President Obama’s two overseas trips — Europe and Latin America — make him appear more like a diplomatic tourist than the leader of the free world. He met heads of state, made speeches, attended summits, conducted town hall meetings, but accomplished nothing that furthers U.S. interests abroad.
Obama’s agenda — described succinctly by his spokesmen on the eve of each trip — was shut out by the leaders with whom he met.
Obama’s only accomplishment is to portray himself as a chameleon-like leader who takes an anti-American tone to please his foreign hosts.
Presidential candidate Obama promised to demonstrate a new tone for international relations. Apparently that new approach includes criticizing America, groveling to dictators and rogue leaders, allowing others’ agendas to trump ours, forgetting history, and a willingness to sacrifice Americans and their money while giving allies a pass.
The president’s first trip abroad was an eight-day, five-country whirlwind diplomatic debut in Europe that included a global economic summit, heads of state meetings, a NATO conference, a meeting with the European Union, visits with Turkish political and cultural leaders and a stop in Iraq.
The president’s first stop was in London to participate in the G-20 economic summit and meet with heads of state. The G-20 promotes discussion between industrial and emerging-market countries on key issues related to global economic stability.
Obama came to the summit hoping the G-20 would embrace a stimulus plan rather than international regulation as the best way to restart the global economy. But the French and Germans balked at his proposal preferring regulation, and Obama failed to press the Germans to bargain. The Europeans refused to follow Obama’s stimulus path, but he apparently gave some ground to them on international regulation of financial industries. The summit also failed to redress the global trend to protectionism, but Obama did signal his intent to contribute $100 billion to the International Monetary Fund to bolster mostly ailing Central European economies, a move Berlin endorsed.
There were a couple notable heads of state meetings in London. Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed to begin negotiating a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires this year.
Russia has sought recognition as a global power since the Soviet Union fell apart in 1989. Obama just gave it to them by seeking new arms talks.
The president’s meeting with the Saudi king drew the most attention. Pictures of their introduction showed the president bowing before the Saudi king. But the president’s spokesman complained, “It wasn’t a bow. He grasped his hand with two hands, and he’s taller than king Abdullah.” But the pictures of Obama’s act speak for themselves.
Obama’s second stop was in Strasburg, France, to participate in a two-day NATO conference. Obama argued that Afghanistan “… is a joint problem. And it requires a joint effort.” Even thought he warned “Europe should not simply expect the United States to shoulder that burden alone,” the allies turned him a cold shoulder. They promised a token force, most of whom are non-combatants scheduled to be in Afghanistan only until the August elections.
While in France, the president hosted a town hall meeting with German and French students. He spoke of lofty goals like “a world without nuclear weapons,” admitted “America has shown arrogance and dismissiveness” and said he has “come to Europe to renew our partnership.”
Only a short helicopter ride from Strasburg is the U.S. Army’s Landstuhl Medical Center, where wounded Americans from Iraq and Afghanistan receive urgent medical care and recuperate. This was the second time in less than a year Obama chose a European audience over visiting wounded Americans.
The third stop was Prague, Czech Republic, where Obama met with representatives from the European Union’s 27 nations and meddled in their internal affairs. He pushed that body to accept Turkey as a member, saying it would be a positive sign to the Muslim world. He warned them the West should seek greater cooperation and closer ties with the Islamic nations. This plea fell dead because full membership for Turkey would open European borders to Turkish migration, something Europeans do not want.
While in Prague, Obama outlined a three part plan to eliminate nuclear weapons, which includes a global summit on nuclear security. He introduced his plan by stating America is the “… only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon — the United States has a moral responsibility to act.” Obama should have explained the context of President Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb. It saved tens of thousands of American lives and immediately ended World War II.
His fourth stop was in Turkey, where Obama sought to buy Islamic favor even though Arab and Persian Muslims hate Turks. He met with that country’s political and religious leaders and visited Istanbul’s Imperial Mosque of Sultan Ahmet I, called the Blue Mosque. He was introduced to the Turkish parliament as “Barrack Hussein Obama” where he said “America’s relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world, cannot and will not just be based upon opposition to terrorism.” He also said that the U.S. “… still struggles with the legacies of slavery and segregation, the past treatment of native Americas.”
He met with young people assembled in Istanbul’s Tophane-I-Amire Hall, an old exhibition hall. He took questions and at one point said “America, like every other nation, has made mistakes and has its flaws, but for more than two centuries it has strived” to seek a more perfect union.”
The final leg of his trip was a stop in Baghdad to visit American troops and Iraqi leaders. He met with the U.S. commander, General Raymond Odierno, at Al Faw Palace and then spoke with the troops, stating, “I think it’s important for us to remember that there’s still a lot of work to be done here.” If true, then why is he rushing our troops out of Iraq?
This morale boosting visit by the commander-in-chief was later demolished for many soldiers when Obama’s Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano labeled returning war veterans “right wing extremists.”
Obama’s second trip was a four-day visit with Mexico’s president and hemispheric leaders at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad.
Obama told Mexican President Felipe Calderon, “At a time when the Mexican government has so courageously taken on the drug cartels that have plagued both sides of the borders. It is absolutely critical that the United States joins as a full partner in dealing with this issue.” Obama promised Calderon to tighten security on the border and to prevent gun trafficking. It’s not clear how he intends to do either, but tighter gun laws may soon be on America’s horizon.
Last week before heading south, the president lifted restrictions on travel to Cuba, explaining that he wants to engage Cuba “on a wide range of issues.” This move became the biggest issue at the Trinidad summit.
Obama told the summit participants he seeks “an equal partnership,” and he extended a hand to America’s hemispheric neighbors offering a “new beginning” for a Cold War foe — Cuba. Obama said he was ready to accept Cuban President Raul Castro’s proposal of talks.
At the summit, Obama also reached out to Venezuela’s leftist president, Hugo Chavez, to shake his hand three times and said “Como estas.” Obama also extended his hand to President Ronald Reagan’s Latin American nemesis, Daniel Ortega, a former dictator and now elected as Nicaragua’s president.
Nothing substantive came from that summit other than Obama’s promise of a new hemispheric growth fund, an initiative to increase Caribbean security and a partnership to develop alternative energy sources. The taxpayer’s burden for the fund is yet to be calculated.
At least one world leader doesn’t buy Obama’s efforts to recast American leadership — Obama’s so-called tone campaign. French President Nicholas Sarkozy describes Obama’s ideas as unoriginal, unsubstantial and overrated. Sarkozy said “Obama has a subtle mind, very clever and very charismatic, but he was elected two months ago and had never run a ministry. And he is not always up to standard on decision-making and efficiency.”
That description may explain what appears to be Obama’s lack of true leadership. His so-called new tone in international relations should make Americans uncomfortable and explains why he has failed to deliver anything of substance from his travels or his fledgling foreign policy.
The score for these trips? World 3, Obama 0.
There is more to diplomacy than smiling, bowing and talking. It is meant to advance the interests of the diplomat’s nation. Perhaps President Obama will have learned this before he next ventures abroad.