March 10, 2009

The ‘Change’ of Obama’s Foreign Policy: Talk to Enemies; Insult Allies

By Julian Dunraven, J.D., M.P.A.

Honorable friends:

I think it is fair to say that when the American people elected President Obama, part of the ‘change’ they sought was in our diplomatic approach. Even I, struggling to find something to be happy about in this last election, told myself that at least Mr. Obama is unlikely to embarrass himself diplomatically as George Bush was so fond of doing. Perhaps, I thought, we would no longer have to suffer through articles about our President trying to massage the shoulders of Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel. That may have been wishful thinking given the recent diplomatic gaffes coming out of the Obama administration.

Take Hillary Clinton’s recent gift to Russia, for instance: a symbolic reset button. It was meant to represent a departure from the Bush administration’s confrontational attitude and effectively begin a new and friendlier relationship with Russia. The button read “Reset,” in English, but in Russian it apparently read, “Overcharge,” much to the embarrassment of Mrs. Clinton. Although I must say, “Overcharge,” seems to be a more accurate representation of what the Obama administration is doing, it is an appalling display of ineptitude on the part of our diplomatic corps. Even if the State Department is, for some inexplicable reason, suffering a shortage of agents literate in Russian, one would think they would at least have the presence of mind to go out and look at a Russian video game console, find the reset button, and copy the word. I dare say one of our adolescent gamers could have done a better job of it. Unfortunately, Mrs. Clinton’s error was quite minor when compared to the miserable display put on by Mr. Obama himself in receiving Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Great Britain.

During the Clinton and Bush (I & II) administrations, a visit from our closest and strongest ally’s head of government was marked with a joint press conference, a reception at Camp David, and a formal dinner. Not so in the Obama administration, which made no arrangement for any of these things. Unfazed though, Mr. Brown pressed on and presented Mr. Obama with a pen holder made from the wood of the HMS Gannet, a ship used in fighting the slave trade. Its sister ship, HMS Resolute, provided the wood to make just two desks: one belongs to Queen Elizabeth II, the other sits in the Oval Office. In return, Mr. Obama presented the Prime Minister with a set of 25 DVDs of American movies. As if this were not tacky enough, they are American DVDs and do not play in British DVD players. He also returned the bronze bust of Winston Churchill that has been in the Oval Office since Tony Blair presented it to us after the 9/11 attacks. As reported by the New York Daily News, the British People were incensed at the slights.

Not to be outdone, Michelle Obama’s gifts to the Brown children were in equally bad taste. The Times of London reported that Mrs. Brown presented the Obamas’ daughters with, “really nice presents. A bit of thought had clearly gone into choosing them: Top Shop dresses (with matching necklaces) and a selection of books by British authors.” In return, Mrs. Obama gave the Browns’ sons toy models of Marine One, the presidential helicopter. “Short of giving the boys Action Man models of her own husband smiting the evil forces of neoconservatism,” said The Times, “Mrs Obama’s gesture could not have been more solipsistic or more inherently dismissive of Mrs Brown.” The Daily Telegraph’s James Delingpole is now calling Mrs. Obama ‘Lady MacBeth.’

According to The Telegraph, The White House explained that Mr. Obama was simply too exhausted from dealing with the economic crisis to bother with the “diplomatic niceties of the special relationship” with Britain. The Telegraph quoted one American official who noted that, so far, Mr. Obama has failed to "even fake an interest in foreign policy." Most disturbingly The Telegraph cited a State Department official who articulated the new administration’s view of Britain by saying, “There's nothing special about Britain. You're just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn't expect special treatment.” If this statement true, it is a wretched thing to say of our strongest and most loyal ally. Glenn Beck may be correct in calling on us to write the British Embassy to apologize for our President’s appalling manners.

However, such an attitude may explain why The Times reports Britain is also finding it “unbelievably difficult” to deal with the Obama administration in planning the G20 summit or get clarity on what Obama wants to do to rescue the world’s economies.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama has announced his plans to reach out diplomatically to the Taliban in Afghanistan. Do recall that the Taliban is a fundamentalist Islamic movement that supports Sharia law and a medieval view of human rights while endorsing Osama bin Laden and jihadist actions against the United States. This is apparently the ‘change’ Obama promised us with respect to foreign policy: hold talks with avowed enemies and insult our greatest allies. If Mr. Obama treats the Taliban leaders in the same way he has treated the Prime Minister of England, I expect they will be issuing a new fatwa against the United States in the very near future.

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