Yesterday marked the 8th month of the Obama administration, and a unifying theme behind their management of our relations with other nations -- an "Obama Doctrine," if you will -- is starting to emerge. And it ain't a pretty one.
It seems best summed up thus: "piss off your friends and appease your foes."
It doesn't sound like a formula for success, or even well thought out, but it is the best summation that fits the known facts. Witness how things have gone with select nations:
Great Britain: a steady stream of slights and insults, including cheap gifts to the Prime Minister (including DVDs that won't work in England), the return of a prized Churchill bust that had held an honored place in the Oval Office for decades, and meddling with Bermuda (a British colony) to the point where we inadvertently toppled their government. How the release of the Lockerbie bomber fits in is unclear; it could be considered a bit of a "tit for tat" slap from the British, or the Obama's protestations of being unaware of it beforehand could be more attempts to blame the British for things.
Israel: A major shift has occurred in our stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For decades, we'd said that the major obstacle to peace was the two sides' tendency to destroy things (people, buildings, vehicles, and the like). Under Obama, the biggest problem is now Israel's building housing for people. No wonder only about 4% of Israelis think that Obama is on their side.
Poland: The former keystone to the Soviet empire (that might be a stretch, but they did call their alliance "the Warsaw Pact") has been a great friend of the United States ever since President Reagan supported the Solidarity movement that began the collapse of that empire. There are few people who more value freedom than those who have just emerged from decades of enslavement. Then, on the
60th 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland, Obama announces that he's withdrawing the missile shield President Bush had promised the Poles to protect them from Soviet threats.
Canada and Mexico: Our two closest neighbors, with whom we share huge, unfortified borders, are also our key trading partners. During the election, Obama denounced the NAFTA pact that has benefited all three nations (to various degrees) and has been pushing a form of American protectionism that threatens their continued prosperity.
On the other hand...
Venezuela: Hugo Chavez has built his dictatorship on, among other things, staunch anti-Americanism. So, naturally, Obama has been suitably conciliatory and apologetic.
(added)Honduras: When their president tried to bypass their Constitution and set himself up as another Chavez, nearly the entire rest of the government -- the legislature, the supreme court, and a good chunk of his own executive branch -- united to kick him out. Naturally, Obama's leaning heavily on those people to let the guy back into the country and into power. (Thanks for the reminder, Rovin.)
Russia: It's growing clearer that Putin is trying to rebuild the old Soviet empire, minus the whole now-icky "Communist" label. (Just ask Georgia.) So, naturally, Obama is falling all over himself to keep on their good side and avoiding any kind of confrontation.
Iran: Maybe the Bush administration didn't do a hell of a lot to slow down Iran's nuclear program, but Obama's managed to undo whatever they did do. He's offered the demanded apologies and signs of contrition, and they're closer than ever to getting the bomb -- and far less likely to be intimidated from using it.
North Korea: See "Iran."
And then there's the truly inexplicable one.
China is both "friend" and "foe." On the one hand, they're militarily aggressive as hell and continue threatening Taiwan and other neighbors. They've made no bones that they see the 21st century as the time they surpass the United States as the world's dominant power, and are doing all they can to bring that to fruition.
On the other hand, they're one of our most important trading partners and hold a tremendous amount of our government's debt, so we ought to play nice with them.
So, what does Obama do?
Well, when they confront us militarily (mostly on the high seas, where they've been harassing our unarmed reconnaissance ships), he's backed down. But he's also threatening to start a trade war with them over automobile tires.
The easiest way to predict what Obama will do in foreign relations seems to be to first figure out what Bush did or would have done, and then bet on him doing the opposite.
To paraphrase Monty Python, "foreign policy is an intellectual process ... contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of anything the previous administration did."
I understand the British Prime Minister included a DVD of "The Argument Clinic" in his last set of gifts to President Obama, but it was encoded for the wrong region, so the message was "lost in translation."