this column.

    The writer even throws in a snide comment about coffeehouses! I await a strong condemnation of NPR and tote bags in the coming months of the campaign.

    I also enjoyed your earlier “dos and don’ts” list, in which you advise Obama to act like a Republican. I eagerly await your list of “dos and don’ts” for McCain.

    Your blog is an excellent one when it muses about topics other than politics. When you veer into anti-Obama politics it turns into a more well-written version of a Townhall hack column.


  2. You’ve missed or misinterpreted two of my points. First, I am not anti-Obama. I am not a worshipper. I think he’s got many flaws. But he is also the most promising presidential candidate we’ve had in a long time, since ’92 at least. My do’s and don’ts will not and do not seek to turn him into a Republican, but to turn him into a president.

    I don’t think it’s particularly controversial to state that if Obama gets defined as a true-blue liberal, he will lose to McCain. Even he knows this; that’s why he spent so much of his primary campaign talking about transcending partisanship. You can’t have it both ways. If you want him to win as a partisan, then by definition he’s not transcending partisanship. The “change” he’s associated with in the public’s mind isn’t a change toward 1960s liberalism. It’s a change from the kind of partisan dog-in-the-manger politics that has frozen progress on issues that matter to people for at least 20 years.

    Secondly, I never said Europe was pro-Bush. I don’t think Ajami is saying that either. What he’s saying is that the perceived level of anti-Americanism overseas is overblown compared to the actualities of it. I have no idea how popular Sarkozy is now, but the fact is, he was elected, and he was elected running as a leader who saw value in France having strong ties with the US. That was correctly perceived as evidence that anti-Americanism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

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