During my travels this summer through Europe and the Middle East, I was reminded of how isolated in the world America has become.
In almost every country I visited, the American embassy looked like a fortified bunker rather than an outpost for the nation leading the free world. In Rome, for example, large concrete barriers and walls along the Via Veneto protect the embassy from a potential truck bomb attack. In Cairo, whole city blocks have been cordoned off around the embassy.
These scenes reminded me of an old story about the ancient Romans. They often sent their ambassadors (legates) safely to foreign lands with no military escort whatsoever. Everyone knew that if a Roman legate was killed or injured, the host state could expect the wrath of Roman legions upon them.
The Romans clearly wanted to be more feared than loved. Americans today would like to be loved.
And, surprisingly, we are loved. Despite the bitter anger many around the globe have for our war in Iraq and President Bush, and the siege mentality terrorism has wrought upon our embassies, Americans as individuals are treated well abroad.
Still, there is a real desire for a change at the White House. My guess is that any global poll would show that Barack Obama would win overwhelming as the foreigners’ choice for president.
Even Lord Rees-Mogg, the eminent British journalist and former editor of the Times of London, not to mention the former chairman of Newsmax Media, has predicted Obama’s victory this November.
Not everyone sees Obama as the best choice, however. I had the pleasure of joining Lord Rees-Mogg at his 80th birthday celebration in London. It was a joyous event, bringing out the leading lights of British society, including Lady Thatcher. She looked in great form and was as sharp as ever.
Also present was Paul Johnson, the writer and historian. A one-time liberal, Johnson saw the light decades ago. We chatted at length about the American election. Johnson’s view was that America could “commit suicide” by electing Obama.
Johnson told me the U.S. came close to self-destruction when it elected Jimmy Carter in 1976. Carter, he said, opened a Pandora’s box as the Soviets went on a global rampage. Fortunately, Johnson said, Reagan’s election rescued America. But this time there may be no second chance, Johnson suggested.
The real problem with Obama may be the sea change his election would represent in American thinking and demographics, one that may change America’s basic identity.
This idea of identity was raised by another person I met while traveling, Natan Sharansky.
Sharansky is a famous Soviet dissident who emigrated to Israel and became one of the country’s most notable political figures. He is a man not only of great courage, but also of conviction and integrity.
In his third book, "Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy," and in an interview with me, Sharansky argued that for democracies to survive, they must foster a strong sense of identity among their citizens.
The challenge facing democracies like the United States, Israel, and Europe, he says, is that their enemies have a powerful identity, so powerful they are willing to die for it. “The enemy’s will is strong because his identity is strong,” Sharansky writes.
But in Europe, intellectuals have been successful in downgrading identity as “an antagonist to freedom.” Thus, religious faith is evaporating, and culture and nationality are all being pushed to the wayside in favor of a European super-state. The U.S. is better off, Sharansky argues, but vulnerable as well.
In many ways, the election of Obama may speed the process of making America look more like Europe. His economic and social proposals will bring America in line with the quasi-socialism so prevalent in Europe. The clues are all there: Obama wants to change America’s fundamental identity. In his widely acclaimed speech in Berlin, Obama proclaimed he was there as “a fellow citizen of the world.” This concept may be jarring for many Americans who see themselves as citizens of the United States, period.
Obama apparently has other ideas in his “change” program to undermine American identity. He scolded a U.S. audience, “Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English, they will learn English; you need to make sure your child speaks Spanish."
Obama said the goal of his presidency would be to “remake this great nation.” Remake it how?
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