Monday, July 28, 2008

"Citizen of the World" needs history lessons

When I lived in San Francisco, people often scoffed at American patriotism and the notion of National pride, proclaiming themselves instead to be "A Citizen of the World". In my youth I thought that sounded high-minded and admirable. But as I learned more about the rest of the world, the appeal of such a notion lost it's glow. People all over the world clamor for a chance to become a citizen of the United States, for good reason.

Obviously it behooves us all to care about what happens in the world as a whole. Duh. But I don't have a vote in the world, and caring about the world globally doesn't, to me, mean having to preclude our national interests, or negating our patriotism or demeaning our national sovereignty.

Citizen of the World? When the rest of the world comes up to snuff, I'll consider it. Till then, at best it's a naive notion. At worst it's posturing. Those Americans who see themselves as citizens of the world first, perhaps should go live in the rest of it, without benefit of American citizenship, and see how they like it.

Senator Obama used the World Citizen shtick in his Berlin speech, and his policy statements were just as naive. From John Bolton in the L.A. Times:

One world? Obama's on a different planet
[...] First, urging greater U.S.-European cooperation, Obama said, "The burdens of global citizenship continue to bind us together." Having earlier proclaimed himself "a fellow citizen of the world" with his German hosts, Obama explained that the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Europe proved "that there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one."

Perhaps Obama needs a remedial course in Cold War history, but the Berlin Wall most certainly did not come down because "the world stood as one." The wall fell because of a decades-long, existential struggle against one of the greatest totalitarian ideologies mankind has ever faced. It was a struggle in which strong and determined U.S. leadership was constantly questioned, both in Europe and by substantial segments of the senator's own Democratic Party. In Germany in the later years of the Cold War, Ostpolitik -- "eastern politics," a policy of rapprochement rather than resistance -- continuously risked a split in the Western alliance and might have allowed communism to survive. The U.S. president who made the final successful assault on communism, Ronald Reagan, was derided by many in Europe as not very bright, too unilateralist and too provocative.

But there are larger implications to Obama's rediscovery of the "one world" concept, first announced in the U.S. by Wendell Willkie, the failed Republican 1940 presidential nominee, and subsequently buried by the Cold War's realities.

The successes Obama refers to in his speech -- the defeat of Nazism, the Berlin airlift and the collapse of communism -- were all gained by strong alliances defeating determined opponents of freedom, not by "one-worldism." Although the senator was trying to distinguish himself from perceptions of Bush administration policy within the Atlantic Alliance, he was in fact sketching out a post-alliance policy, perhaps one that would unfold in global organizations such as the United Nations. This is far-reaching indeed.

Second, Obama used the Berlin Wall metaphor to describe his foreign policy priorities as president: "The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the leastjavascript:void(0) cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down."

This is a confused, nearly incoherent compilation, to say the least, amalgamating tensions in the Atlantic Alliance with ancient historical conflicts. One hopes even Obama, inexperienced as he is, doesn't see all these "walls" as essentially the same in size and scope. But beyond the incoherence, there is a deeper problem, namely that "walls" exist not simply because of a lack of understanding about who is on the other side but because there are true differences in values and interests that lead to human conflict. The Berlin Wall itself was not built because of a failure of communication but because of the implacable hostility of communism toward freedom. The wall was a reflection of that reality, not an unfortunate mistake.

Tearing down the Berlin Wall was possible because one side -- our side -- defeated the other. Differences in levels of economic development, or the treatment of racial, immigration or religious questions, are not susceptible to the same analysis or solution. Even more basically, challenges to our very civilization, as the Cold War surely was, are not overcome by naively "tearing down walls" with our adversaries. [...]

Bold emphasis mine. Read the whole thing. Obama's policy points are feel-good fuzzy talk that just obscures facts and ignores history. It's what I've come to expect from most Democrats, especially on foreign policy issues. The speech doesn't surprise me, but it sure doesn't reassure me either.

John Bolton used to cut through the BS at the UN, which is why the Democrats would not allow him to stay. They prefer fuzzy talk.

Related Links:

Obama’s European Love Parade

The Berlin Missionary

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