FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Foreign Media: US Foreign Policy under Obama in Ruins
For all the talk of how amazing and respected Barack Obama is in international circles, foreign media outlets fairly often end up doing the kind of reporting one might hope the American media would do on him. Yes, while the American media was busy manufacturing outrage over a Romney statement that was essentially right, foreign outlets were doing real reporting.
I’ll start off with the German magazine Der Spiegel, which enjoys a level of respect similar to that accorded to TIME here. It has done some of the best work, rounding up what that country’s press has been saying. After assessing the situation themselves, Der Spiegel begins the round-up by quoting from the right-of-center paper Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung, which says:
“The murder of an ambassador in Libya and the attacks on US diplomatic missions in other Arab countries is sure to strengthen the skepticism that more than a few Americans feel toward Muslims and the political changes brought by the Arab revolutions. The deeply held American belief that all you have to do is liberate people from serfdom and dictatorship, and then democracy and a market economy will develop more or less on their own, burned to ash in the trial by fire of Iraq. A fact that academics and historically informed diplomats have always known can now be observed throughout the Arab world: Deeply ingrained cultural attitudes do not change simply because one political regime replaces another. In the long process of building a democratic society, it is not possible to simply skip stages.”
Even the leftwing newspapers of Germany are not sparing in their criticism. One of those papers is the Berliner Zeitung:
“The attacks on US embassies and consulates in the Arab world can not be justified in any way. If it turns out that al-Qaida is behind the attacks, as some US officials suspect, then they are acts of terrorism committed under the guise of religion. If they turn out to be uncoordinated actions by angry believers, then they are an expression of a frightening ignorance. A crazy individual US citizen has uploaded a movie onto the Internet which denigrates the Prophet Muhammad. The US government can not be held responsible for that. But that clearly does not help US President Barack Obama very much. He has to bear the political consequences of the recent events by himself.”
“Four years ago, Obama pledged to seek reconciliation with the Muslim world. Now, it is doubtful whether he has succeeded. The US and its European allies now have to ask themselves how much support they still enjoy in the countries of the Arab Spring.“
The best assessment from the sources Der Spiegel quotes, in my opinion, comes from the conservative Die Welt:
“US President Barack Obama’s Middle East policy is in ruins. Like no president before him, he tried to win over the Arab world. After some initial hesitation, he came out clearly on the side of the democratic revolutions. … In this context, he must accept the fact that he has snubbed old close allies such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Egyptian military. And now parts of the freed societies are turning against the country which helped bring them into being. Anti-Americanism in the Arab world has even increased to levels greater than in the Bush era. It’s a bitter outcome for Obama.“
“Obama was naive to believe that one only needed to adopt a new tone and show more respect in order to dispel deep-seated reservations about the free world. In practice, the policies of the Obama administration in the region were not as naive as they may have seemed at times, and the Americans have always been much more involved in the Middle East than the passive Europeans. But Washington has provided the image of a distracted superpower in the process of decline to the societies there. This image of weakness is being exploited by Salafists and al-Qaida, who are active in North Africa from Somalia to Mali.”
“One thing is clear: If jihadists believe they can attack American installations and kill an ambassador on the anniversary of Sept. 11, then America’s deterrent power has declined considerably. For a superpower, it is not enough just to want to be loved. You have to scare the bad guys to keep them in check.“
And finally, the mass-circulation Bild clearly understands the grander significance of what has happened:
“Naked hatred is raging against a country that many people in the world regard as a symbol of freedom. When US flags burn, embassies are vandalized, and diplomats are murdered, it is an attack on the West, and not just America!”
“We rooted for the demonstrators at Tahrir Square, and many of us have longed to see democracy in the Arab nations. But democracy includes honoring the lives of fellow humans.”
“The turmoil in Libya, Cairo, and Bangladesh is a return to the Middle Ages, when people were beheaded and stoned to death. No pathetic anti-Islam film can justify hate-filled murder.”
