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Oh, how the international community loves Barack Obama — loves to stiff him, play him along, and manipulate him. He’s the world’s celebrity ingenue, the slender naïf perpetually undone by the recalcitrance of foreign leaders.
Earlier this year, in a touching exercise in diplomatic and civilizational outreach, he sent two letters to Iran’s mullahs and a new year’s message to the Iranian people. How mannerly, how unthreatening. When the Iranian government beat protesters in the streets after it stole the election for Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June, Obama kept his criticism muted. How sensitive, how subtle.
In October, the Iranians agreed to send their low-enriched uranium — at least the portion of it we know about — to Russia in what was hailed as a triumph for Obama’s charm offensive. Except it’s all predictably ending in tears. If George W. Bush put too much faith in oppressed people — their ability and willingness to rise up for freedom — Barack Obama puts too much faith in their oppressors.
The Iranians have all but announced that they are reneging on the October deal. U.S. officials, according to the Wall Street Journal, “acknowledge Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appears to be using negotiations to limit U.N. pressure while also working to legitimize his government domestically.” Maybe they should get word to the president?
In response to Iranian intransigence, Obama is supposed to be poised to crack down with harsh sanctions supported by the Russians and Chinese, won over by Obama’s accommodating gestures. Neither is likely to go along, though. True to his word, Obama has worked a remarkable change in America’s reputation in the world — from purported bully to notorious chump in less than a year.
As Obama demonstrated again on his Asian trip, he is the leader of the free world in adoring crowds (“Obama-san!” they shouted in Japan) and personal charisma (“I would like to be his friend,” Xie Lijun, 28, told the Washington Post in Shanghai). But even the press is beginning to realize that all this personal good will generates only personal good will.
Obama’s chief politico, David Axelrod, explained that Obama’s team never expected “change overnight.” Now he tells us. It’s not just that the world hasn’t fallen at Obama’s feet, it’s that the administration’s self-described “smart power” has — to borrow an old gibe about the Moral Majority — proven to be neither.
Afghan ambassador Karl Eikenberry is fundamentally at odds with Gen. Stanley McChrystal over Afghan strategy, making it all but impossible that the two will replicate the superb civil-military cooperation of Amb. Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq during the surge; super Af-Pak envoy Richard Holbrooke is persona non grata in Afghanistan; Amb. Christopher Hill in Iraq is something of a diplomatic nonentity; Middle East envoy George Mitchell has hurried the “peace process” to a point of crisis worse than when he started.
As Casey Stengel famously asked, “Can’t anyone here play this game?” The administration might have waited to accomplish something before adopting a foreign-policy slogan pre-emptively congratulating itself for its diplomatic acumen. But that’s not the Obama way.
Democrats spent years banging on Bush for alienating our allies. What they really meant was that he hadn’t been nice enough to our enemies. Reversing field entirely, Obama has been hell on allies like Hamid Karzai and the Israelis. He’s undercut the Poles and Czechs. He’s given a cold shoulder to friends who have the temerity to want to trade with us, like the Colombians and South Koreans. He’s cooled the special relationship with Britain. And he hammered the government of Honduras when it stopped a creeping Chávezist coup by its sitting president.
The more pro-U.S. a country is, the more it can expect scolding or neglect from the president of the United States. It’s our enemies and the authoritarian big powers that Obama wants to woo. And like every cad who’s ever been presented with achingly defenseless innocence, they are very glad to see him. Yes, the world loves Barack Obama.