Dear Mr. President . . . Unhappy in Our Own Way

I n your conduct of foreign policy, I had expected you to be wrong. I hadn’t expected you to be a self-righteous bumbler, lecturing humanity on morals while possessing no clear moral vision of your own. You are the kind of thinker who outsmarts no one but himself, by turns too skeptical and too credulous, too permissive and too controlling, too understanding and too obtuse.

You’re acting . . . like me.

That’s exactly the way I behave with my family. The problem is, your family is larger. I’m the head of the O’Rourkes. You’re the head of the Family of Nations.
The Family of Nations is a wrongheaded notion but not without its value as an analytical tool, if the countries of the world are considered as members of a large, raucous, conniving, belligerent Irish clan, some of them inebriated with fanaticism, others fanatically inebriated, and all of them asking each other—as the O’Rourke motto goes—“Is this a private fight, or can anyone join in?”

I suppose you imagine that someday there will be a stirring display of clan loyalty with the tribe uniting in the face of a common foe, such as global warming. The Family of Nations will coalesce to battle a mutual adversary. But until the wingéd apes with ray guns arrive, arrangements such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, and the Copenhagen Treaty on Climate Change will be bloody affairs, like a wedding reception at the Friends of Hibernia Hall or a wake at the Shamrock and Pig.

So how are you doing as patriarch in the household of humankind? Here’s one question to gauge your standing with the relatives: Do they all go to you asking for money? You’re good on this count. You’ve displayed an open hand to all who come your way, and you’ve dropped hints that you’ll even go to them to dispense largesse, be they as far away as Tehran or Pyongyang. You’re the soul of generosity, as have been all the chieftains who’ve come before you since Woodrow Wilson (except for Calvin Coolidge). Never mind that it’s not your money, that it belongs to your rich, nervous, high-strung aunt, American Business. Aunt Busy is suffering from a bit of a breakdown at the moment. You’ve gotten your hands on her power of attorney and you’re frittering away her wealth.

I hope you’re not expecting your distant relations to be grateful. A hundred years ago, when foreign aid was unthought-of (except as a tribute or bribe), we were a respected and admired country. After a century of philanthropy, everyone hates our guts.

P. J. O’Rourke is a political satirist, author, and correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly.

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