“The West must be tough on terrorism. And it must show that it can differentiate between rabble-rousers and peaceful Muslims.”
Meanwhile, the Hindustan Times has published a report by the Agence France Presse (AFP) saying that Obama needs to show leadership in his dealings with the Middle East. This report notes, for example, that:
A firmer US response is all the more urgent as the chaotic birth pangs of new nations wrestling with high unemployment, economic hardship and decades of mismanagement create a perfect breeding ground for extremism.
“The overthrow of authoritarian regimes… unleashed violent anti-American forces that the previous governments had largely kept in check,” said Haim Malka, deputy director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Even in Canada, Obama’s failures in the region are getting press coverage. The Globe and Mail, Canada’s largest newspaper by circulation, has posted the following:
Mr. Obama came to office promising “a new beginning” between the United States and the Muslim world. Yet, the conciliatory talk did not seem to win the United States many new friends as the Arab Spring unfolded. If anything, U.S. influence in a region critical to American interests has declined. The consequences could be far-reaching and, unless the protests die down soon, Mr. Obama could be on defensive for the rest of the campaign.
“The Obama administration had a view that if only we showed the Arab and Muslim worlds that we cared, things would change,” noted Georgetown University international affairs professor Robert Lieber. “But public opinion shows that the United States is no more popular in large chunks of the Middle East that it was under George W. Bush.”
But before we move on, it’s probably good to note this little tidbit from the article as well, just to highlight the hypocrisy from many of those on the Left here in the U.S.:
[Obama] wound up embracing many of Mr. Bush’s antiterrorism policies after campaigning against them in 2008. The prison at Guantanamo Bay is still open and Mr. Obama has ordered more drone attacks on terrorist targets in his first term than Mr. Bush did in two.
Another major Toronto paper, the Sun, has an opinion column up from Salim Mansur of the QMI Agency, saying the following:
Osama bin Laden is dead and so is Ayatollah Khomeini, but the war they declared against the “satanic” West continues. The West, on the other hand, has opted to be an ostrich.
But there is no mistaking that an apologetic West, as represented by President Obama, emboldened the Islamists, resulting in the manner in which the so-called Arab Spring unfolded.
The situation America, and by its default the West, finds itself in relation to the Arab-Muslim world is to a large extent, ironically, the result of its own guilt-ridden attitude and political correctness. This state of mind, or multiculturalism, gravely inhibits a realistic assessment of 9/11 and what has followed.
The explanation on offer that this new wave of Muslim rage was ignited by a crudely amateurish docu-drama about Islam’s prophet, and the individual responsible must be severely punished, is pathetic in describing a guilt-ridden West seeking to placate the Arab-Muslim world.
Islamists are at war, and the West needs to respond accordingly.
Also from Canada, the Montreal Gazette puts forth a great assessment of why they hate us:
What the last few days does show, as if we needed reminding, is that a lot of people in the Muslim world still hate America. Even if the proximate cause were, as reported, a crude anti-Muslim video that happened to have been produced in the United States, the crowds’ fury plainly has as much to do with where the film was made as what was in it. The protests have become, if they were not originally, arenas for the venting of rage at the U.S. in general — and at its president in particular. “Obama, Obama, we are all Osamas,” rioters in Tunis chanted. In Jalalabad, Afghanistan, they burned him in effigy.
It is a mistake to suppose that hatred of America must have some rational cause, any more than other prejudices. It does not. It is a constant, unlikely to change no matter what propitiatory gestures the U.S. might offer. It has nothing to do with what foreign policy it pursues, or whether the president’s middle name is Hussein. It exists because America exists, and if America did not exist it would attach itself to something else.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese news service al-Ahkbar echoes what some of the German media are saying. Karl Sharro writes:
The fact of the matter is that by intervening in Libya the US supported, and probably armed, groups that are intrinsically opposed to it and its regional role. That outcome was discounted when the decision to intervene in Libya was taken, but more crucially the US failed to push for consolidating power and weapons in Libya in a manner that would guarantee its interests and protect its presence there. The intelligence failure to detect threats against Americans is indicative of a wider decline of US influence and ability to control events.
