How Important is Being Popular?

President Obama’s trip to Europe is being heralded as a smashing success by the left-wing press. Conservative commentators have churlishly noted that Obama did not get either of the substantial items he sought. He wanted the Europeans to dump substantially more money into their economies as economic stimulus. While leftists do love to spend, the Europeans have already accumulated the crushing debt load to which Obama aspires for the U.S., so they are tapped out for the moment. Obama wanted support for the war in Afghanistan, and he struck out on that score as well. They know the U.S. will carry the load as usually, so there is no need for them to chip in much of substance.

According to the Left, items of substance pale in comparison to the victory that Obama achieved in making the U.S. more beloved of Europeans. Bush made enemies by rudely pointing out that Europeans had an obligation to help fight terrorism in substantial ways, and that rudeness resulted in no contributions. Obama, with a fresh new approach, acknowledged how arrogant the U.S. had been, apologized, and humbly begged for the smallest morsel of help, providing, of course, that Europeans had nothing else to do at the moment. The new approach garnered nothing, but it was delivered with a bouquet of good cheer.

The Left points to the reservoir of good will as a solid foundation for the future. Perhaps it brought nothing now, but surely in the future our new good friends will come through.

Will a positive image for the U.S. trump narrow European national interests? Obama didn’t get a boost in stimulus spending due to existing European debt loads. He didn’t get support in Afghanistan because the Europeans know we will shoulder the load without them. If we were loved, say, twice as much, would that have overcome the practicalities?

To figure the odds, we should look at the history of countries who have had no interest whatsoever in being loved. Everyone agreed that Saddam’s Iraq was a wretched place. I am sure the French and Germans were sincere in detesting Saddam. That did not stop them from trading a million tons of conventional explosives for Saddam’s oil, in defiance of international sanctions. The Europeans now don’t like Iraq, but again sanctions fail because the Europeans want oil.

Has Russia ever tried to become beloved? Never. That’s okay for them because Europe runs on gas from Russia. Try to think of a country that has suffered by failing to become beloved. North Korea? China? In fact, do France and Germany themselves worry in the slightest that they are not great friends of the U.S., or, for that matter, of each other. Practical consideration win about 100% of the time.

The list of countries that worries about international popularity is small. The U.S. for sure. Perhaps Japan and the United Kingdom. Overall, throughout the world pragmatism rules.

It’s better to be loved than hated, but don’t believe it’s worth much against hard realities. We can expect cheerful lip service, but nothing more.

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