Tuesday, March 9, 2010

How Do You Spell Demagogue?

In yesterday's Washington Post Jackson Diehl offered an intriguing angle on Obama's conduct of foreign policy. Link here.

His observation is simple and direct. In his first year as president Barack Obama has not made any friends among world leaders.

While Obama is beloved of masses of people around the world, he is generally distrusted by their leaders. In contrast, George W. Bush was despised by the masses and trusted by leaders.

Could there be a more stark contrast?

Perhaps foreign policy is not all about personal relationships, but it surely involves who you know, who you trust, you trusts you, and who is your confidant.

You can talk all you want about negotiation, but no one is going to negotiate with someone he does not trust. And no one is going to negotiate with someone who has not become a true friend.

Look at it from a different angle. Let's say that a woman falls in love with a man who has no friends.

How concerned should she be that he has no friends? Should she see it as a sign that he will have very limited success in the business world? Should she see it as a sign that he will be a bad husband and a bad father? Or that he will be too dependent on her for emotional support?

Interestingly, Diehl describes Obama as a classic demagogue. When a leader is willing to say whatever it takes to whip up a crowd, to elicit waves of love and affection, he will not be considered by his peers to be a man of his word. He will not be considered trustworthy; he will not be considered a friend.

Everyone by now has noted Obama's breaches of decorum, in relation to many world leaders. Do you think that leaders will trust someone who cannot even be bothered to observe the formalities of diplomatic protocol? Because these formalities are public displays of respect. If you cannot be bothered to assert them, you will not be taken as a friend.

What does it all mean? Perhaps it means that Obama is simply not comfortable in the company of world leaders? For all we know he may not see himself as good enough to be there.

If Obama sees himself as something of an impostor, then his primary goal will not be to ensure that he is not found out. And how best to maintain the imposture than to refuse to engage in one-to-one meetings.

Or else, it may be that Obama thinks he is too good to sit around schmoozing with Brown and Sarkozy. Perhaps he believes that he should be telling them what to do and that they should be obeying. Perhaps he believes that the presidency is about imposing your will on others.

After all, the only people Obama wants to negotiate with are tyrants and despots. The president extends an open hand to Ahmadinejad while he offers the back of his hand to Gordon Brown.

And this makes its own kind of sense. There is no chance that he is ever going to negotiate with Ahmadinejad. Thus, there is no risk of his being found out.

As for establishing a good relationship with Gordon Brown, the same kind that George Bush had with Tony Blair or that Franklin Roosevelt had with Winston Churchill, that would seem to require something that Obama just does not possess.


Brett_McS said...

From a recent interview with Dr John Lott (on Northern Alliance Radio, I think it was) who was teaching at Chicago U when Obama arrived there.

Dr Lott introduced himself to Obama, who then said in response "Oh yeh. The gun guy. I don't think people should be allowed to have guns". So John said "OK. Why don't we talk about it over lunch some time?". Obama just made a face and turned away.

Dr Lott's general summing up of Obama was that he never met anyone in the academic world less interested in differing opinions.

One reason for that would indeed be the fear of being found out.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Good point... engaging a serious debate on the issues would probably reveal that O had not thought it through, but was just repeating what he would have taken to be politically correct opinions.
It is interesting that O made a face and turned away... sounds like intellectual contempt and scorn, a way of asserting superiority without having to demonstrate it.