To complicate matters further, the US seems now to exert diminished influence over its regional “allies,” notably Saudi Arabia which has funded and armed the groups in both Syria and Libya that are the most intrinsically opposed to the America. Syrian rebels have complained of the disproportionate power that minor extremist groups now possess because of this “distorted” support. A similar process happened in Egypt but involving political and financial, instead of military, support.
In Britain, the left-wing Guardian points out the silliness of the idea that all of this outrage is based on some poorly-made film. Gaith Abdul-Ahad says in an analysis for the paper:
The maelstrom of anti-western violence in the Arab world has little to do with an anti-Islam propaganda film released on YouTube.
It has more to do with decades of perceived western imperialism – and the organisational skills of the Salafis, known for their no-compromise, literal interpretation of the faith.
So it is with the Salafis. Very few of the people setting fire to the German embassy in Khartoum, attacking the American school in Tunis or torching a KFC in Beirut will have even seen the Innocence of Muslims. If the prophet had really been insulted, you would see 100 million in the streets. Instead we only see a few thousand.
And from the UK’s Telegraph, a right-wing paper, Tim Stanley strikes a chord that many of us have been playing: Obama has been trying to use this Middle East Crisis as leverage to persuade the voters to give him a second term, aided by the US media’s cheerleading. After analyzing (favorably) what Michelle Malkin has to say, Stanley says:
Is Malkin being unfair? Possibly, but the story Toby Harnden tells of a conversation between Obama and his Las Vegas volunteers confirms the narcissism. Obama said, “The sacrifices that our troops and our diplomats make are obviously very different from the challenges that we face here domestically but, like them, you guys are Americans who sense that we can do better than we’re doing … I’m just really proud of you.” Think about that. Obama is comparing the dangerous work done by soldiers and diplomats with … an afternoon spent phonebanking the elderly or organising a fundraiser with Barbra Streisand (although, to be fair, the latter could be dangerous to your health).
Obama also told the volunteers, “’I had a chance to go to the State Department to comfort some of the friends and co-workers of the folks who had fallen and I reminded them that as hard as things are sometimes, as difficult as change is that if we’re resolute, if we don’t give up, if we don’t give in, if we don’t become cynical, if we continue to be realistic about how hard change is but also keep in our hearts that sense of idealism and sense of purpose then over time good things happen.”
Change? Idealism? This is the language of the 2008 campaign transplanted to the supposedly cool, dispassionate world of the State Department. Diplomats are there to pursue American interests and represent their country. What grand manifesto of change are they supposed to be pushing for? And, if they are indeed putting the Obama campaign’s words into action, is that a healthy thing?” Does “the audacity of hope” translate well into trade deals and counter-terrorism?
Most politicians are arrogant, but the best demonstrate an ability to separate personal narrative from policy. What is so irksome about Obama is his insistence upon seeing everything he does as a historic breakthrough, made possible by his unique abilities and validated by a few cheering students. More worrying still is the number of folks in the mainstream media who agree with him.
To be fair, most of these media outlets and writers aren’t exactly in love with the Republicans or the idea of a Romney-Ryan administration. Some of them don’t even seem to like the United States much at all. Nevertheless, they are at least making a serious attempt to critique the Obama administration’s failure to accurately comprehend the recent events in the Middle East–whether they are on the left or right. We may not agree with their point of view, but they are making a serious effort, which is more than we can say for most of our broadcast media here at home.
They understand what these events mean about Obama foreign policy: it is a gigantic failure–even if we don’t agree with their particular point of view. What a pity these reports won’t get as wide of an exposure as they need to have over the coming days and even months. That’s why we have to keep up the pressure on Obama through talk radio, the blogs, social media, and elsewhere: The broadcast media, with few exceptions, has no interest in doing its job unless it damages Republicans.