Yesterday, Max Boot drew a portrait of a failed presidency.
Remember when Democrats–like, um, Senator Barack Obama–were castigating President George W. Bush for his supposed unilateralism and alienation of allies? Obama promised to do better but in many respects he’s done worse.
I remember attending a breakfast in the past year with a former European leader who said that European heads of state had a much better relationship with Bush than with Obama–and not just Tony Blair and Nicolas Sarkozy who were known for being close to Dubya. All the Europeans found it easier to get Bush on the phone than Obama and they also formed better bonds with the more affable Bush than the more aloof Obama. Indeed it’s hard to name a single foreign head of state with whom Obama is close in the way that Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were close with Tony Blair or in the way that Ronald Reagan was close to Margaret Thatcher and Brian Mulroney.
Why is this happening?
This isn’t because Obama is inherently unlikable; plenty of people have been seduced by his cerebral coolness in the past. It’s because he hasn’t worked at it. He has not cultivated foreign leaders any more than he has cultivated congressional leaders. In both cases he has built up no reservoirs of affection to cushion him when times get tough–as they are now for a United States that is at the nadir of its post-1970s influence.
Boot believes that Obama is chronically aloof. Example: Obama’s failure to show up in Paris on Sunday:
The moment that may come to symbolize Obama’s aloofness occurred on Sunday when nearly four million French people–and numerous foreign heads of state–marched to make clear their opposition to terrorism and their support for freedom of speech.
Evidently, Obama is not up to the job, so he does not do the job. He issues edicts and tries to avoid situations that will reveal his imposture.
With two years left in his presidency, he appears to have all but checked out, preferring to rule by executive order rather than by mobilizing support at home or abroad. Rather than cultivating America’s allies, he prefers to reach out to our enemies–notably Cuba and Iran. The Paris rally might become, as my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Robert Danin suggested on Twitter, “Obama’s diplomatic Katrina moment”–a moment which crystallizes a growing perception of presidential failure. That is an ironic end to a presidency which came into being in no small measure as a protest against “unilateralism.”
As you know, I think that there’s more to it than aloofness. And even if Obama has checked out, his moves in the international chess game will be interpreted.
Aloof or not, Obama’s failure to show up will be seen as a signal of respect for the Muslim faith.
If there had been any doubt, the world now sees that neither Obama nor the United States will any longer take the lead in the war against Islamic terrorism, even from behind.