This morning, The New York Times offers a lengthy look at President Obama’s relationship with leaders in the Arab world, full of revealing detail. It never quite comes out and explicitly says the president’s approach has failed, but the overall picture is withering and bleak.
Among the highlights:
Obama ignored “advice from elders on his staff at the State Department and at the Pentagon” in calling for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down.
But by the time the Saudis were crushing democracy protests in Bahrain, Obama had changed his mind, and “largely turned a blind eye.”
By the time the Tunisian protests broke out in January 2011 — an angry Mr. Obama accused his staff of being caught “flat-footed.”
The tensions between Mr. Obama and the Gulf states, both American and Arab diplomats say, derive from an Obama character trait: he has not built many personal relationships with foreign leaders. “He’s not good with personal relationships; that’s not what interests him,” said one United States diplomat. “But in the Middle East, those relationships are essential. The lack of them deprives D.C. of the ability to influence leadership decisions.”
Arab officials echo that sentiment, describing Mr. Obama as a cool, cerebral man who discounts the importance of personal chemistry in politics. “You can’t fix these problems by remote control,” said one Arab diplomat with long experience in Washington. “He doesn’t have friends who are world leaders. He doesn’t believe in patting anybody on the back, nicknames.“You can’t accomplish what you want to accomplish” with such an impersonal style, the diplomat said.
Perhaps most significantly, “Months later, administration officials said, Mr. Obama expressed regret about his muted stance on Iran.”
Let’s set the wayback machine to June 16, 2009: “President Obama said Tuesday that it would be counterproductive for the United States “to be seen as meddling” in the disputed Iranian presidential election, dismissing criticism from several leading Republicans that he has failed to speak out forcefully enough on behalf of the Iranian opposition.”
So the Republican critics were right, and President Obama was wrong. Now he sees it.
Obama 2012: Because he now realizes where he botched his Iran policy early on!
The article summarizes, “the stark difference between the outcomes in Cairo and Bahrain illustrates something else, too: his impatience with old-fashioned back-room diplomacy, and his corresponding failure to build close personal relationships with foreign leaders that can, especially in the Middle East, help the White House to influence decisions made abroad.”