WSJ OpEd: Obama a "Global Has-Been", a Failure on Every Level!!!
The president would rather be loved than feared. He is neither.
By BRET STEPHENS
few days ago there occurred one of those telling little episodes that
captures the essence and folly of the Obama administration's approach to
foreign policy. The meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement is being hosted
this week in Iran, and the administration had urged United Nations
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon not to attend as a signal of displeasure
at Tehran's serial violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Of course Mr. Ban is going.
The administration's response to Mr.
Ban's decision was "muted," according to the New York Times, evidently
out of sympathy for his delicate position: Most U.N. member states are
also members of the Non-Aligned Movement, and it's customary for U.N.
secretaries-general to attend the meetings. There's also hope Mr. Ban
will make a public stink in Iran about its leaders' nuclear bid or their
calls to wipe out Israel. And maybe he will.
Still, there's no overlooking the
central point of this tussle: In the global popularity contest between
Barack Obama and Ali Khamenei, the ayatollah is winning.
For Mr. Khamenei, the meeting is meant
to underscore the failure of Western attempts to isolate Iran
internationally. Iran has even picked up a new friend in Mohammed Morsi,
Egypt's new Islamist president, who presumably isn't too offended that
there's a street in Tehran named after Anwar Sadat's killer.
For Mr. Obama, on the other hand, the
meeting should serve as another reminder that his core foreign policy
concept—that global popularity generates global power—has failed. No
U.S. president since John F. Kennedy has come to office with more global
goodwill than Mr. Obama; no U.S. president since Jimmy Carter has been
so widely rebuked.
Consider the record [of failure]:
personal effort to bring the 2016 Olympics to Chicago;
personal effort to negotiate a climate-change deal at Copenhagen in
His failed efforts to strike a nuclear deal with Iran that year
and this year;
His failed effort to improve America's public standing in
the Muslim world with the now-forgotten Cairo speech;
His failed reset
His failed effort to strong-arm Israel into a permanent
His failed (if half-hearted) effort to maintain a
residual U.S. military force in Iraq;
His failed efforts to cut deals
with the Taliban and reach out to North Korea;
His failed effort to win
over China and Russia for even a symbolic U.N. condemnation of Syria's
His failed efforts to intercede in Europe's economic
crisis. ("Herr Obama should above all deal with the reduction of the
American deficit" was the free advice German Finance Minister Wolfgang
Schäuble offered this year.)
the Pew Research Center released one of its periodic surveys of global
opinion. It found that since 2009, favorable attitudes toward the U.S.
had slipped nearly everywhere in the world except Russia and, go figure,
Japan. George W. Bush was more popular in Egypt in the last year of his
presidency than Mr. Obama is today.[!!!]
It's true that these surveys need to be
taken with a grain of salt: efficacy, not popularity, is the right
measure by which to judge an administration's foreign policy. But that
makes it more noteworthy that this administration should fail so
conspicuously on its own terms. Mr. Obama has become the Ruben Studdard
of the world stage: the American Idol who never quite made it in the
That isn't to say that Mr. Obama hasn't
had his successes. The Libya intervention was a triumph, albeit of an
odd sort since it was carried out in such a reluctant, last-minute,
half-embarrassed fashion. Killing Osama bin Laden and dramatically
expanding the number of drone strikes will forever be to the president's
credit—even if his administration's tawdry efforts to publicize them
for political gain will forever diminish the achievement.
But note that the drone strikes have
been pursued in spite of global public opinion—the U.S. is the only
country surveyed by Pew in which the strikes enjoy majority support.
Note, also, that the strikes are the sort of thing Mr. Obama's core
supporters would have been shrieking about incessantly in a previous
For the most part, however, Mr. Obama
has steadfastly pursued his belief that it's better to be loved than
feared, ignoring the old Florentine's warning that "men worry less about
doing an injury to one who makes himself loved than to one who makes
himself feared." And so the injuries have come: disses from Putin;
mockery from Ahmadinejad. Maybe Mr. Obama thinks that, as the Most
Powerful Man in the World, he can breezily afford to ignore their
slights, and perhaps he can. But Americans can't and shouldn't.
I tend to think that the buzz about
American decline mistakes the mediocrity of the president for the
destiny of the nation. But we have an election on, the outcome of which
will decide whether one man's mediocrity becomes a whole nation's
destiny. Mr. Obama is now the world's leading has-been, trying to revive
a career on the strength of a talent that was greatly exaggerated to
begin with. But a country that's willing to reward mediocrity with a
second chance risks becoming a has-been itself.
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