Foreign Policy – why isn’t it working?
Jackson Diehl has a theory:
I recently asked several senior administration officials, separately, to name a foreign leader with whom Barack Obama has forged a strong personal relationship during his first year in office. A lot of hemming and hawing ensued.
The hemming and hawing which ensued points to the fact that this president has done nothing to forge those sorts of “strong personal relationship[s]” that are so necessary to moving a country’s foreign policy forward. Diehl points to a few suggestions from the administration officials of foreign leaders with whom Obama may have a “strong personal relationship”. Diehl’s examination of each finds the claim to be unlikely. Unsurprisingly one who isn’t suggested is Britain’s Gordon Brown.
The bottom line of course is forging those sorts of relationships is vital to the conduct of foreign policy. Diplomacy is about friends, neutrals and enemies. Friends are THE vital component in forging alliances and the coalitions necessary to deal with the world at large. And without them doing what is necessary to advance your nation’s best interests becomes exponentially harder. A perfect example of that shortcoming playing out is our attempt to increase sanctions on Iran (something we’re apparently now backing away from somewhat). No one is willing to really back our desire to make it tougher on Iran. And if Britain is, given our Falklands gaffe and other slights, they’re probably less likely, or at least less enthusiastic about doing so. Russia has flatly said it’s not at all interested. And recently, so has Brazil.
If you can’t take the time to forge the relationships necessary to advance your country’s best interest, who’s job is it? Well, on a peer to peer level, it’s no one else’s job but that of the President. And, as we watch the stories coming out about these relationships, we find them to be, at best, cordial. And in many cases, they’re less than that.
Diehl ends by emphasizing why this failing to cultivate these strong personal relationships has an effect that can be the difference between success and failure in foreign policy:
Still, it’s worth wondering: Would Sarkozy have fought French public opinion and sent more troops to Afghanistan (he has refused) if he had been cultivated more by Obama? Would Israel’s Netanyahu be willing to take more risks in the (moribund) Middle East peace process if he believed he could count on this U.S. president? Would Karzai cooperate more closely with U.S. commanders in the field if Obama had embraced him?
The answers seem obvious. In foreign as well as domestic affairs, coolness has its cost.
The aloof, “you must come to me” attitude that Obama cultivates isn’t at all useful in the arena which is his exclusively – foreign policy. He talks about “engagement”, but he’s not apparently talking about himself. Engagement with foreign leaders is critical to his ability to successfully conduct the business of the US. A disconnected “leader” focused internally can’t do that. Again, Obama’s leadership is found wanting and wanting in a critical area that could find the next person to hold his office in a very bad relational situation with our allies that will take years to repair.