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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Blaming Bush because people say no to Obama?

Of all the things for which it seemed unlikely that President Bush could be blamed, I would have placed all the world leaders who are ignoring or saying no to President Obama at the top of the list. Not so according to Shmuel Rosner writing at Slate.
Obama had the advantage of stepping into the teeny-tiny shoes of his very unpopular predecessor. "Bush's popularity in the United States has sunk to the level of Richard Nixon's just before he resigned from office. The president's standing abroad is still worse," observed a report by the Pew Research Center. One blog post summarized the situation simplistically but succinctly: "Arab opinion: Bush bad, Obama good." So the stage was set for Obama to make his pitch and win over allies and foes. But as everybody knows by now, things didn't work out that way. World leaders accustomed to saying no monitored the new administration for a while and then resumed their old habits.

Russia kept placing obstacles on the road to tougher sanctions against Iran; Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu refused to freeze all settlement activities as the administration demanded; the North Koreans said no to repeated attempts at talks; at the Copenhagen climate-change summit, the "agreement the United States reached with Brazil, China, India and South Africa lacked commitments to achieve its stated goals"; the Iranians didn't show any sign of appreciation for Obama's attempt to have more civilized conversation aimed at curbing their nuclear ambitions; the Cubans, with whom Obama had also vowed to have more constructive dialogue, now call the president "imperial and arrogant." Not even Mahmoud Abbas, the very weak Palestinian president, was convinced to resume talks with Israel. This list is gets longer every day.
Rosner does come around somewhat toward the end of this piece.
Obama's popularity with the people of the world is something local leaders feel an instinctive urge to resist. No one is pleased when a foreign politician is more loved and respected than he is. And in many cases, opposition is the trouble. For Netanyahu and Abbas, resisting Obama was politically beneficial. Their "people" appreciated the leaders' newly discovered chutzpah. Unhinged by Obama's conciliatory tone, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez suggested that the president is the devil without worrying much about possible consequences. Iranians have more confidence in Obama than they had in Bush—only more reason for supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to point out that he can't tell the difference.

In fact, no world leader has paid a price for disappointing Obama. With Obama so nice and so conciliatory, risking retaliation by the White House doesn't seem all that dangerous. If resisting Bush's policies was a political necessity, encouraged and driven by the anger of the masses (ask Britain's Tony Blair about that), resisting Obama has become trendy, almost cool, because it gives world leaders the chance to stand taller, to be an equal member of the club of the clashing rock stars. Imagine the most popular boy in class asking a girl out. Imagine that after much consideration the girl says no. Not even you are good enough for me.
Sorry, but I don't buy this. Leaders say no to Obama because they know there are no consequences or because he asks them to do things that are not in their countries' interest, and not because he is a nice guy or because it's cool.

Rosner also portrays the Bush years as being a string of 'no's starting from about a year after 9/11. That too is nonsense. Bush was re-elected in 2004 by a greater majority than he won in 2000, and world leaders went along with his demands in Iraq from 2003 and on, as well as into late 2007 in this region (remember Annapolis, Shmuel?). Rosner is attempting to make Obama look good at Bush's expense. Sorry, but no.


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At 12:11 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

World leaders respected Bush whatever they said publicly. No one really respects Obama no matter how much they claim to like him. Fear is a greater motivator of people than popularity. Its hard to get someone to like you but you can make them defer to you. That's the classic definition of power and Obama doesn't seem to have any idea of how to make the world follow his lead.

At 4:46 PM, Blogger Mr. Gerson said...

OT Video for you Carl:


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