It is hard to think of a U.S. president who has done more to weaken his country on the world stage in such a short period of time — and that includes the hapless Jimmy Carter. President Obama’s first 100 days as a world leader have been an overwhelming failure, a damaging mix of diplomatic gaffes and humiliating apologies for America’s past, combined with a naïve outreach to American-hating tyrants and despots, as well as an overwhelming indifference towards traditional allies, including Britain.
While the Anglo-American Special Relationship has been downgraded to a “special partnership”, the new president has been busy sending polite video messages to the Mullahs of Tehran, bowing to the King of Saudi Arabia, and having a cuddly chat with Venezuelan thug Hugo Chavez. In little over three months, the fledgling president has also succeeded in jettisoning the War on Terror, alienating America’s intelligence services with the selective release of interrogation memos, while undercutting the armed forces with a series of threatened defence cuts.
There have been moments when the new administration has shown some backbone – the decision to withdraw from the farcical UN Durban Review Conference, the ordering of missile strikes against al-Qaeda and Taliban positions inside Pakistan, the deployment of 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, for example. But these have been rare exceptions to an overall foreign policy that has projected weakness, indifference and even incompetence, unbefitting of the most powerful nation on the face of the earth.
And what has Washington gained in return for its new approach? More sneering condescension from continental European leaders, a refusal to fight in Afghanistan from most of the NATO alliance, an increase in sabre-rattling from North Korea, an acceleration of Iran’s nuclear programme, a renewed assertiveness from Moscow, and an insulting book on the evils of Western imperialism as a gift from Chavez.
The new approach is the product of an American-Idol-style White House obsessed with spin and image at the expense of American power. There is, unfortunately, no Simon Cowell figure to tell the president that his performance doesn’t measure up. No matter how hard Obama tries to please his global audience and how much they superficially cheer, if there is no substance to the policy or the basic message is wrong, it simply won’t work.
Barack Obama has barely an ounce of foreign policy experience and it clearly shows. For much of his recent tour of Europe, the president was treated like a rock star but acted like a deer in the headlights, clearly outmaneuvered at both the G-20 and NATO summits by vastly more experienced politicians such as Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel.
Obama’s speech in Strasbourg, where he condemned America’s “arrogance”, has to rank as one of the most damaging, if not the most damaging speech by a U.S. president on foreign soil in modern times. It is impossible to imagine the leader of any European nation, with the unique exception of Germany’s contrition over its Nazi past, launching an attack like this upon his or her own country on foreign land. It was the humbling of a superpower in front of a largely French and German audience, who cheered every word the president spoke trashing his own nation’s record.
There was no mention by Obama in his speech of the sacrifice of tens of thousands of American GIs who died liberating France from fascist occupation, and no recognition of the huge role the United States played in keeping Europe free. It was a speech that quite easily could have been written in parts by Jacques Chirac or Dominique de Villepin, railing against the American “hyper-power”.
Barack Obama has launched a new era of self-flagellation for America that serves only to humiliate the American people, and embolden Washington’s enemies. From Tehran to Pyongyang, Moscow to Caracas, dictatorial regimes have been given a new lease of life by a U.S. administration that threatens little and barely talks about the advancement of freedom. The spread of individual liberty and human rights are hardly priority goals for a White House that is struggling to find a dictator it isn’t willing to talk to in the name of its weak-kneed new policy of “engagement”.
Even so-called “moderate” elements of the Taliban are being identified for talks with the new administration, further confirmation that Obama has dropped the concept of a global war against Islamist terrorism. The old War on Terror is now an “Overseas Contingency Operation”, a symbol of the new administration’s unwillingness to recognize that the free world is actually engaged in a global war against a brutal and determined enemy, that may take decades to win. Obama has also shown ambivalence over the deployment of a missile defense system, a vital shield against a possible Iranian nuclear threat.
President Obama has unfortunately shown little sign he is willing to lead an America that is genuinely respected by its allies and feared by its enemies. Obama has acted as a quintessentially European-style leader, and at times cannot decide whether he is the president of the United States or the European Union. His actions in his first 100 days have served largely to undermine American power and strengthen its foes. He is off to a spectacularly bad start as a world leader, one that will be hard to reverse.
There is much that Barack Obama can learn from great world leaders such as Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill, who all understood the importance of aggressively advancing the national interest and projecting strength to defeat the enemies of the West. All three succeeded in standing up to and defeating tyranny, whether in the shape of the Soviet empire or Nazi Germany. Obama’s rash decision, however, to throw a bust of Churchill out of the Oval Office, is a distinctly bad omen for the remainder of his presidency.