On his recent trip to Asia, President Obama found China, Japan and South Korea like many nations these days in no mood to hear more American lectures.
Beijing is worried about owning so much American debt. Tokyo is tiring of an American military base in Okinawa, and wants to redefine its relationship with us. Seoul is starting to doubt American commitment to keep it safe from North Korea.
Why all the sudden pushback to our charismatic president?
Our dollar is crashing, while the price of gold is soaring. The budget deficit has never been worse and the president wants to float even more debt for health-care and energy initiatives.
By the end of this presidential term, we may add another $9 trillion to our already astronomical $11 trillion debt. Unemployment has already topped 10 percent. This quarter's trade deficit reached a near-historic high. Our debtors and oil exporters talk of scrapping the dollar as the common international currency.
American hesitation abroad reflects the shaky economic news. In Afghanistan, we can't decide whether to seek victory or admit defeat or simply vote present by keeping the status quo. President Obama reached out to enemies like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. But so far they remain unimpressed, despite his apologizing for an assortment of supposed past American sins.
The Chinese don't listen all that much anymore to our sermons on their human-rights, coal-burning and free-trade abuses not when they hold $1.5 trillion in U.S. assets. The president took a lot of flak for bowing to Saudi royals and the Japanese emperor. But why wouldn't he show deference given America's huge dependence on foreign oil and Japanese imports?
France, of all nations, is now warning us to get a backbone with the Iranians. So far the theocracy has snubbed our new outreach efforts aimed at stopping its nuclear proliferation. Iran's Russian patrons now talk more nicely to us but mostly because we caved on land-based missile defense in Eastern Europe, and got nothing really in return.
The Norwegians gave Obama the Nobel Peace Prize after less than a year in office and without any real accomplishments. They must suspect that such global recognition will flatter Obama to push a now-unexceptional America toward a more multilateral perspective in tune with the thinking at the United Nations.
The Obama administration announced a kinder, gentler approach to the war on terror. It serially promised to the world to shut down Guantanamo and loudly derided much of the Bush-era anti-terrorism protocols. We may put on trial former CIA interrogators, while we give civil trials and full American legal protection to the terrorist detainees who planned the 9/11 attacks.
Obama himself has praised the history and culture of the Islamic world, and even fudged the historical record to magnify its achievements.
Yet so far this year authorities broke up three radical Islamic terrorist plots inside the United States. And we lost 12 soldiers and one civilian (with others wounded) at Fort Hood; the accused, a member of our own military, has shown himself to be a Muslim extremist. Al-Qaida promises more attacks, and the Taliban feel that American commitment to a free Afghanistan is weakening.
Add it all up and there is a growing sense that America is in fact hemorrhaging as both friends and enemies abroad smell blood in the water. The president through conciliation and concession not to mention constant talk is trying to superficially restore the influence we once earned by virtue of our economic power and self-confidence in our exceptional past and singular values.
But being both loud and vulnerable is not a winning combination, since political influence and military power are ultimately predicated on economic strength.
The United States needs to re-establish itself as financially credible and responsible so that when we lecture about everything from global warming to Iranian nukes we do so from a position of strength. That means, we need to stop borrowing other nations' money.
America also can't afford to keep importing high-priced oil that we won't produce at home. And we should stop promising ever more government entitlements to ever more voters that we can't even begin to pay for.
For as we continue in our self-indulgence, a more defiant world seems to be saying that the old rules of the game have changed. In response, America should keep quieter abroad and try finding a bigger stick.
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Victor Davis Hanson, a classicist and military historian, is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal. Comment by clicking here.