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Thursday, April 12, 2012

What’s in a Shirt? Why Obama’s Foreign Policy Doesn’t Smell So Sweet


“For he might have been a Russian,
A French or Turk or Prussian
Or perhaps Italian!
But in spite of all temptations
To belong to other nations,
He remains an Englishman!
He remains an Englishman!”
--Gilbert and Sullivan, “H.M.S. Pinafore”



By Barry Rubin

President Barack Obama will wear a Cuban-style "guayabera" shirt made for him by a Colombian designer at an upcoming Americas summit in Cartagena, Colombia April 14-15. –News Item

This guy just doesn’t seem to get it. He’s supposed to be America’s leader, not an ersatz South American, friend of the Franks, roommate of the Russians, soul-mate of the Muslims, etc.

But I do think all of this behavior reveals something of the inner Obama.

His basic approach toward foreigners is to win them over by imitating them, by showing that he loves and cares and understands them. No longer is America to stand alone, for itself, in its own interests. No, the purpose of NASA is to make Muslims feel good about themselves and, of course, about America being nice to them.

This whole approach has little to do with two centuries of generally successful U.S. foreign policy or, indeed, with the history of great power statecraft at all.

Somehow this attitude originated in Obama’s childhood when he no doubt felt somehow alien to Indonesia and uncomfortable with his own identity but trying to fit in by proving that he was just one of them, not some weird alien admixture.

I can almost see him on the playground trying to persuade Muslim students that he really loved Islam. And the fact that he did not, at least later, feel himself to be a Muslim made the problem worse.

We can definitely see him--as he discusses in his autobiographies--as trying to persuade African-Americans that he's one of them. Well, not even just one of them but one of the militants who thought more like Malcolm X or the Reverend Wright than like Martin Luther King.

Toward America, he adopted the pose of a rebel, an outsider, a transforming figure. And toward the rest of the world--except for Israel and Britain, which are considered too close to America for his comfort--he adopts the posture of a supplicant. I don't think I'm better than you. I'm ready to imitate you, to put your interests first. Please like me.

On the global level, Obama has a deep-seated need to prove he isn't the leader. This is not a good characteristic for the president of the United States.

And what about his failure to buy American for his shirts ? There goes another clothes-designing job. Why should America be independent in its oil supply when he can send money to Brazil or Mexico to help them? Don't they have lower living standards? Don't they need the money? What are we, greedy?

The way he should be winning over South Americans and others is not by trying to act like them or by turning American into a European country. Instead, he’s supposed to be saying:

Hi! I’m president of the United States of America, a very successful country due to its political and economic system. Perhaps you should try being more like us!

There’s something very profound in this shirt story, mark my words. Indeed, I think it’s fair to say that Obama’s foreign policy is definitely full of shirt.


Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.

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