When Barack Obama won the presidency in November of 2008, there was a wave of euphoria amongst his supporters and a sentiment that he was the man to reverse the bad relations the United States supposedly had with the rest of the world. The common theme was that the world hated us because Bush was such an obnoxious boob. With Obama in power, it was said that: Iran would shed its nuclear ambitions, Syria would leave Lebanon for good, the Russians would cease their belligerent behavior towards their former Soviet republics like Ukraine and Georgia, Venezuelan Hugo Chavez would cease his saber rattling and relax his drive towards being a totalitarian dictator, and on and on it goes. One year plus in, nothing has changed, and if anything, the aforementioned have calcified their positions and behaviors. The Iranians are closer to a nuclear weapon than ever, Russia's Putin has become more authoritarian and wily than ever, Chavez still consolidating his power and now talking badly about Obama instead of Bush, and Syria has spat in the face of Obama's initiatives and tightened both its ties to Iran and its clutches on Lebanon. Oh....and the Europeans still don't like us, as exhibited by the Netherlands' inclination to withdraw troops (non-combat, I would assume) from Afghanistan, despite being a part of NATO.
It was always going to be. Now the meme is that Bush did so much damage to America's standing in the world that Obama can't undo the damage. Malarkey.
Nation-states will always do what is in their best interests, and they only have few courses of action to choose from. For example, one of Obama's foreign policy initiatives was to "flip" Syria and turn them into an ally, thus isolating Iran. Needless to say, Syria did just the opposite. Despite the Obama Administration's reinstatement of full diplomatic ties with Syria, the Syrians a.) increased their diplomatic and military ties with Iran, b.) wrapped their tentacles ever so tighter around Lebanon. It was always meant to be. Syria gets nothing of value from improving its diplomatic ties with the United States. From a geographic standpoint, Syria is bordered by Israel and Jordan to the south, Turkey to the north, and Iraq to the west. Israel is no friend to Syria, for good reason, but what does Syria get if it becomes a good neighbor to Israel? Increased trade? The Golan Heights? Syria is a totalitarian police state abutting a parliamentarian democracy (Israel); this in and of itself is a threat to Syria's dictatorship. In Jordan, there are diplomatic ties, but the Jordanians have played both ends against the middle for decades; again, no advantage. Iraq is currently under occupation from American and coalition forces, and hopefully will morph into a reliable democracy (a stretch, but there's hope). Turkey is also a democracy, albeit a precarious one that is currently in the clutches of an Islamist party led by Tayyip Erdogan. But remember one thing about Turkey: they're muslim, but they're not Arab. Additionally, they're still a part of NATO. There is good reason for Syria to feel threatened in their geographic position: they're surrounded by forces that are contrary to their ruling ethos. So why would they "flip" on Iran? Iran brings them boatloads of petro-dollars (Syria has no oil to speak of), essentially to buy their allegiance and to use their ports. Both Iran and Syria are military dictatorships, and more importantly, Shi'ite in character. (The Assads are Alawite, offshoots of Shia Islam.) Obama's people clearly were dreaming if they thought they flip them. Additionally, as Syria was implicated (by UN investigators, in fact) in the assassination of once (and in all probability, had he not been killed) future Prime Minister Rafik Harari, why reward them with the reinstatement of an American ambassador? Say what you want about Bush, but he understood the levers of American diplomatic power, in that bad behavior isn't rewarded by undiminished American diplomatic relations. Bush pulled out ambassador to Syria after the Harari assassination and demanded the Syrians leave Lebanon, which (at least in the form of the Syrian army, if not Hezbollah) did. With no concessions on the part of Syria, we have restored full diplomatic ties, and Syrian forces are back in Lebanon.
Same goes for Iran, but for different reasons. Iran is cornered geographically by Iraq, filled as it is with American-led coalition forces, and Afghanistan, with American-led NATO forces. They've been belligerent towards the United States and Israel since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. They are a religious/military dictatorship. They are also the locus of all international terrorism, and have been since 1979. Their memories are long and their history is deep. The Persians were, circa 500 BC, the world's most powerful empire, and though their powers waxed and waned under both the Achaemenid and Sassanid empires, they still fancy themselves as a superpower. There is no reason why they would discontinue their quest for a weaponized atomic bomb. It would mean that they are now a player in the big leagues, a position they feel is their birthright, based on their former, ancient glories. Obama's absurd "unclench your fist and we'll extend an open hand" offer was a joke from the moment it was uttered; it smacked of a naive, intellectual academic who has no experience or feel for how the world really works. And it is so.
Russia also gets nothing for changing its behaviors to suit Obama's liking. Despite a silly PR stunt by the likes of Hillary Clinton (see here), talking of "rebooting" relations with the Russians, they'll be no "reboot". Russia feels vulnerable on a number of fronts: the expansion of NATO into former Soviet bloc states like Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, and even to former Soviet republics such as Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, makes the Russians extremely nervous. As George Friedman, CEO of independent intelligence agency STRATFOR wrote, the expansion of NATO into the former Soviet bloc now puts NATO forces "1200 miles from St. Petersburg to 120 miles...from 1000 miles to Moscow to 100 miles". Russian incursion into former Soviet republic Georgia over South Ossetia was meant to send a message: this is OUR sphere of influence. Russian routinely shuts off its natural gas pipeline to Ukraine for days, or sometimes weeks, just to make a similar point. It sells plans and materials to the Iranians because it is a.) profitable, and b.) alters the balance of power in Asia/Middle East in their direction. Again...why would they change, and for what? Because Obama was nicer to them than Bush was?
Which brings us to Western Europe, or as Donald Rumsfeld correctly referred to them, "Old Europe".
I have little doubt that the Europeans like Obama more than they liked Bush. They hemmed and hawed about Bush endlessly and repeatedly. People like George Soros likened him to Hitler. And so with Obama in the White House, all will be well, right? Wrong. Once again, despite their rhetoric, the Europeans are behaving like, well, Europeans.
The first domino to fall was the Netherlands. The government of Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende fell this past week, particularly due to Dutch involvement in Afghanistan. Other European NATO forces are sure to follow suit. Western European countries in particular have large muslim minority populations that scare the heck out of their respective governments. Again, the soothing words of Obama can do nothing to stop nation-states from doing as they've always done: act in their own best interests.
It had nothing to do with Bush, and everything to do with this concept of self-interest. Always was, always will be. Obama claims he's "frustrated" with the Israeli/Palestinian impasse. Only a very arrogant, self-important man could think that he could fix that mess by the mere sound of his sonorous voice and agreeable personality. Only a man with a terminal case of hubris could think that he could re-shape the world in his own image. A visit from Nemesis is forthcoming.