“He’s Becoming Ordinary”

Over at Der Spiegel Online is an interview with Charles Krauthammer, in which he assesses Barack Obama’s stewardship, to date, of our nation’s affairs. I find little to disagree with.

Here are some excerpts.

First, on Mr. Obama’s popularity in Europe:

SPIEGEL: Why do Europeans react so positively to him?

Krauthammer: Because Europe, for very understandable reasons, has been chaffing for 60 years under the protection, but also the subtle or not so subtle domination of America. Europeans like to see the big guy cut down to size, it’s a natural reaction. You know, Europe ran the world for 400 or 500 years until the civilizational suicide of the two World Wars. And then America emerged as the world hegemon, with no competition and unchallenged. The irony is America is the only hegemonic power that never sought hegemony, unlike, for example, Napoleonic France. Americans are not intrinsically imperial, but we ended up dominant by default: Europe disappeared after the Second World War, the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991, so here we are. Of course Europeans like to see the hegemon diminished, and Obama is the perfect man to do that.

SPIEGEL: Maybe Europeans want to just see a different America, one they can admire again.

Krauthammer: Admire? Look at Obama’s speech at the UN General Assembly: “No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation.” Take the first half of that sentence: No nation can dominate another. There is no eight year old who would say that — it’s so absurd. And the second half? That is adolescent utopianism. Obama talks in platitudes, but offers a vision to the world of America diminished or constrained, and willing to share leadership in a way that no other presidency and no other great power would. Could you imagine if the Russians were hegemonic, or the Chinese, or the Germans — that they would speak like this?

SPIEGEL: Do you really believe that Obama deliberately wants to weaken the US?

Krauthammer: The liberal vision of America is that it should be less arrogant, less unilateral, more internationalist. In Obama’s view, America would subsume itself under a fuzzy internationalism in which the international community, which I think is a fiction, governs itself through the UN.

SPIEGEL: A nightmare?

Krauthammer: Worse than that: an absurdity. I can’t even imagine serious people would believe it, but I think Obama does. There is a way America will decline — if we choose first to wreck our economy and then to constrain our freedom of action through subordinating ourselves to international institutions which are 90 percent worthless and 10 percent harmful.

SPIEGEL: And there is not even 1 percent that is constructive?

Krauthammer: No. The UN is worse than disaster. The UN creates conflicts. Look at the disgraceful UN Human Rights Council: It transmits norms which are harmful, anti-liberty, and anti-Semitic among other things. The world would be better off in its absence.

On the war in Afghanistan:

SPIEGEL: Is Afghanistan still a war of necessity, still a strategic interest?

Krauthammer: The phrase “war of necessity and war of choice” is a phrase that came out of a different context. Milan Kundera once wrote, “a small country is a country that can disappear and knows it.” He was thinking of prewar Czechoslovakia. Israel is a country that can disappear and knows it. America, Germany, France, Britain, are not countries that can disappear. They can be defeated but they cannot disappear. For the great powers, and especially for the world superpower, very few wars are wars of necessity. In theory, America could adopt a foreign policy of isolationism and survive. We could fight nowhere, withdraw from everywhere — South Korea, Germany, Japan, NATO, the United Nations — if we so chose. From that perspective, every war since World War II has been a war of choice.

So using those categories — wars of necessity, wars of choice — is unhelpful in thinking through contemporary American intervention. In Afghanistan the question is: Do the dangers of leaving exceed the dangers of staying.

SPIEGEL: General Stanley McCrystal is asking for more troops. Is that really the right strategy?

Krauthammer: General Stanley McCrystal is the world expert on counterterrorism. For five years he ran the most successful counterterrorism operation probably in the history of the world: His guys went after the bad guys in Iraq, they ran special ops, they used the Predators and they killed thousands of jihadists that we don’t even know about, it was all under the radar. And now this same general tells Obama that the counterterrorism strategy in Afghanistan will fail, you have to do counterinsurgency, population protection. That would seem an extremely persuasive case that counterterrorism would not work.

SPIEGEL: You famously coined the term “Reagan Doctrine” to describe Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy. What is the “Obama Doctrine?”

Krauthammer: I would say his vision of the world appears to me to be so naïve that I am not even sure he’s able to develop a doctrine. He has a view of the world as regulated by self-enforcing international norms, where the peace is kept by some kind of vague international consensus, something called the international community, which to me is a fiction, acting through obviously inadequate and worthless international agencies. I wouldn’t elevate that kind of thinking to a doctrine because I have too much respect for the word doctrine.

SPIEGEL: Are you saying that diplomacy always fails?

Krauthammer: No, foolishness does. Perhaps when he gets nowhere on Iran, nowhere with North Korea, when he gets nothing from the Russians in return for what he did to the Poles and the Czechs, gets nowhere in the Middle East peace talks — maybe at that point he’ll begin to rethink whether the world really runs by international norms, consensus, and sweetness and light, or whether it rests on the foundation of American and Western power that, in the final analysis, guarantees peace.

SPIEGEL: That is the cynical approach.

Krauthammer: The realist approach. Henry Kissinger once said that peace can be achieved only one of two ways: hegemony or balance of power. Now that is real realism. What the Obama administration pretends is realism is naïve nonsense.

Read the whole thing here.

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