Barack Obama’s decision to postpone his trip to Indonesia and Australia — to a democracy with the world’s largest Muslim population and to the only nation that has fought alongside us in all the wars of the last century — is of a piece with his foreign policy generally: attack America’s friends and kowtow to our enemies.
Examples run from Britain to Israel. Early in his administration, Obama returned a bust of Churchill that the British government had loaned the White House after 9/11. Then Obama gave Prime Minister Gordon Brown a set of DVDs that don’t work on British machines and that Brown, who has impaired vision, would have trouble watching anyway.
More recently, Obama summoned Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House, permitted no photographs, laid down non-negotiable demands and went off to dinner.
Some may attribute these slights to biases inherited from the men who supplied the titles of Obama’s two books. Perhaps like Barack Obama Sr., he regards the British as evil colonialists. Or perhaps like his preacher for 20 years, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, he regards Israel as an evil oppressor.
But the list of American friends Obama has slighted is long. It includes Poland and the Czech Republic (anti-missile program cancelled), Honduras (backing the constitutionally ousted president), Georgia (no support against Russia), and Colombia and South Korea (no action on pending free trade agreements).
In the meantime, Obama sends yearly greetings to (as he puts it) the Islamic Republic of Iran, exchanges friendly greetings with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, caves to Russian demands on arms control and sends a new ambassador to Syria.
What we’re seeing, I think, is a president who shares a view, long held by some on the American left, that the real danger to America often comes from America’s allies.
This attitude goes back to Gen. Joseph Stilwell’s feud against China’s Chiang Kai-shek in World War II. As Barbara Tuchman writes in her definitive biography, Stilwell thought Chiang was undercutting the U.S. by not fighting hard enough against the Japanese. He may have shared the view common among some "old China hands" — diplomats and journalists like Edgar Snow — that the Chinese communists were preferable.
After China fell to the communists, the old China hands got a fair share of the blame, and liberals who opposed military support of Chiang were vilified. This lesson was not forgotten.
In his first book on Vietnam, David Halberstam argued that the Diem brothers were not fighting hard enough against the communists. I remember him telling a group at the Harvard Crimson at the time how the U.S. needed to replace the Diems in order for liberals to avoid a political backlash like that against the old China hands.
The idea that allies can cause you trouble is not totally without merit. The Cold War caused us to embrace some unsavory folks. Democratic administrations supported military takeovers in Brazil in 1964 and Greece in 1967, just as a Republican administration supported one in Chile in 1973.
But liberals tend to forget the first two examples and remain fixated on the third. They see history as moving inevitably and beneficially to the left and bemoan American alliances with what they see as retrograde right-wing regimes.
They want us to look more favorably on those like Chavez and Fidel Castro, who claim they are helping the poor. Somehow it is seen as progressive to cuddle up to those who attack America and to scorn those who have shown their friendship and common values over many years.
And so Obama, the object of so much adulation in Western Europe, seems to have had only the coolest of relations with its leaders. The candidate who spoke in Berlin is now the president with no sympathy for the leaders of peoples freed when the wall fell. They are seen as impediments to his goal of propitiating Vladimir Putin’s Russia, where Joseph Stalin is now an honored hero.
Obama’s concessions to Russia have not prevented Russia from watering down sanctions against Iran. And Obama’s display of scorning Netanyahu has not gotten the Palestinians to sit down face-to-face with the Israelis, as Netanyahu has promised to do.
Obama proclaims that through persistence he can make the leaders of Iran, North Korea, Russia, China and the Palestinians see things our way. The evidence so far is that they are making him do things their way — and that our friends are wondering whether it pays to be on America’s side.