Monday, November 23, 2009

Out of Town Reviews Coming In

One of the things we've heard repeatedly since the Obama administration began is that America would regain respect in the world, the respect that apparently had been lost by the Bush administration. And the president already has a Nobel Peace Prize on the mantel.

But how is he doing, really? Der Spiegel is not impressed:

Upon taking office, Obama said that he wanted to listen to the world, promising respect instead of arrogance. But Obama's currency isn't as strong as he had believed. Everyone wants respect, but hardly anyone is willing to pay for it. Interests, not emotions, dominate the world of realpolitik. The Asia trip revealed the limits of Washington's new foreign policy: Although Obama did not lose face in China and Japan, he did appear to have lost some of his initial stature.

In Tokyo, the new center-left government even pulled out of its participation in a mission which saw the Japanese navy refueling US warships in the Indian Ocean as part of the Afghanistan campaign. In Beijing, Obama failed to achieve any important concessions whatsoever. There will be no binding commitments from China to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A revaluation of the Chinese currency, which is kept artificially weak, has been postponed. Sanctions against Iran? Not a chance. Nuclear disarmament? Not an issue for the Chinese.

You almost hate to imagine what would have happened if he'd lost face. Meanwhile, the Times of London also cast a cold eye:

Obama’s Asian adventure perceptibly increased the murmurings of dissent when he returned to Washington last week, having failed to wring any public concessions from China on any major issue.

For most Americans, the most talked-about moment of the trip was not the Great Wall visit but his low bow to Emperor Akihito of Japan, which the president’s right-wing critics assailed as “a spineless blunder” and excessively deferential.
Personally, I don't think it was spineless, although it's frankly bizarre to see the Leader of the Free World bow to anyone. The larger problem is this: there's a pretty fine line between being self-effacing and self-abasing. America doesn't gain anything from feigning weakness.

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