TNR: “Is America a Good Country?”


The question comes from the pages of The New Republic no less, and from writer Marty Peretz after President Obama refused to meet with the Dalai Lama.  This op-ed targets Obama for his failure to address Afghanistan, even as he was travelling to Copenhagen to lobby for Chicago’s bid for the Olympic Games:

So, while the president did make time for a rather brief conversation with McChrystal in Copenhagen, the real purpose of his rushed trans-Atlantic flight was to grease the International Olympic Committee into naming Chicago as epicenter of the 2016 games. If you read closely in the newspapers, it wasn’t as if Chicagoans were so ecstatic for the prize. Having the Olympics in town often turns out to be a big bust, burdening its residents, businesses and taxes for years thereafter. And, since the president is so much against national chauvinism, he might have contemplated that the games turn out to be among the most ritualized examples of hate on the planet, with the added cost of moving the poor around to make way for the rich visitors. When I was in Capetown, South Africa this summer, I saw from afar the still-being-built stadium for the 2010 World Cup soccer games. Now, South Africans are mad for soccer. But the talk in the street was against the expenditure, which comes to billions of rand and hundreds of millions of dollars even before anybody faces up to the inevitable cost over-runs. How many shanty-towns could have been replaced with this money? Or how about putting a water supply into these jungles of human refuse?

Peretz asks the inevitable questions:  If Obama can’t influence the IOC, how can we possibly negotiate with the Islamic Republic of Iran over nuclear weapons?

Lastly, Peretz closes with this line:

I know that the president believes himself a good man. My nervy query to him is: “Does he believe America to be a good country?”

Is the question fair?  I think so… because the calling in Afghanistan and other places in the world is ultimately a test of American ideals.  Whether it is the Monroe Doctrine to the Bush Doctrine, at heart Americans are revolutionaries, or as Jefferson might have stressed our moral position in the world, ones who should lead other nations to liberty by our example of liberty.

At some point, the basic goodness of America comes into question.  Are we a force for good in the world, or are we simply another major world power?  Should we end genocide as we did during the Second World War, or in the Balkans, or as we lamented and failed to do in Rwanda in 1993 under then-President Clinton?  Or should we merely step aside and allow the Afghanistans and post-1991 Iraq’s to fester until American lives are once again placed at risk by terrorists with the ability to reach our shores?

The answer to this question really does set the stage for a host of American foreign policy questions.  Obama has already broken with one of America’s longest standing traditions in foreign policy — namely that our policies remain resolute even with internal transitions of power.  America has broken faith with Honduras, abandoned the Green Revolution in Iran, coddled Venezuela and Cuba, retracted our missile shield from Poland and the Czech Republic, started a trade war with China, refused to meet with the Dalai Lama, negotiated directly with North Korea, saber rattled against Pakistan, soured the special relationship with Great Britain, and even turned the Mexican government against us with regards to border protections.

Is this the change in foreign policy Obama was supposed to bring?

Has it restored faith in America, or simply encouraged envy and disdain for American power, much as the British, Hapsburgs, Byzantine and Roman Empires before us were hated by their contemporaries?

President Obama is surely getting a clinic on foreign relations.  Whether a stint in the Oval Office was the time to get this education — and not through prior service — is debatable.  Perhaps SecState Clinton was right… though her performance is sorely lacking to date.

Whatever the solution, I certainly hope that this administration comes back to its senses quickly.  I am a firm believer that partisan politics ends where our borders begin, but one can’t help but wince as Obama finds his sea legs abroad.

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