If the world didn’t know America’s emperor wears no clothes, this statement should have made it plain:
“(T)he truth of the matter is, is that the world has always been messy,” President Barack Obama said Monday at — where else? — a fundraiser. “In part, we’re just noticing now because of social media and our capacity to see in intimate detail the hardships that people are going through.”
No statement could more perfectly sum up the vapidity, narcissism and detachment of what passes for an American foreign policy while the world burns.
The actual truth of the matter is the world has not always been a place where nihilistic jihadists overran entire regions of sovereign nations, executing dissidents who didn’t flee and journalists there to report the events.
The truth is it has been decades since a nation that could legitimately be called a world power — sorry, but Saddam’s Iraq and Milosevic’s Serbia don’t count — forcibly claimed for itself the territory of a neighbor.
The truth is the plight of suffering peoples in places like Darfur were evident to all before the first Facebook status was updated or Instagram snapped.
To chalk all this up to some notion of grim fatalism and new-fangled technology, rather than the failures of a passive-reactive foreign policy, is not only stunningly naive. It’s a long, hard fall from the loftiness of “hope” and “change” and grand speeches in places like Berlin and Cairo.
Then again, it was Obama’s administration that thought it was accomplishing something real by reacting to Boko Haram’s kidnappings with a hashtag campaign (hint: “our” girls in Nigeria still haven’t been brought back). So maybe he actually believes Americans are aware of ISIS’s murderers and Russia’s designs on eastern Ukraine only because of apps on our smartphones.
Unfortunately, world events are signaling the collapse of Obama’s theory of international relations.
As it turns out, jihadists cannot be quelled by a strategy that doesn’t go beyond making overtures to, and a retreat from (overlooking the occasional drone strike), the Muslim world.
Aggressive autocracies such as Putin’s Russia are not merely potential partners just waiting for us to offer the right “resets” of friendliness and “flexibility.”
Hastily and arbitrarily drawn “red lines” will not stop dictators such as Bashar al-Assad from committing atrocities against their people, even when we ramp up the rhetoric by demanding people like him “must go.”
To adapt Margaret Thatcher’s phrase, there’s no such thing as the “international community.” Nations cannot accomplish as some kind of ethereal collective what they are not actively pursuing as individuals. When the primary action by this community’s leading member is to step back even before like-minded others are ready to step forward, we should not be surprised when the vacuum is filled instead by actors less interested in harmony.
A “multipolar” world is, on the current evidence, a reckless world without direction or order. It is not one in which America can more comfortably “lead from behind,” at least not for the foreseeable future.
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