Once upon a time Republican Sen. Arthur Vandenberg forcefully articulated the proposition that “politics stops at the water’s edge.” The year was 1950, President Truman was in office and America was at war. Daniel Henninger has observed that Vandenberg’s point was, as he put it, “to unite our official voice at the water’s edge so that America speaks with maximum authority against those who would divide and conquer us.” In recent years, Henninger commented, we have had the opposite — a domestic political war waged relentlessly at the water’s edge.
Barack Obama’s criticism of America before a French audience takes this approach to a new level. He is after all the president of the United States. Obama nevertheless passed judgment on the United States and found America wanting:
In America, there is a failure to appreciate Europe’s leading role in the world. Instead of celebrating your dynamic union and seeking to partner with you to meet common challenges, there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.
Obama juxtaposed the failures of American attitudes with offsetting European failures:
[I]n Europe, there is an anti-Americanism that is at once casual, but can also be insidious. Instead of recognizing the good that America so often does in the world, there have been times where Europeans choose to blame America for much of what is bad. On both sides of the Atlantic, these attitudes have become all too common.
Apparently only the judicious Obama himself, bestriding the Western world in the guise of a philosopher king, has it right. Obama’s criticism of American arrogance in this context strikes me as at least slightly ironic.
JOHN adds: Obama’s constant criticism of his predecessor is doubly reprehensible because it is false. Thus, in his Strasbourg speech Obama said:
I don’t believe that there is a contradiction between our security and our values. And when you start sacrificing your values, when you lose yourself, then over the long term that will make you less secure. When we saw what happened in Abu Ghraib, that wasn’t good for our security — that was a recruitment tool for terrorism. Humiliating people is never a good strategy to battle terrorism.
Obama thus repeats the slander that the pointless abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib by a handful of low-life Army Reservists was part of President Bush’s “strategy to battle terrorism.” This is an absurdity. The Reservists in question violated every known policy, which is why they went to jail when their crimes were discovered. For Obama to defame his own country in this way is contemptible.
PAUL adds: Obama’s complaint that the U.S. has failed to “celebrat[e]” Europe’s “dynamic union” or to “partner with [Europe] to meet common challenges” is also absurd. First, why would the U.S. be expected to “celebrate” Europe’s union? (Obama offers no evidence that the Union is “dynamic,” and it’s not clear where he thinks the dynamism of this cumbersome bureaucratic entity resides)? It’s up to the Europeans to organize themselves the way they want, though the “unionists” sometimes seem to forget this. If they choose a union, that’s okay, but no cause for “celebration” in the U.S.
Second, the U.S. clearly has attempted to partner with Europe to meet common challenges. Quite apart from its substantial cooperation with Europe, the Bush administration sought Europe’s help in all aspects of the war on terror. In the case of Iraq, the parties (with a few exceptions) just couldn’t agree. In the case of Afghanistan, the U.S. partnered with NATO, possibly to our detriment. On terrorism generally, the U.S and Europe have shared intelligence.
Americans have expressed frustration with the fact that the Europeans are essentially unwilling to fight the war on terror in any meaningful military sense. Obama, who has been begging unsuccessfully for even a few more European troops to assist in Afghanistan, probably feels the same frustration. If he chooses not to express it because he wants to maintain his popularity in Europe, that’s probably okay for now.
However, it is not unreasonable for ordinary Americans (as opposed to diplomats) to be openly unhappy with Europe’s pacifism in the face of the challenge posed by Islamic terrorism. Nor will Obama be able to paper over that frustration with his pretty phrases if, when the weather turns better, American casualties spike in Afghanistan while progress lags.
SCOTT adds: Gabriel Malor expresses the disgust I hesitated to vent..