Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What's The Difference

From Der Spiegel:

When he entered office, US President Barack Obama promised to inject US foreign policy with a new tone of respect and diplomacy. His recent trip to Asia, however, showed that it's not working. A shift to Bush-style bluntness may be coming.

I'm not sure if this gets it right. I think the differences between Bush and Obama are more of substance than style. In fact, both of them strongly believe/believed in certain ideas, and are/were willing to force them on people. (Obama perhaps more than Bush--look at domestic issues, where Bush reached across the aisle in his first year more than Obama has).

The difference is that when push came to shove (and 9/11 was push coming to shove), Bush believed in things that many opinion leaders in Europe didn't like. Bush may have been just as willing as Obama to listen to others, but, ultimately, decided against what a lot of people in Europe wanted. This made them think, of course, he wasn't listening.

Meanwhile, Obama takes the European outlook on many issues--the need for much stronger environmental laws, the idea that Israel is an enemy of peace in the Middle East, the concept that the American military does a lot of harm in the world. If you share people's mindset, you may seem more open and tolerant to them. But to those whom you disagree with, well...Obama has turned his back on Poland, snubbed Britain, couldn't wait to meddle in Honduran politics (on the side of Hugo Chavez fans), made demands on Israel, etc. If you're on his bad side you might end up thinking he's arrogant and stubborn just like Bush.

I'm not saying there's no difference in their styles, and even that different styles may get different results (would you rather be feared and create resentment, or be loved and treated like a chump?), but I think a lot of what's attributed to style is actually a difference of politics.


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