So, I was speaking to an Iranian friend about what a mind-bending thing it must be for people in the Middle East to see Americans, seven years after 9/11, electing someone named Barack Hussein Obama as president. America is surely the only nation that could - in the same decade - go to war against a president named Hussein (Saddam of Iraq), threaten to use force against a country whose most revered religious martyr is named Hussein (Iran) and then elect its own president who’s middle-named Hussein.
Is this a great country or what?
Much has been written about how people all around the world are celebrating the victory of our Hussein - Barack of Illinois, whose first name means "blessing" in Arabic. It is, indeed, a blessing that so many people in so many places see something of themselves reflected in Obama, whether in the color of his skin, the religion of his grandfather, his African heritage, his being raised by a single mother or his childhood of poverty. And that ensures that Obama will probably have a longer than usual honeymoon with the world.
But I wouldn’t exaggerate it. The minute Obama has to exercise U.S. military power somewhere in the world, you can be sure that he will get blowback. For now, though, his biography, demeanor and willingness to at least test a regime like Iran’s with diplomacy makes him more difficult to demonize than George W. Bush.
"If you’re a hard-liner in Tehran, a U.S. president who wants to talk to you presents more of a quandary than a U.S. president who wants to confront you," remarked Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment. "How are you going to implore crowds to chant ’Death to Barack Hussein Obama’? That sounds more like the chant of the oppressor, not the victim. Obama just doesn’t fit the radical Islamist narrative of a racist, blood-thirsty America, which is bent on oppressing Muslims worldwide. There’s a cognitive dissonance. It’s like Hollywood casting Sidney Poitier to play Charles Manson. It just doesn’t fit."
But while the world appears poised to give Obama a generous honeymoon, there lurks a much more important question: How long of a honeymoon will Obama give the world?
To all those Europeans, Canadians, Japanese, Russians, Iranians, Chinese, Indians, Africans and Latin Americans who are e-mailing their American friends about their joy at having "America back," now that Obama is in, I just have one thing to say: "Show me the money!"
Don’t just show me the love. Don’t just give me the smiles. Your love is fickle and, as I said, it will last about as long as the first Obama airstrike against an Al Qaeda position in Pakistan. No, no, no, show me the money. Show me that you are ready to be Obama stakeholders, not free-riders - stakeholders in what will be expensive and difficult initiatives by the Obama administration to keep the world stable and free at a time when we have fewer resources.
Examples: I understand any foreigner who objected to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But surely everyone in the world has an interest in helping Obama, who opposed the war, bring it to a decent and stable end, especially now that there is a chance that Iraq could emerge as the first democracy, albeit messy, in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world. Obama was against how this Iraq war started, but he is going to be held responsible for how it ends, so why don’t all our allies now offer whatever they can - money, police, aid workers, troops, diplomatic support - to increase the odds of a decent end in Iraq? Ditto Afghanistan.
The UN says it doesn’t want Iran to go nuclear and doesn’t want the U.S. to use force to prevent Iran from going nuclear. I agree.
That’s why I want all those people in China, France, Russia, India and Germany who are smiling for Obama to go out and demand that their governments use their tremendous economic leverage with Iran to let the Iranians know that if Tehran continues to move toward a nuclear weapon, in opposition to UN resolutions, these countries will impose real economic sanctions. Nothing would more help Obama to forge a diplomatic deal with Iran than having a threat of biting Chinese, Indian and EU economic sanctions in his holster.
Bush, because he was so easily demonized, made being a free-rider on American power easy for everyone - and Americans paid the price. Obama will not make it so easy.
So to everyone overseas I say: Thanks for your applause for our new president. I’m glad you all feel that America "is back." If you want Obama to succeed, though, don’t just show us the love, show us the money. Show us the troops. Show us the diplomatic effort. Show us the economic partnership. Show us something more than a fresh smile.
Because freedom is not free and your excuse for doing less than you could is leaving town in January.