Liberalism’s fatal flaw is that it misapprehends human nature. It does this in nearly every conceivable way, but its most basic fallacy is the notion that conflict is not natural, peace is. Conflict, therefore, will be eliminated if the ignorance, injustice or avarice from which it grew is eliminated.
This utopian fantasy is the underlying principle of President Obama’s foreign policy. Hence, he tours the planet apologizing for America’s (perceived) sins. This amazing spectacle cannot be chalked up to one man’s desire to be liked (though that surely plays a role). The president’s humility on the world stage is not therapy for Obama; it is therapy for our enemies and rivals. It is Freudian foreign policy. Remove their fears, and their hostility will disappear.
When Obama goes to Europe or the Middle East and agrees with those who say America has too often behaved as an arrogant bully, he is trying to change the way our enemies and rivals perceive us. When he orders the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed and bans harsh interrogation techniques before his administration’s review of them is complete, he is trying to change the way our enemies and rivals perceive us. But to what end?
Obama believes that the United States has enemies and rivals because of the way the United States has behaved in the past. It’s why he has spent so much time distancing himself from not only the policies of George W. Bush but those of LBJ, JFK, Teddy Roosevelt and James Monroe, too. Whatever America might have done to you in the past, he is trying to tell the world, you can’t hold it against me. I’m going to be different. I’m going to listen to you. I’m not going to impose my will upon you. I want to be your friend, not your master.
This thinking reflects another liberal misunderstanding — that intentions matter more than, or at least as much as, effects. Thus, as Robert Kagan and others have pointed out, Obama believes he can make foreigners like the United States by speaking softly and humbly while he continues, virtually unchanged, the same policies as his predecessor.
If the foreigners Obama hopes to win over have not yet seen the inherent contradiction between his words and deeds (and some have), they soon will. Were the president to take his thinking to its logical conclusion, he would actually end all U.S. policies that anger foreigners. He would withdraw all of our troops from the Middle East, dismantle the CIA, toss Israel to the wolves, and pull our fleets back to within our territorial waters (sort of a Ron Paul approach).
But Obama is sharp enough to understand how harmful this would be to our national interests. So he settles for continuing policies that anger our enemies, he just does so with a smile. He seems to believe that dialogue — explaining our non-hostile motives — will end or significantly reduce anti-American feelings. They won’t hate us if only they understand us. (Never mind that George W. Bush tried this same approach with the Muslim world.)
But if Muslims really hate us because we support Israel, then words and half-measures will accomplish nothing. Until we abandon Israel, the hatred will fester. If Muslims really hate us because we have troops in Saudi Arabia, then nothing short of withdrawing our troops will change their feelings. Obama is betting that the world doesn’t hate us because of our policies, but solely because of our attitude. So he’s changing the attitude while keeping most of the policies.
Obama’s belief in dialogue, in the winning power of friendly humility, will be tested not by the reaction to his speeches, but by the success or failure of his smiling overtures to those now hostile to our country. The results so far: Osama bin Laden has denounced him, Kim Jong-Il has mocked him by launching rockets and rattling his centrifuge, Mahmoud Ahmadinijad has defied him, and European leaders have refused his requests for more NATO troops and centrally planned economic stimulus programs.
The early evidence suggests that Obama’s attempt to win friends and influence heads of state with conciliatory speeches has not been fruitful. But we’re just getting started. He hasn’t had a chance to really sit down with Palestinians and Israelis and negotiate a peace, or sit down with Ahmadinejad and show him that acquiring a nuclear weapon is not in the best interest of world peace and security.
To believe that these and other such initiatives will succeed, one has to believe that other nations and peoples are motivated primarily by a desire to get along with others, and not a desire to acquire more power, land, prestige, or influence. One has to believe that the desire for power and status stems not from human nature, but from outside factors — such as a misplaced fear of American intentions, or a misunderstanding of a rival’s point of view. Fix the outside causes of their hostility, and people will revert to their natural, peaceful state.
President Obama’s approach to foreign policy rests entirely on that premise. If he is right, amazing accomplishments await. If he is wrong, reality awaits instead.