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It’s All About Him

The Washington Post concedes that Obama’s “star” offensive on the international stage has largely been a failure:

European nations have refused to send significant numbers of new troops to aid the U.S.-led war effort in Afghanistan. Few countries have agreed to accept detainees held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Scottish officials ignored Obama’s plea to keep the Lockerbie bomber in prison, and U.S. efforts to head off a coup in Honduras were ineffective. North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons, Iran may be doing so, and Middle East leaders have rebuffed Obama’s efforts at peacemaking.

“When he came into office, there was kind of a sigh of relief around the world because he wasn’t Bush,” said Leslie H. Gelb, a former president of the Council on Foreign Relations. “What was he going to do to solve these problems? They haven’t seen that yet.”

When asked to defend their record, the members of the Obama foreign-policy team resort to mushy phrases and platitudes. “A new openness!” cries Susan Rice. And she argues that there has been all sorts of “progress on a wide array of issues” in the Middle East. Really? Like what?

In any other administration, this pabulum might be taken as spin, a cynical attempt to defend a lousy record. But you get a sinking feeling that this crowd really believes it. The American media coos over the Cairo speech, and as a consequence, it’s dubbed a “success.” Putin is delighted with Obama’s retreat on missile defense, so that’s transmuted, again, into a “success” because other nations are feeling better about Obama. (Honduras, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Israel don’t feel so warm and fuzzy, of course. But robust relations with democratic, pro-American countries are a small sacrifice to make for endearing ourselves to our foes, they reason.) They seem to place inordinate weight on press reviews and foreign popular-opinion polling, while placing virtually no weight on what other countries are actually doing.

There seems to be a troubling divergence between Obama’s personality offensive and the development of an effective foreign policy that defends American interests. John Bolton observes that at the UN this week, “the greeting will be rapturous” for the new U.S. president. “It’s a triumph for Obama personally, but I have yet to see his personal popularity translate into concrete steps forward.” Obama may genuinely believe that his international rock-star status can help further American interests. But he never quite gets to the part about translating that personal stardom into positions or proposals that would, in fact, push back on our adversaries and enhance American prestige and security.

The proof will come when his “charm” offensive runs its course. If Putin comes out supporting sanctions on Iran, Obama’s strategy will be lauded as nothing short of brilliant. If the Palestinians concede that rejectionism has gotten them nowhere and it’s time to recognize the Jewish state, the despicable Cairo speech will be forgotten. But if we get nothing for all of Obama’s gestures, or if our adversaries perceive that the president is not resolute about—or even that interested in—defending American interests, we are headed for a rocky time. We’ve seen in the Carter years, after all, just how dangerous and unstable the world can become with an American president perceived as weak and ineffectual.



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