Getting together with some people who just returned from overseas gave me a chance to ask them how our situation is now seen from abroad. I expect to be out of the country myself in just about a month from now--and one gift I always receive from travel outside the U.S. is to get a far clearer picture of what the world is thinking of what we're doing.
Not surprisingly, the rest of the world thinks Obama has done a lot more than people in the U.S. seem to think. My view is that he's trying to change things and it's far far easier to work to keep the status quo. However, it does also seem that his campaign, which ran like clockwork, has faltered and sputtered this year. Yes, there's a health bill. Could it have been better? Did he really stay out of it and let Congress take the lead so he could be held up by Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson?
But the rest of the world sees how hard it is to get out two places we never should have committed large-scale forces to: Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq is simple. The past administration defiantly expanded on the truth of even the sleazy intelligence they had. I think they lied. As for Afghanistan, we should have been chasing Ben Laden and Co., not trying to create a democracy where none has ever existed and trying to control a place where the Russians and the British failed miserably. (Actually, one might even say that Alexander the Great couldn't do it...and he met his death nearby.)
We have to continue to rebuild our alliances and relationships, not taking the position that we will always be the military intervention arm. Example from where my friends just came: Nepal. I was there a few years ago, too. The Maoists--namely, Communist rebels--are winning because the government is corrupt and unrespected. But no one has ever tried to send forces into that unwelcoming terrain at the top of the world. (Yes, the Chinese took over Tibet over the mountains, I know.)
Instead of our organizing some assemblage to go in there, we will likely leave it to India. As well we should. They share a religion, and to some extent, a language, and in many respects, a culture. It's also directly in India's interest not to have a Communist-run state in addition to China on its border. India has been doing far better economically and can also afford to get involved if necessary.
Indonesia has been showing us how it effectively deals with terrorists. We do not need to intervene there. In fact, we will create hatred for the U.S. where little exists in the world's largest Muslim country if we were so short-sighted as to go in there. There are columnists in the Philippines who think the U.S. is poised to take back that country as a colony again. Little do they realize that the U.S. has far greater problems facing us to deal with--beyond taking responsibility for a country that economically remains in trouble because it is run by oligarchs. There has been some cooperation on terrorism. At least that makes sense--since terrorists have hung out down in the south of the Philippines where it is closer to Indonesia than to Manila.
Back home, the media might cut Obama some slack. The market is up significantly. Companies are doing better. Jobs are not. The damage done to our economy by the giveaways of NAFTA perpetrated by Clinton, as well as the corporate international affinity Reagan and both Bushes had have all combined to do a number on our middle class. No country like ours survives without a strong middle class. Roosevelt saved it in the 30s, no matter what some naysayers say now.
Even a watered-down Employee Free Choice Act would help revive the union sector and through it, the middle class. With the number of antiunion people in Congress, Obama will not get the whole thing through--but anything here is better than nothing. Bush 2 slashed away at the middle class, or let corporate America do so, with a Louis XV apres moi, le deluge attitude. It's going to take a good while to undo the damage, and some of it will never be undone. But it can only happen if we keep Obama and the Democrats in and begin to get our fellow citizens to see what the rest of the world does about us.