In the last two weeks, we learned that Bashar Assad has dismantled only 5 percent of his WMD arsenal, despite President Obama’s soaring rhetoric to the contrary. Russia violated a long-observed agreement with the U.S. about testing missiles. Iran’s take on the negotiations over its bomb program bears no resemblance to our interpretation. Chinese officials now happily leak fantastic stories about using their military to punish Japan. All that is trumped by veiled threats from the Sunni Gulf monarchies, terrified of Iran, to buy a bomb or two from Pakistan. We hear other rumors that even China thinks the new leadership in North Korea is unhinged and is not worried about friendly warnings from Beijing.
Whether all these incidents are minor or serious, and whether they are random or interconnected and perceived as proof of the loss of U.S. deterrence, depends on which particular bad actor is studying them to try to guess whether the Obama administration will do anything should a provocateur start a war or attempt to redraw a regional map.
In short, our Icarus-in-Chief, without much foreign-policy experience but with youthful zeal and good intentions, soared far too high for his flimsy waxen wings. Now they are melting, and as the American commander-in-chief careens back to earth, lots of those below are wondering what will come next. Still, there is a lot of irony as Obama freefalls to earth.
Everyone assumed the Europeans were conveniently pacifist and had eroded their defenses because they could — given the fact that the United States had guaranteed the safety of Europe throughout the Cold War and for another quarter-century after it ended. Americans accepted that Europeans could afford to ankle-bite the interventionist United States because the latter’s pledge to the alliance was unquestionable, and such were the natural psychological gymnastics of patron and client.
Then came the waxen Obama soaring on hope and change, the president who would remake the world along the lines envisioned in a college faculty lounge or a Chicago organizing session. Obama was not a Buchananite isolationist who would be easy for Europeans to caricature. Rather, he is a postmodern, postracial progressive, who deeply felt either that traditional U.S. alliances were not worth the commitment, or that the U.S. was properly moving away from its European heritage and thus without any need for special trans-Atlantic relationships, or that an internationally engaged America came at the expense of dollars better spent on redistributive entitlements at home — or all three and more still.
The result is that the Europeans are increasingly bewildered if not a little anxious.