Goes Around, Comes Around


There's been an escalation in the high stakes international war of diplomacy and Venezuela just upped the ante. Hugo came up with a gift even worse than a wrong-region DVD pack or an iPod loaded with Obama speeches.

He gave Obama The Open Veins Of Latin America: 5 Centuries of The Pillage Of A Continent. (Plus, I think he re-gifted it.) Read the customer descriptions at Amazon....This was a naked act of agression and I hope Obama retaliates by sending a crate full of signed editions of Los sueƱos de mi padre: Una historia de raza y herencia to Caracas.

The press isn't saying who won the thumb-wrestling match, but the Prez seems to have the drop on Hugo here.

More seriously, I'd like to make a mild defense of the President's "apology tour." I am not happy with it because everywhere the President goes he signals weakness and naivete.

However, I don't think it's fair to say the Prez has been going around the world apologizing. What he's been doing is going around the world asking everyone to "move on." When he was in Europe, for example, the right wing blogosphere lept on him for apologizing for American arrogance. Well, ok, he did say this in that town hall in Strasbourg:
In America, there's a failure to appreciate Europe's leading role in the world. Instead of celebrating your dynamic union and seeking to partner with you to meet common challenges, there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.
But did anyone note the next paragraph?
But in Europe, there is an anti-Americanism that is at once casual but can also be insidious. Instead of recognizing the good that America so often does in the world, there have been times where Europeans choose to blame America for much of what's bad.
And the next?

On both sides of the Atlantic, these attitudes have become all too common. They are not wise. They do not represent the truth. They threaten to widen the divide across the Atlantic and leave us both more isolated. They fail to acknowledge the fundamental truth that America cannot confront the challenges of this century alone, but that Europe cannot confront them without America.

So I've come to Europe this week to renew our partnership, one in which America listens and learns from our friends and allies, but where our friends and allies bear their share of the burden.

Does anyone have any honest objection to that in the abstract? I don't. Nor, when you read the whole passage in context, does it read to me like an apology for American conduct. He simply asks that we let previous policy differences go. Read it for yourself and see.

What he said was fine --harder on Europeans than on us, honestly. (Of course, it didn't work; Europe gave him nothing of what he wanted --help for Afghanistan.)

Similarly, the Prez is now rebuked for not defending the U.S. against a 50 minute diatribe from Daniel Ortega. When asked what he thought, the President replied,
It was 50 minutes long. That's what I thought.
That was a stinger if you ask me, and the right response. Some things are so stupid you don't dignify them with a reaction. (It was even shades of Bush's "gaffe," though on mic and deliberate.) Should the President of the United States have stalked out of the room in a huff over Daniel Ortega?

In a departure from his own text, the President eventually did respond --in a manner both mild and withering, I think:
I'm grateful that President Ortega did not blame me for things that happened when I was three months old. Too often, an opportunity to build a fresh partnership of the Americas has been undermined by stale debates. We've all heard these arguments before.
In other words, before the whole summit the President dismissed Ortega as a huge snoring irrelevancy. Well done, as far as rhetoric goes. And it happens to jibe with what he told the Europeans: let's move on.

What President Obama does in Latin America is liable to annoy me; what he's said: not really.

Update: That's not to say the Prez didn't miss an opportunity to stand up for what's right. His view of the world and his sense of the human person are too materialistic for him to know how to stand up for the human spirit in any way. But he didn't say anything terrible.

2nd update: See? It was just a handshake.