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Monday, March 08, 2010

Obama's foreign confidants

Jackson Diehl searches in vain for a foreign confidant of President Obama.
The paradox here is that Obama remains hugely popular abroad -- from Germany and France to countries where anti-Americanism has recently been a problem, such as Turkey and Indonesia. His following means that, in democratic countries at least, leaders have a strong incentive to befriend him. And yet this president appears, so far, to have no genuine foreign friends. In this he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders -- Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.

Jealousy or political rivalry may play a part -- Sarkozy is one of several Europeans who have wanted to assume the role of Obama's closest ally and reacted poorly when he didn't respond. But another big cause seems to be lack of interest on Obama's part. Focused intently on his domestic agenda, the president is said to be reluctant to take time to build relationships with foreign leaders. If something has needed to be done or decided, he has readily picked up the phone. If not, he generally hasn't been available.

Obama also hasn't hesitated to publicly express displeasure with U.S. allies. He sparred all last year with Israel's Binyamin Netanyahu; he expressed impatience when Japan's Yukio Hatoyama balked at implementing a military base agreement. He has repeatedly criticized Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai, and he gave up the videoconferences Bush used to have with Iraq's Nouri al-Maliki.

An argument can be made that none of this matters. Bush, after all, was often criticized for depending too heavily on personal relationships -- remember how he looked into Putin's soul? -- and his pals didn't save his administration from being universally condemned as "unilateralist." The Obama administration, in contrast, can argue that it has done pretty well in lining up European support on key matters such as Afghanistan and Iran. And Obama's personal popularity continues to provide leverage with leaders around the world, whether they hit it off with him or not.

Still, it's worth wondering: Would Sarkozy have fought French public opinion and sent more troops to Afghanistan (he has refused) if he had been cultivated more by Obama? Would Israel's Netanyahu be willing to take more risks in the (moribund) Middle East peace process if he believed he could count on this U.S. president? Would Karzai cooperate more closely with U.S. commanders in the field if Obama had embraced him?
Foreign policy isn't about being popular in foreign countries. A President or a Prime Minister doesn't stand for election in any country other than his own.

Foreign policy is about getting things done and about getting foreign leaders to behave the way you want them to behave. Obama has failed miserably at it. He can't get anyone - friend or foe - to do anything he wants. He believes that he can focus inward on his domestic agenda and ignore foreign policy. He can't. And if Israel attacks Iran or Iran obtains a nuclear weapon - one of which is bound to happen in the months ahead - Obama's willful neglect of foreign policy is going to come right back and bite him in the face.

What could go wrong?


At 2:52 PM, Blogger TereMuskogee said...

The Messiah doesn't need friends - we can see how well he's doing all on his own. It's sad to see such a failed presidency, but the only thing at which he has truly succeeded is arrogance and in being completely immature in dealings with others.

Didn't anyone ever tell this child you cannot treat everyone as if they were the village idiot and you were their kind?


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