Obama has been ham-fisted when it comes to foreign policy. The duty of other nations is to follow his lead unquestioningly. After all, he is The One and they are not.
His administration goes around trumpeting the fact that Obama has increased our standing in the world. But, he has not. There are serious problems that require a serious U.S. President, and all of his rainbows and kittens speeches have done little to address those problems. Obama merely expressed common aspirations that we have always had. Everyone wants to live together in a peaceful world without nuclear weapons and where nations calmly settle their differences. Those goals go without saying. Obama acts as if he just discovered that this should be our goal, and he needs merely to announce it to make it real.
It turns out that Obama has no real foreign friends. Foreign leaders have been turned off by his arrogant, air-headed approach. He went out of his way to insult Britain – returning a bust of Churchill to them, as if we could not have the thing in our country. Who gives a gift back? It’s insulting. And then there was the DVD thing.
I recently asked several senior administration officials, separately, to name a foreign leader with whom Barack Obama has forged a strong personal relationship during his first year in office. A lot of hemming and hawing ensued.
One official mentioned French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is scheduled to bring his glamorous wife to the White House residence this month for a couples dinner with Barack and Michelle Obama. But in France, Sarkozy’s bitterness toward Obama, the product of several perceived snubs, is an open secret, reported widely in the French press. In a speech at the U.N. General Assembly in September Sarkozy appeared to mock Obama’s signature disarmament initiative, saying “we are living in a real world, not a virtual world.”
Angela Merkel’s name also came up: Obama and the German chancellor, I was told, share a down-to-business pragmatism. But Merkel, too, has been conspicuously cool toward Obama ever since he made Berlin a stop on his 2008 election campaign. She stopped him then from appearing at the Brandenburg Gate and was said to be miffed last November when Obama didn’t show for ceremonies celebrating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. Anyway, diplomats say that Merkel has a much warmer relationship with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
No one named Gordon Brown. That’s fairly remarkable: The relationship between the sitting British prime minister and U.S. president has been consistently close over the past 30 years. Think Reagan and Thatcher, Clinton and Blair, Bush and Blair. But Obama has been portrayed as dissing Brown ever since he presented him with a set of DVDs as a gift during their first meeting in Washington a year ago. Last fall the British press reported that the White House had turned down five requests for Obama to meet Brown one-on-one at the United Nations or the G-20 summit.
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.