John makes some astute comments regarding Ryan Lizza’s New Yorker article on President Obama’s foreign policy doctrine. It’s just too easy to poke fun at the concept of “Leading from Behind,” so excuse me as my tongue goes fully into cheek. Just as Barack Obama’s election led to the renaming of a handful of elementary schools, perhaps in the spirit of “Leading from Behind,” it’s time to embrace the Obama enthusiasm and recast other concepts. Edward Smith was the captain of the Titanic. While it may appear at first glance that he erred when the Titanic struck an iceberg, perhaps a more charitable reading was that he was “sailing from below.” France has traditionally become the butt of jokes because of its penchant for surrender (e.g., “Why did the French plant trees along the Champs d’Elysee? German soldiers prefer to march in the shade.”) But they should not be ridiculed: Rather than surrender quickly, the French simply preferred to “resist from behind.” Don’t call Deepwater Horizon an oil spill: It was simply “greasing from below.” We miss a debt payment? That’s “Financing from Behind.” Back in 1992, I got a D in an organic chemistry test. At the time, I was concerned. Now, I realize I should not have been. I was simply learning “behind the curve.” I’d certainly love to play poker with President Obama one day, because while other players might seek a full house or, at least three-of-a-kind, our president might “gamble from behind” and instead settle for a pair of threes.
More seriously, while President Obama may believe that the U.S. is reviled in much of the world, a lesson I learned from years crisscrossing the Middle East and, more broadly, Africa and Asia, is that when it comes to American policy, other nations will criticize us no matter what we do. We are “damned if we do, damned if we don’t.” In such circumstances, the best thing to do is to worry less about what people might think, and simply do what we think is right. There is a State Department corollary to this which became apparent during the Cold War, in the run-up to the Operation Iraqi Freedom, and many times since. Perhaps instead of seeking to change American policies to win plaudits in their countries of residence, American diplomats would be better served arguing and defending American policies, leaving no criticism unanswered.