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Why America’s Friends Are Wishing for the Good Old Days of George W. Bush

Why America’s Friends Are Wishing for the Good Old Days of George W. Bush

The Obama administration has achieved a landmark heretofore considered impossible: they are making America’s allies homesick for the administration of George W. Bush. This week, news broke that Poland’s foreign minister was caught on tape earlier this year disparaging the United States. Radek Sikorski bitterly said Warsaw’s ties to Washington were "worthless," then followed it up with some even saltier language. It’s actually a measure of America’s importance that the surreptitious recording caused a sensation, forcing Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk to face a confidence vote in Parliament. The indiscretion will probably cost Sikorski his prospects for the job of EU foreign policy chief. But he’s not wrong about America. The United States has become an exasperating ally, and even countries that are inclined to support us are hedging against because of the Obama administration’s conduct. Neither our threats nor our assurances are believed. Clawing back that credibility will be an expensive undertaking.

For sure, the United States is always frustrating for other countries to deal with: our political system is contentious and difficult to navigate, often surprising allies with congressional activism on trade and sanctions. Our public prefers simple explanations and clear-cut outcomes to the often unglamorous and elusive work of diplomacy and negotiation. We are impatient, demanding, and preachy. We often make problems worse and then cut our losses, leaving others to deal with the consequences. And we’re strong enough that we can absorb such losses, whereas other countries with smaller buffers are hugely affected by our choices. British historian Arnold Toynbee best captured even friendly countries’ wariness about our involvement, saying: "America is like a large, friendly dog in a very small room: it wants so much to please you that it starts wagging its tail and knocks all the furniture over."

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