NASA as Instrument of Foreign Policy


Making the Muslim world feel good about its contributions to science is far afield from the mission that presidents and Congresses going back to the Kennedy administration had in mind for NASA.

But it dovetails nicely with one of the principal missions of Obama foreign policy, which is to make the United States more popular around the world, especially the Muslim world. Thus the celebrated bowing to the King of Saudi Arabia and the cold shoulder earlier given Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Only Monday, after the president's original public shunning of Netanyahu went over badly, did the Israeli leader finally receive the treatment normally accorded such a visitor.

President Obama apparently believes that the United States has thrown its weight around too much in the world and that a kinder, gentler attitude combined with the power of his own personality are the way to win friends and influence nations.

Machiavelli famously said the while it is nice for a leader to be both loved and feared, but much safer to be feared than loved. Obama has certainly tried to be loved but it's not yet clear that any enemy now fears him.

And when it comes to NASA, he might recall the Machiavellian notion that a leader "truly gains honor by completing great feats." That's what the space agency was about -- the great feat of reaching and exploring the frontiers of space. Now it seems, it's about making other nations feel better about themselves.