Saturday, June 19, 2010

How the World Sees Obama

Usually, when the press asks how the world sees the American president, it looks at opinion polls. This would be useful if foreign policy were a popularity contest. It is not. At the risk of being taxed with elitism, we do better to look at how those who wield power and influence measure the new American president.

Who better to take the pulse of elite world opinion than Mort Zuckerman, media mogul and real estate tycoon. I believe that Zuckerman supported Obama and voted for him. He is not an Obama basher.

More importantly, he is well connected to the people around the world who conduct foreign policy.

Yesterday Zuckerman wrote an article entitled: "World Sees Obama as Incompetent and Amateur." Link here. The article picks up many of the themes that I and others have been writing about for some time now. I am reasonably certain that it will be much discussed over the next few days.

On elite world opinion, Zuckerman writes: "... a critical mass of influential people in world affairs who once held high hopes for the president have begun to wonder whether they misjudged the man. They are no longer dazzled by his rock star personality and there is a sense that there is something amateurish and even incompetent about how Obama is managing U. S. power."

One has to wonder what took them so long. Nonetheless, neither Zuckerman nor anyone else he quotes impugns Obama's motives. They define him as inexperienced and amateurish. To compensate for his lack of understanding of the complexities of foreign policy, he falls back on his skill as a talker, even a preacher, someone who is a master of rhetoric.

Not only, but Obama believes that his verbal facility will solve all problems. When a leader does not know his limits, he suffers from hubris.

In Zuckerman's words: "The Obama presidency has so far been characterized by a well-intentioned but excessive belief in the power of rhetoric with too little appreciation of reality and loyalty."

In particular, Zuckerman looks at the way the Arab world sees Obama's handling of Iran. In his words: "The underlying issue is that the Arab world has different estimates on how to deal with an aggressive, expansionist Iran. The Arabs do not deal with Iran with the open hand of a handshake but with the clenched fist of power.... Arab leaders ask whether Iran will be emboldened by what they interpret as American weakness and faltering willpower. They did not see Obama or his administration as understanding the region, where naivete is interpreted as a weakness of character, as amateurish, and as proof of the absence of the tough stuff of which leaders are made."

Of course, the issue is not merely the president. Our Secretary of State is also a rank amateur in foreign policy. No one can really imagine that she has a sufficient grasp of the reality of the issues at play in these areas.

Zuckereman is rather too kind here: "Strategic decisions go well beyond being smart, which Obama certainly is. They must be based on experience that discerns what works, what doesn't-- and why. This requires experienced staffing, which Obama and his top appointees do not seem to have."

The problem is not the staffing, but the people in charge.

So, where are we in the era of the Obama foreign policy reset: "America right now appears to be unreliable to traditional friends, compliant to rivals, and weak to enemies. One renowned Asian leader stated recently at a private dinner in the United States: 'We in Asia are convinced that Obama is not strong enough to confront his opponents, but we fear that he is not strong enough to support his friends.'"

We can only wonder whether those who voted for Obama fully grasped the consequences of handing over American foreign policy to an amateur. If were swept up in the wave of rock-star glory, they should prepare themselves for a rough landing.

1 comment:

blahga the hutt said...

You know, I could really care less what the world has to say, and I say this as one of the under 50% who voted against this guy (and saw exactly what was going to happen way back during that election period before all of the garbage.

The world seems to have a very schizophrenic view of what we should do. Fight a war or two and we become evil. Don't fight the war and we become incompetent. Hey World, make up your freaking minds already!!!!

If you want a strong U.S., then understand that we'll use that power at times. If you don't want a strong U.S., then understand that we won't be there to tend to your needs every single minute.