For the last 28 years, with the support of American presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush, Western Europe has been expanding to the East with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, and the Warsaw Pact, the addition of a dozen countries to the European Union, and a similar dozen to NATO. Some 100 million people that had previously taken their direction from Moscow chose democracy and economic integration with the West. There were key symbolic events - Lech Walesa and Solidarity's uprising in Poland in 1980; the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 - and each country chose its own path. Several - notably Belarus, and several central Asian republics - chose to remain centered on Russia while most central Europeans sought the economic and military security of alignment with the United States and our European allies.
Until Barack Obama became president. When he announced a reversal of President Bush's plan for a missile shield based in Poland and the Czech Republic, there was apparently no quid pro quo, and no engagement with these countries or our NATO allies in the decision. Secretary of Defense Gates has written about the military rationale for changing strategies, but that ignores the political implications for the East Europeans who cast their lot with the West despite Moscow's protestations and threats to withhold natural gas and oil. The choice of September 17, for the announcement - the day that Russia invaded Poland at the start of World War II - can be attributed to ignorance or arrogance. Hopefully it was no more deliberate than that.
The reversal in Afghanistan seems to be in progress. Obama's statement in March (when he committed to 21,000 more troops and a new commander) that he had a “a stronger, smarter and comprehensive strategy” to win the "necessary war" which Bush had ignored, is now being replaced with deferral of newly-appointed General McCrystal's request for additional troops until there is a viable strategy. So much for the Afghans who have put their families at risk as they rallied to American leadership.
So, how does this look from Tel Aviv or other capitals where governments have traditionally looked to the United States for support and protection? "Change" is obviously global. If you are trying to figure out who you can depend on and you are a long time ally in Columbia or Honduras, Pakistan or Taiwan, it is necessary to re-write your strategic plan.
One corner of the world that has received little attention, but which is facing its own "hope and change" agenda is Japan. For the first time since World War II, Japan's center-right government has given way to a center-left coalition with the likelihood of questioning many of our mutual assumptions relative to bases on Okinawa, benign currency and trade policies, and our role as their nuclear protector from North Korea, China and Russia. Hopefully, the Hatoyama administration will remain more reliable than the Obama administration.
One Obama-friendly British paper, The Guardian, has expressed a growing anxiety:
"Unless Barack Obama is able to demonstrate a better level of political skill than he has shown so far, everyone needs to fasten their seat belts. The world is about to enter a challenging phase where the US – the undisputed leader of the free world for the past 60 years – is going to rapidly cede its place at the head of the line." Based on his speech at the United Nations and the anticipated announcements from the G-20 meeting in Pittsburg, Obama will be leading the shift.
Perhaps we need a global tea party.
This week's You Tube answers the question asked several weeks ago, "Where in the World is Hillary Clinton?"
Bill Bowen - 9/25/09