Conrad Black seems to belong to the crotchety-old-man, a plague-on-both-their-houses school of thought. In that he follows David Goldman, aks Spengler who has even-handedly attacked both Democratic and Republicans for their foreign policy follies.
Of course, being a crotchety old man does not disqualify anyone from offering a wise opinion. We do not ordinarily think of the elderly as possessing wisdom—we think of them as having lost their youth—but in the best cases wisdom accrues with age. Experience is an excellent teacher.
Better to heed the words of those older and wiser than to slobber over the empty thoughts of celebrities.
In a recent National Review article Black took up a question that I have often had occasion to opine on. He addressed the decline in American prestige around the world. It’s not about how much the world’s people like us or don’t. It’s about how much they do or do not respect us.
One hastens to mention that, in pondering your vote in the next presidential election, you should keep in mind that the world is watching and that the world is judging America by the quality of its leaders.
No nation can long function as world leader if it keeps electing presidents who do not command respect.
In the last two presidential elections America lost considerable prestige by electing an incompetent bumbler. If it next elects an equally incompetent bumbler, a woman who does not inspire respect, its prestige will take yet another tumble.
Polls show that a majority of Americans consider Hillary Clinton a strong leader. One must conclude that most Americans are suffering from a severe mental defect. Or else, that we, collectively do not have a clue about what constitutes strength or leadership.
As for the current occupant of the White House, Black observes:
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.
Fair minded to a fault, Black provides us with a list of the foreign policy failures of previous presidents, going back to Jimmy Carter:
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.
As opposed to many of his predecessors Barack Obama’s foreign policy was driven by leftist ideology. Seeing America as the cause of most of the world’s ills, he apologized for the country, abased himself in front of other world leaders and withdrew from the international stage.
If America causes all that is bad, America’s absence can only be a force for good.
By supporting leftist causes and disparaging traditional American allies, Obama also sowed confusion.
Black explains it well, while also underscoring the fact that Republican foreign policy mavens did not seem to have any better ideas:
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).
After decades worth of presidential incompetence, or, more precisely, voter insouciance, we are facing an ungodly mess.
America’s traditional allies have lost all respect for American foreign-policy-making, and have certainly not replaced it with any sense of purpose of their own. As the U.S. cranks up to another presidential election, and rhetoric echoes loudly around the country about “the greatest nation in human history” (certainly a fair description in many respects), Americans should be aware of how the country is perceived by foreigners. Never mind the usual international-Left caricature of a police-run, coast-to-coast shooting gallery in the rubble heaps of many American cities (and there is unfortunately some truth to this version also), it has almost become, as President Nixon warned, “a pitiful, helpless giant.”