The first duty of national leaders is to worry about the self-interest of their own countries; utopian internationalism can come later.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, despite her soaring European Union rhetoric, is relearning that lesson. German voters in a recent parliamentary election rebuked her for bailing out the spendthrift Greeks with hard-earned German money.
Barack Obama should take note.
Last year, Obama won a Nobel Peace Prize not for what he did, but for what he represented — to the European judges a new post-national American president. His subsequent apology tours abroad have emphasized American sins without much discussion of the context of the times.
In Cairo last year, the president inaccurately claimed that Islam helped to foster Western achievements like the Renaissance and Enlightenment.
In such moments, Obama sounds as if he thinks America has to be perfect to be good, while other nations merely need to be OK.
Even though Obama apparently has no intention of closing down Guantánamo Bay as he promised — or ending tribunals, renditions, Predator targeted assassinations, wiretaps and intercepts — he continues to fault former President George W. Bush's war on terrorism and promises the world that he will reset American foreign policy.
Consequently, the mixed message goes out abroad that if you were anti- American from 2001 to 2008, you probably had reasonable complaints; and if you were friendly back then, you may now seem a little suspect.
Obama's new outreach to Iran, Syria and Venezuela tells the world, fairly or not, that the United States — not these anti-American authoritarians — was responsible for tense relations in the past.
Meanwhile, the old special relationship with democratic Britain, the once unquestioned support for democratic Israel, and missile defense for democratic Eastern Europe all seem passé.
Recently, Obama went too far when he invited Mexican President Felipe Calderón to the White House to address the Arizona immigration law. Side by side with Obama, Calderón summarily trashed the voters of Arizona for demanding enforcement of their nation's immigration laws: "It is a law that not only ignores a reality ... but also introduces a terrible idea, using racial profiling as the basis for law enforcement."
Wrong. In truth, the law prohibits racial profiling. The new Arizona statute allows law enforcement to request proof of citizenship of only those detained for other reasons — and only if there is sufficient reason to doubt their citizenship.
Obama right there should have corrected Calderón's unfair caricatures — and a foreign head of state's inappropriate and disingenuous intrusion into American politics. The Mexican government treats illegal immigrants from Central America far less sympathetically. And not long ago, Mexico printed a comic book instructing its own citizens how to break American law — cynically assuming its own fleeing citizens were both illiterate and without worry about illegally entering Mexico's northern neighbor.
Instead, however, Obama responded to Calderón by mentioning the growing irrelevance of borders themselves. He cited his own worry about the propriety of an Arizona law that currently receives a 70 percent approval rating among Americans.
Even if Obama in the past has remarked that he thinks America is not necessarily an exceptional nation, the president still should side with states that want to enforce federal laws rather than with foreign nations that seek to circumvent them.
The Obama-Calderón criticism of Arizona came after Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner, in a meeting with Chinese envoys, on his own initiative raised the issue of Arizona's immigration law "early and often." Posner wanted to offer his own example of America's morally equivalent problems with issues of human rights.
He forgot, however, to actually read the Arizona law — and that he was discussing human rights with a regime that routinely denies its citizens rights of free speech and due process, and not all that long ago killed millions of its own citizens and swallowed Tibet.
Instead of seeing his nation or its states as the problem, our president would do better to focus on the woes of the European Union, North Korea's sinking of a South Korean ship, Iran's plans to get the bomb, continued terrorist attacks in the United States, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Mexico's encouragement of its own citizens to violate American immigration law.
Right now there are quite enough foreign felonies in the world without dwelling on American misdemeanors.
E-mail Hanson at email@example.com.
TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES