President Barack Obama promised a new day in foreign affairs. The president’s vision would inspire bold initiatives to take the world beyond the false choices — and resulting quagmires — of the past. Friend and foe alike would see the U.S. in a different light and, riding our newfound popularity, we would reshape the world.
There were skeptics, of course. The world cannot so easily be remade, they warned. Old modes of thinking die hard. Longstanding feuds persist.
Less than a year into his presidency, though, it appears Obama was right. We have already witnessed major changes that were almost unthinkable in January.
Consider Israel, a country at the center of Obama’s hopes for a new day in foreign policy. U.S. relations with Israel have had their bumps, but Israeli trust of America and respect for its president — whether Nixon or Carter, Clinton or George W. Bush — have been constant.
But in nine months all of this has changed. A recent survey sponsored by the Jerusalem Post showed that only 4 percent of Israelis believe Obama’s policies are more pro-Israel than pro-Palestinian.
Fifty-one percent of those polled consider Obama’s policies more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israel. When more than half of the Israeli population believes that America’s president tilts towards their sworn enemy, it’s fair to say Obama has produced a sea-change in this small yet important corner of the world.
This is only the beginning of “change we can scarcely believe” in Israel. For decades Israelis have been bitterly divided over politics, often more or less down the middle. Throughout much of this period, Benyamin Netanyahu has been among the most divisive Israeli politicians.
When Netanyahu formed a largely “right-wing” coalition government earlier this year, his regime seemed extremely fragile, even by Israeli standards. But then the Obama administration (1) insisted that Israel halt all new construction in West Bank settlements, including construction of new homes within large settlements to accommodate natural population growth and (2) objected to the building of new apartments in East Jerusalem.
When Netanyahu pushed back, his popularity soared. Obama had transformed him into a leader around whom a strong majority of Israelis could rally.
And while Israelis judged Obama by his words, the Arabs judged him by his results. Thus, when the Netanyahu government refused to halt construction, the Arab world judged him harshly.
Now, the administration is trying desperately to cobble together a compromise on settlement construction. But no face-saving compromise will obscure the fact that Obama has squandered America’s credibility on both sides of the Middle East divide.
In the former Soviet bloc countries of Eastern and Central Europe, the U.S. has long been viewed with the same high regard as in Israel. And for similar reasons: We have provided moral and material support that helps these nations survive and prosper as independent entities in a dangerous neighborhood.
These nations, in turn, have gone out on the limb for the United States. Poland and the Czech Republic in particular have been stalwart partners in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Initially, Obama talked as if he respected our special relationship with these allies. In April, Obama pledged to proceed with a missile defense shield program in Eastern Europe upon which, according to CNN, Poland and the Czech Republic have “based much of their future security policy.”
This week, in the face of pressure from Russia, the Obama administration announced it would not go forward with the missile shield program in Eastern Europe after all.
A spokeswoman for the Polish Ministry of Defense put it bluntly: “This is catastrophic for Poland.” And not just for Poland. As the editors of National Review remarked, America’s lack of resolve in the face of Russian saber-rattling has sent a chilling message throughout the region, notably to Georgia and Ukraine.
Contributor Paul Mirengoff is a lawyer in Washington, D.C., and a principal author of Powerlineblog.com.