Ross Douthat writes:
The problem isn’t apologies, but wishful thinking, and particularly the belief that this president’s identity and eloquence could enable the United States to transcend the hard realities of power politics that have long made us so disliked across the Middle East.
So the problem isn’t a baseless misrepresentation of administration policy. The real problem is a caricature of that policy that virtually no one has ever believed would work and was scarcely tried. This is not a very good description of what the U.S. has done in the last three and a half years. This description of administration conduct bears almost no resemblance to what the administration has done. One reason why U.S. favorability in many of these countries has not improved very much is that the U.S. has continued doing most of the things that generated resentment and hostility in the past. The nations that have been least sympathetic to U.S. policies in the past were never going to become sympathetic to them because of a change in leadership. That was a delusion shared by a few of Obama’s most optimistic supporters, but that delusion hasn’t been discernibly shaping policy.
U.S. favorability has declined in Pakistan since the Bush years, but it isn’t because Pakistanis failed to be won over by Obama’s “identity and eloquence.” It is because of an escalation in attacks on targets in their country and an increased military effort against the Taliban in Pakistan at the behest of the U.S. There was never any question of using Obama’s “identity and eloquence” to transcend the realities of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, and Obama seems to have had no interest in doing so. The relationship has suffered because the U.S. has been relentless in pursuing its own goals without much concern for Pakistani public opinion or Pakistani sovereignty. Most Americans probably approve of that, but it is not without consequences in Pakistan and elsewhere.
Obama’s reliance on drone strikes, for instance, is broadly supported here in the U.S., and it is the one Obama-era policy that almost all nations everywhere else, Muslim or not, reject by huge margins. As Obama has built up his record as a national security hawk, some of his administration’s policies have come to be viewed with as much disfavor as those of his predecessor. If we look beyond the Cairo speech, which wasn’t as conciliatory as most people pretend it was, we find that Obama’s policies were bound to be nearly as unpopular in majority-Muslim countries as Bush’s were. These policies were not nearly different enough to change the way they were perceived by the nations least sympathetic to them. Republican hawks like to take credit for how much continuity there has been between Bush and Obama, as if this were something to celebrate. Well, here is the reward for that continuity.