President Barack Obama’s Foreign Policy à la Carter: the Embarrassment of Power and Blame America First

–Richard E. Vatz

Jeane Kirkpatrick, the first woman U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and preeminent Reaganophile, must be turning over in her grave. Scratch that: she would regard such a reaction as non-productive; she must be trying to warn us from the grave.

In her famous “Blame America First” speech at the 1984 Republican National Convention, she praised the Democrats of the President Harry Truman vintage: “They were not afraid to be resolute nor ashamed to speak of America as a great nation. They didn’t doubt that we must be strong enough to protect ourselves and to help others. They didn’t imagine that America should depend for its very survival on the promises of its adversaries. They happily assumed the responsibilities of freedom.”

Seeing the Jimmy Carter presidency as representing the opposite ethic, she pilloried that administration, saying “The Carter administration’s motives were good, but their policies were inadequate, uninformed and mistaken.”

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We have the identical situation today with the Obama presidency.

Jeane Kirkpatrick ended her “Blame America First” speech with these words: “The American people know that it’s dangerous to blame ourselves for terrible problems that we did not cause. They understand just as the distinguished French writer, Jean Francois Revel, understands the dangers of endless self- criticism and self-denigration. He wrote: ‘Clearly, a civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself.’ “

Does anyone want to argue that sending additional troops to Afghanistan is evidence to the contrary of President Obama’s neo-pacifism and embarrassment regarding the United States’ power?

On “60 Minutes” weeks ago President Obama was already talking of an “exit strategy” in Afghanistan to avoid the sense that there would be “perpetual drift.” Conservatives have warned for decades that talking of an exit strategy gives our enemies the sense that all they have to do is wait us out, especially when we go in announcing our intention to leave as soon as possible.

In his finest column of memory — and the competition there is great — THE WASHINGTON POST’s Charles Krauthammer writes on April 10 that President Obama’s weakness in foreign policy is recently manifested in his laughable paper tiger response to the North Korean “brazen defiance” of a U.N. resolution “prohibiting” their use of a missile launch. Such weakness, Krauthammer argues, has been quite consequential already, energizing the appeasement reflexes of the “international community” and the “United Nations,” as well as the aggressive impulses of Russia and China. Our NATO allies refuse the President’s requests for troops and refuse his requests for more stimulus spending. But there is clearly more liking for President Obama than there was for President Bush — and less fear. Why? Because President Obama is the past master of the embarrassment of power: the serial apology. Krauthammer counts the ways: indicting America’s “arrogance…dismissiveness and derisiveness, for genocide, for torture, for Hiroshima, for Guantanamo, and for insufficient respect for the Muslim world.”

The foreign policy style of President Obama is perfectly understood as that of a bright, inexperienced neophyte whose top priority is the idealism of the “Yes, we can” ethic: a world which likes the United States, likes our president and fears us not at all. President Obama will likely reap what he sows.

The prediction here is that we are headed into a new era in foreign policy, an era marked by everyone’s liking the United States and its president more than ever. On the downside, we shall face an explosion of nuclear proliferation, the weakening of democracy and the increase of threats to America’s allies and America’s interests around the world.

Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and the eventual premature withdrawal from Afghanistan in conjunction with President Obama’s new ethic will be indisputable proof of the coming of the Jimmy Carter foreign policy redux.

Ambassador Kirkpatrick, we miss you more than ever.

Professor Vatz teaches political rhetoric at Towson University

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