Friday, March 11, 2011

Obama Looking Both Ways

It helps in politics – most especially when politics touches foreign policy – to have two faces. According to an analytical story in the New York Times, “Obama Seeks a Course of Pragmatism in the Middle East,” President Barack Obama is now sporting a pragmatic face and an idealistic face:

“In the Middle East crisis, as on other issues, there are two Barack Obamas: the transformative historical figure and the pragmatic American president.

“With the spread of antigovernment protests from North Africa to the strategic, oil-rich Persian Gulf, President Obama has adopted a policy of restraint. He has concluded that his administration must shape its response country by country, aides say, recognizing a stark reality that American national security interests weigh as heavily as idealistic impulses. That explains why Mr. Obama has dialed down the vocal support he gave demonstrators in Cairo to a more modulated call for peaceful protest and respect for universal rights elsewhere.”
Terrible are the responsibilities of empire. Mr. Obama, the Times tells us, is tiptoeing on a path between pragmatism and idealism. One does not wish to see certain “friendly” autocratic regimes in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia disappear into the dessert sands.

The strain on Mr. Obama is beginning to tell. “Mr. Obama,” according to the Times’ report, “has told people that it would be so much easier to be the president of China. As one official put it, ’No one is scrutinizing Hu Jintao’s words in Tahrir Square.’”

Following democratic upheavals in France at the dawning of the American Republic, another American president, John Adams, summed up the new country’s pragmatic foreign policy posture. The United States, he said, was the friend of democracy everywhere – but the custodian only of its own. Mr. Adams had but one face.

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