Commentary Magazine


Contentions

So, How Do Things Sound?

And now Barack Obama’s aid plan for Pakistan falls flat:

U.S. envoys met with Pakistani leaders on Tuesday to ensure that the $7.5 billion that President Obama plans to send their way over the next five years will be used to achieve common goals in the fight against extremism.

But according to a Pakistani newspaper, regional envoy Richard Holbrooke and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen came up empty-handed and received a “rude shock” when a proposal for joint operations against al Qaeda and Taliban forces in the volatile tribal regions was rejected.

It’s a clean sweep. Obama’s proposals have been turned down by every foreign government and international body he’s approached — from Pyongyang to Brussels, and assorted points in between.

The U.S. is out of the superpower business. It didn’t happen because we callously stretched our imperium until it snapped. And we weren’t forced out by the ingenuity of rising challengers. We just called it a day.

A week after being inaugurated, President Obama told Hisham Melheman of Al Arabiya television, “[A]ll too often the United States starts by dictating — in the past on some of these issues — and we don’t always know all the factors that are involved. So let’s listen.” Because, of course, those are the only two options for American statecraft.

The “issues,” in that case, surrounded Middle East peace, but soon enough the president made his more generalized passion for listening sufficiently well known. At the G20 summit in Britain, Obama told reporters that he “came here to put forward ideas but I also came here to listen, not to lecture.” And, so, he listened to European leaders turn down his spending proposals.

He’s listened to Tehran chant death to America. He’s listened to Moscow say no to helping us out with Tehran. He’s listened to the roar of rocket engines in Pyongyang. He’s listened to a stereophonic no, from Beijing and Moscow at the UN Security Council. And, now, he’s listened to Islamabad tell us to get lost.

If only the administration took the latest rebuff as a “rude shock.” That would imply an awakening to reality. But remember, Obama’s theme is “persistence” now; there’s a lot more “no” in our future.

Like so many in the West these days who spend their “adult years” living off their parents’ hard work, the U.S. is going to rest on the accomplishments of preceding generations for a while. Earlier administrations took care of the Nazis, the Soviets, and al Qaeda so that this one can take care of itself, making sure people of the world welcome it kindly and write about it glowingly. Who knows what things we will be listening to over the next four years. Simple “no’s” may sound comforting by comparison. But just as it was juvenile for this administration to think it could come into power and “reset” the motivations and schemes of the rest of the world, it’s folly to think we can hit a reset button on American superpower should we need it in an emergency. There are entities out there making dangerous moves while we content ourselves with listening, and if eventually we have to confront them it won’t be easy making up for lost time.