Barack Obama seems to be running to become the Secretary General of the United Nations.
He can sit through long winded speeches by tyrants, visit the poorest of the poor and smile without spending a dime, and he is really good at saying “I’m sorry.”
He gets along with all kinds of groups and the rumor is he’ll have a representative at the U.S. Conference on racism in Durbin next week. Isreal calls the conference “Jew bashing.”
And most of all, like most U.N. leaders, despite popularity there is no power or influence in the international community. people like German’t Merkel and France’s Sarkozy are still going their own merry way….
By Josef Joffe
The Wall Street Journal
Nearly 100 days into Barack Obama’s presidency and he is still a rock star in Europe, as evidenced by the large crowds that turned out to cheer him at the recent G-20 summit in London and NATO summit in Strasbourg, France.
George W. Bush was heartily disliked in Europe west of Warsaw, and Mr. Obama is universally loved. But how well does that popularity translate into power? How far could President Obama push his agenda with, say, German Chancellor Angela Merkel or French President Nicolas Sarkozy? About as far as you can throw a piano.
At the G-20 summit in London, Frau Merkel politely said nein to Mr. Obama’s entreaties about adding billions to the German economic stimulus pot. (Actually, it was a sheer pleasure to watch the Europeans, who have never seen a government expenditure they didn’t like, celebrate fiscal discipline in the face of U.S. profligacy).
Afghanistan? Mr. Obama asked his European allies to contribute more troops and put them where the fighting is — mainly in the embattled south. This is where the Anglo powers bear the brunt of warfare while the French, Germans and Italians remain happily ensconced in the quieter north. Though Mr. Obama says he received “strong and unanimous support” on Afghanistan from his NATO partners in Strasbourg, he got no additional troop commitments. The Europeans are happy to see the U.S. president add another 19,000 American troops to the 38,000 already there. Why worry, if Mr. Big is willing to carry the load?
How about being nice to former rogue-staters like Kim Jong Il? North Korea has just kicked out the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency and vowed to fire up its Yongbyon reactor and resume its nuclear weapons program, which may already have produced several (no one really knows how many) bombs. That, of course, was preceded by the spectacular April 5 launch of an intercontinental missile, which, though it fizzled, was intended to demonstrate North Korea’s growing capacity to deliver a warhead as far away as California.
Mr. Obama has gone out of his way to schmooze with the Iranian mullahs of “Axis of Evil” infamy. In his speeches, he has flattered and fawned over Tehran. He has followed the Europeans in throwing a huge carrot to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: It’s okay to go on enriching uranium while we talk. (George W. Bush always insisted on stopping enrichment as the price of bilateral talks.)
The result was predictable. Earlier this week, a journalist with dual American-Iranian citizenship was put on trial for espionage. This is what totalitarians love to do when facing a suddenly seductive enemy. They respond with deliberate provocation to signal “no deal” or “we want a much higher price.”
How about climate policy? The Bush administration was Beelzebub incarnate. And so, at the beginning of the U.N. climate talks in Bonn, Todd Stern, Mr. Obama’s chief climate negotiator, received a “round of rowdy applause,” as the New York Times put it. By the time the Bonn gathering ended last week, however, it was all gripes and groans. During his campaign, Mr. Obama had wowed greens with his pledge to take CO2 emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 — an impossible goal. Now, American officials are telling their friends abroad that they can’t come up with concrete steps because they need more time to prepare public opinion at home.
The Bushies could have said that, and they certainly said what Mr. Obama’s emissaries are telling the world now: that rapid-growth countries like China and India ought to curb CO2 emissions as well. Those who remember the mano-a-mano over the Kyoto Protocol will recall that Mr. Bush’s “China, too” policy was one casus belli between Europe and the U.S.
What Jonathan Pershing, Mr. Obama’s No. 2 special envoy for climate change, said in Bonn sounded like pure Bush-speak: “U.S. policy is something we are developing at home, according to what we see as the science and political capacity.” In translation: The U.S. will follow national interest as well as the electoral mood, and it won’t be bullied by the apocalypse mongers of this world.
This litany will lengthen in months to come, but it’s not too early to render a preliminary judgment on Team Obama’s foreign policy. The basic lesson, alas, is that nice guys don’t do better than meanies like Mr. Bush.
That is not how politics among nations works. The last president who excited so much enthusiasm was John F. Kennedy. Jackie did wow the French with her bow to Continental tastes, but Jack found an implacable rival in President Charles de Gaulle. Reaching out to Nikita Khrushchev in his first year, JFK went to the brink of nuclear war in his second with the Cuban missile crisis.
The point here is an old one, variously ascribed to Talleyrand, Palmerston or De Gaulle, about nations having everlasting interests rather than eternal friends or enemies. In today’s language: interest beats affection any time. Mrs. Merkel surely knows how enthralled her country is with Mr. Obama. But that’s not enough to place German soldiers in harm’s way in Afghanistan, or to run up the national debt in a country that is traumatized by inflation.
Why should Kim Jong Il part with his nuclear weapons program when it’s the only sure-fire way for an unhinged but smart dictator to get great powers to give him all sorts of goodies? Let go of the nukes, and Pyongyang will be nothing but the capital of Asia’s most cruelly backward country.
Why should Iran roll over just because the U.S. seeks to flatter and cajole? The jihadis in Tehran don’t want a nuclear bomb or use surrogates like Hamas and Hezbollah because they dislike the United States. They want hegemony over the Greater Middle East, and guess who stands in their way? Uncle Sam and Israel.
Can Mr. Obama sweet talk the European Union into more modest climate goals? No, because the Europeans believe that the U.S. is taking too much from the global commons (energy) and putting too much bad stuff into it (greenhouse gases).
“We will listen carefully,” Mr. Obama said with a view to Tehran, “we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground.” Some 500 years ago, Francis I of France was asked what misunderstandings had fueled his constant wars with the Habsburg Empire’s Charles V. He replied: “None, we are in complete agreement. We both want control over Italy.”
Conflict between states is made from sterner stuff than bad manners or bad vibes, past grievances or imaginary fears. International politics is neither psychiatry nor a set of “see me, feel me” encounter sessions. It is about power and position, about preventing injury and protecting interests. Love and friendship move people, not nations.
Mr. Joffe is the editor of Die Zeit, the German weekly, and a fellow at Stanford University’s Freeman-Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Hoover Institution.