In 2008, when the cognoscenti were talking themselves into voting for Barack Obama, they came up with several rationalizations.
They couldn’t say that they liked Obama because he was one of their own. That would have smacked of narcissism. So, they declared that electing an African-American would atone for the great American sin of racism.
Apparently, they believed that a little psychic healing would fix the broken financial system and the deal with the national debt.
But, that was not all. These same deep thinkers convinced themselves that electing Barack Obama would restore America’s standing in the world. After all, Obama had come across as a “rock star” in Berlin, and what could enhance American prestige more than having a celebrity president?
Europeans hated George Bush and loved Barack Obama. What could go wrong?
A great deal, as it happened. Apparently, our thinking class does not know that it is generally a bad idea to take advice from the competition. Have they forgotten that the European Union was created as a counterweight to American hegemony. To imagine that Europeans want what is best for America bespeaks an astonishing level of naiveté.
Now, our intellectual elites are discovering just how wrong-headed they were. Reports from the G8 summit suggest that Europe has fallen out of love with Barack Obama. In the eyes of European leaders, American prestige and standing has also fallen.
They looked at America and saw a nation that could elect a man who was perfectly unqualified to hold the office of president of the world’s leading superpower. They concluded that America was a nation in decline. Thus, they no longer need to show its president respect and deference.
The National Journal reports on the Obama G8 debacle:
President Obama's honeymoon with the world is over.
What was it, exactly, about Obama's controversy-marred trip to Germany and the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland that fell so flat? Ummm, how about … everything?
There were the snarky words from Vladimir Putin, who expressed an almost Soviet-esque distance from Washington in his views about Syria. "Of course our opinions do not coincide," the Russian leader said bluntly. There was the coded warning from Chancellor Angela Merkel about spying on friends, and her and Obama's continuing frostiness over the issue of economic stimulus versus austerity. Above all, there was Obama's vague attempt at the Brandenburg Gate to capture some wisp of his past glory by pledging vague plans to cut nuclear arms and an even vaguer concept of "peace with justice."
The "peace with justice" line was a quote from John F. Kennedy, Obama's attempt to steal just a little of JFK's thunder from 50 years before. He didn't come away with much, winning just a smattering of applause from a crowd that was one one-hundredth the size of JFK's. A crowd that, at about 4,500, was also much, much smaller than Obama drew as a candidate in 2008.
Of course, anyone who thinks that conducting foreign policy is analogous to a love affair deserves to be disappointed.
Since we prefer substance to show, what about the substance of Obama’s speech? Nile Gardiner sums it up in The Telegraph:
In stark contrast to that of his presidential predecessors, Barack Obama’s message on Wednesday was pure mush, another clichéd “citizens of the world” polemic with little substance. This was a speech big on platitudes and hopeless idealism, while containing much that was counter-productive for the world’s superpower. Ultimately it was little more than a laundry list of Obama’s favourite liberal pet causes, including cutting nuclear weapons, warning about climate change, putting an end to all wars, shutting Guantanamo, ending global poverty, and backing the European Project. It was a combination of staggering naiveté, the appeasement of America’s enemies and strategic adversaries, and the championing of more big government solutions.
Do you find that inspiring? Do you believe that the speech will earn Obama any respect? Or, did it sound like amateur hour in Berlin?
When Chris Matthews starts blaming it on the sunlight, you know that Obama did not do well.
Even the New York Times cannot find anything to cheer about in Obama’s relationships with foreign leaders. As is painfully well known, Obama does not know how to cultivate relationships with other human beings. His dealings with world leaders have put his inadequacy on public display.
Leaders of China and Russia think nothing of treating him with contempt.
The Times reported that when Obama tried recently to extend a hand of friendship to Chinese President Xi Jinping and to Russian President Vladimir Putin, they both responded by giving him “cold shoulder.”
The Times explained:
While tangling with the leaders of two cold war antagonists of the United States is nothing new, the two bruising encounters in such a short span underscore a hard reality for Mr. Obama as he heads deeper into a second term that may come to be dominated by foreign policy: his main counterparts on the world stage are not his friends, and they make little attempt to cloak their disagreements in diplomatic niceties.
For all of his effort to cultivate personal ties with foreign counterparts over the last four and a half years — the informal “shirt-sleeves summit” with Mr. Xi was supposed to nurture a friendly rapport that White House aides acknowledge did not materialize — Mr. Obama has complicated relationships with some, and has bet on others who came to disappoint him.
Of course, Obama’s apologists blame it on the Bush administration. They believe that Obama has disappointed other foreign leaders because he has not conducted foreign policy as they would have wished him to conduct it.
To me this feels like a typically empty rationalization. Leaders of great nations do not think less of other leaders for doing what they believe is in their national interest.
Of course, Obama did try to develop warm personal relationships with some world leaders. Like Turkish Prime Ministre Erdogan and Egyptian president Morsi… to say nothing of former Russian President Medvedev.
How are those working out? The Times explains:
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, whom Mr. Obama views as a new kind of Muslim leader, has used tear gas and water cannons against protesters in Istanbul. Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader whom Mr. Obama telephoned repeatedly after he became president of Egypt, later granted himself unlimited powers, though he also cut off ties with Syria.
Mr. Obama spent nearly four years befriending Mr. Putin’s predecessor, Dmitri A. Medvedev, hoping to build him up as a counterweight to Mr. Putin. That never happened, and Mr. Obama now finds himself back at square one with a Russian leader who appears less likely than ever to find common ground with the United States on issues like Syria.
Erdogan is a petty tyrant who is Islamicizing his country and suppressing dissent. As everyone has noticed, Obama has had nothing to say about it. Morsi is presiding over an ongoing national calamity. Obama is sending him more weapons.
When it comes to Medvedev, the Obama administration obviously miscalculated. Surely, it is not George Bush’s fault that the crack Obama-Clinton foreign policy team got it so wrong.
Those who continue to defend President Obama say that it doesn’t really matter how foreign leaders treat him in public. What matters is whether or not they can do business with him in private.
Call this an especially feeble rationalization. When someone shows contempt for you in public, whether through his words or his body language it means that he is diminishing you. He is according you less prestige.
When the President of the United States does not respond by asserting himself he is accepting that his nation deserves a position of lower respect.