Many of President Obama's critics on the right routinely focus on the global stage as a basis of their rebukes. Obama's foreign policy, they argue, has rattled international confidence in the United States and weakened respect for us abroad. It's hard to lead the free world, the Republican argument goes, if we're not as respected or as admired as we once were.
The argument, in general, is nonsense. America's stature quantifiably slipped during the Bush/Cheney era, but there's ample evidence that Obama has helped repair
our standing in recent years.
That said, even if we take the right's rhetoric at face value, conservatives should be absolutely thrilled
with the White House this week -- with one big announcement, the president has apparently boosted the United States' reputation throughout an important part of the world. The New York Times
had a fascinating report
President Obama has been lambasted for spying in Brazil, accused of being a warmonger by Bolivia, dismissed as a "lost opportunity" by Argentina, and taunted in Nicaragua by calls for Latin America to draw up its own list of state sponsors of terrorism -- with the United States in the No. 1 spot. But now Latin American leaders have a new kind of vocabulary to describe him: They are calling him "brave," "extraordinary" and "intelligent." After years of watching his influence in Latin America slip away, Mr. Obama suddenly turned the tables this week by declaring a sweeping détente with Cuba, opening the way for a major repositioning of the United States in the region.
This is no small development. As Latin America has soured on the United States, China has sought to take advantage, expanding Chinese ties and influence in the region, and positioning itself as a long-term partner for countries throughout Central and South America.
With one breakthrough shift, years in the making, the Obama White House has taken an enormous step towards shaking off our imperialist reputation and vastly improving our standing.
More from the NYT report:
The change in tone was perhaps starkest from President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, Cuba's main financial patron. He has called Mr. Obama the "big boss of the devils," a puppet and a sad "hostage" of American imperialism. More recently, he lashed out at Mr. Obama over a bill calling for sanctions against Venezuelan officials deemed responsible for human rights abuses. But on Wednesday, when Mr. Obama announced the Cuba deal, Mr. Maduro was almost effusive. "We have to recognize the gesture of President Barack Obama, a brave gesture and historically necessary, perhaps the most important step of his presidency," Mr. Maduro said. Daniel Ortega, the Nicaraguan president and former Sandinista rebel, was chastising Mr. Obama just days ago, saying the United States deserved the top spot in a new list of state sponsors of terrorism. Then, on Wednesday, he saluted the "brave decisions" of the American president.
Roberta Jacobson, the American assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, told the Times that the decades-old U.S. policy towards Cuba served as 'a drag" on our efforts throughout Latin America. Now, countries "with whom we have significant differences are going to be, let's say, thrown off their stride by a move like this."
Obviously, old suspicions do not disappear overnight, but this one policy was the source of deep frustrations throughout an important part of the world. Obama's leadership on this is an enormous step towards repairing frayed relationships.
The next time you hear the right complaining about the president undermining our reputation abroad, remember that conservatives have it backwards.