The latest celebration of Barack Obama’s celebrity Nobel Prize came from a predictable source: a celebrity philanthropist. The Irish pop singer Bono, who is the front man not so much for a band these days but for Western guilt about third-world poverty, weighed in with a lengthy paean to the greatness of Obama in Sunday’s New York Times.
Much of this is the usual pap about how “the virtual Obama is the real Obama” who “might deserve the hype” because he represents the America of “King, M.L., Jr., and Dylan, Bob,” as opposed to the bad America that Obama swept away last November. Bono is all for a “rebrand, restart, reboot” of this country, by which he means in no small part the “administration’s approach to fighting nuclear proliferation and climate change, improving relations in the Middle East,” though, for all intents and purposes, the former is nothing more than an ineffectual attempt to appease Iran, and the latter is a policy that has alienated and isolated the state of Israel.
Yet in the midst of an anecdote in the piece that was meant to impress readers with the author’s importance, Bono undermines his rebranding argument. While informing us that Gen. James Jones called him for advice after leaving NATO and before joining the Obama administration, he lets drop that the model of “smarter aid” that he supports was actually a program championed by the president that his Nobel-laureate hero uses as the template for everything that was wrong about America. That’s right, according to Bono, the one concrete example of something good that America is doing was “President George W. Bush’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief and the Millennium Challenge Corporation,” which was, according to the singer, “beginning to save lives and change the game for many countries.” He goes on to explain that “this was a moment when America couldn’t get its cigarette lighted in polite European nations like Norway; but even then, in the developing world, the United States was still seen as a positive, even transformative, presence.” He neglects to add that if this is the case, perhaps the fact that the good burghers of Oslo don’t like Bush’s America has more to do with their own ideological baggage than our actual shortcomings.
The point is, the bad America that Europe and professional do-gooders like Bono — who for all of his championing of “smart” aid here exemplifies the drive to pump traditional dumb aid to the third world, which does nothing to aid the people or the economies of those nations but does enrich local elites while allowing Western elites who support such measures to feel better about themselves — despise was actually good for the third world.
Bono repeats the usual claptrap that in an age of counterinsurgency conflict in which American “might doesn’t make right,” it is Obama’s celebrity power that will keep us safe. But he forgets that it was American military power that stopped the genocide of Muslims in the Balkans and liberated Afghanistan from the rule of the Taliban (a victory that may be thrown away if Obama listens to Joe Biden), not multilateral diplomacy. And it is the absence of American will to use that power to stop genocide in Sudan (as was the case in Rwanda in the 1990s) that allows genocide in the third world to continue, not an insufficient amount of American apologies or appeasement of Islamist sensibilities that has the world so upbeat about Obama.
Bono is right that America remains a powerful symbol of good for the rest of the world. But the power of the idea of America is one that is based on its being a beacon of political and economic liberty, not a nation that defers to Europeans who mistake appeasement and shameless appeals for popularity for principle.