Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Obama Humiliates Karzai

Try a thought experiment. You are an investment banker and you have put together an initial public offering for XYZ Corp. You rely on your sales team to place the stock with institutions and investors.

Do you think that this is the right time to call out the head of sales for ineptitude and incompetence?

What if you do? What if the head of sales hears about your views, feels humiliated, and decides that he must defend his honor with a series of public gestures. He believes that saving face is more important than placing the XYZ stock.

Would anyone blame him? Would anyone think that he has a personality disorder?

Or, try another thought experiment. You are about to get married. Congratulations. It is not a match you would have chosen yourself, but, for reasons of family politics, you have to go through with it anyway. Such is life.

Do you think that this is the right time to post a note on Facebook declaring that your prospective spouse is irresponsible, unreliable, and untrustworthy?

And let us say that your intended finds this to be deeply offense and threatens to call off the whole thing? She might even threaten to marry your worst enemy, just to make her point. Would anyone blame her? Would anyone think that she was acting irrationally or was in need of psychiatric care?

You are probably saying that these examples are too absurd to contemplate. After all, they are among the first things that any adult learns about correct ethical behavior.

Unfortunately, this lesson seems to have escaped President Obama. These examples replicate the way he has recently treated Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Afghan President Karzai.

I have already written about the problems Obama caused by publicly humiliating Netanyahu. And I have also had a few things to say about those who rushed to defend Obama's behavior. Links here and here.

Apparently, Obama liked the feeling of humiliating an ally.He liked it so much that he produced what the Wall Street Journal called a "fiasco" by publicly humiliating President Karzai, calling him out for corruption and incompetence. Link here.

Naturally, Karzai reacted to the accusations. Properly enraged, he threatened to join the Taliban.

No leader can allow himself to be humiliated in public and continue to lead. And, as I tried to show in my two thought experiments, no real human relationship can remain cordial, cooperative, and functional when one party insists on publicly shaming the other.

Foreign policy involves forging alliances, seeking cooperation, and negotiating differences. To do so all parties must make a conspicuous show of respect for each other. This is effected through the strict observance of diplomatic protocol and propriety.

It all seems to have escaped our president. To the point that his smart diplomacy more often looks like smart-ass diplomacy.

Every adult the value of building on your friendships. Obama seems to believe that you must alienate your friends, by publicly putting them down, while appeasing your enemies.

For sure you should not try this at home. It shows someone who might, charitably, be considered to be a complete amateur on the world stage. Whatever the reason, it also shows a leader who is so deeply insecure about his position and his authority that he can only sustain it at the expense of those who are supposed to be his friends.

Having alienated his friends, Obama is showing that he feels alone on the world stage, perhaps because no one can ever be as great as him. But when you are alone, when you have alienated your allies, you cannot put together an effective alliance to fight your enemies. A policy of appeasement seems to your only option.

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