NEW YORK, Sept. 6, 2013 — Barack Obama versus Vladimir Putin is already the mismatch of the century.
Observing these two circle each other on the world stage is like watching an amateur against a professional. Putin is proving himself to be faster, stronger, smarter. Meanwhile, amid the Syria debacle, we watch Obama shrink before our eyes. That is dangerous.
A weak president makes for a weak country. Love him or hate him, to the world Obama is America. Right now America is seen as second-rate.
Obama’s missteps have already yielded a terrible consequence. Russia is now viewed as a super-power equal or even surpassing the United States.
All that thanks to a president, our president, who does not know what he is doing when it comes to politics outside the Beltway. The oratorical brilliance that twice got him into high office with meager credentials works fine with his teleprompter in hand and among the cultish worshippers to whom every word of his is music.
But on the far reaches of the horizon, his message gets lost in translation. He is viewed as a local politician who has no business trying to talk big.
Among big-time leaders he is seen a community organizer who got lucky. We may still be enthralled, but they have him figured out.
We need a president who is respected internationally. Instead we are stuck with what we’ve got. The rest of the world is sending us a message, saying, “You voted for him. We didn’t.” So he gets no respect and we get no respect. Along the corridors of power, Obama walks alone.
BBC images from the just concluded G20 Summit in St. Petersburg, which gained him no traction, feature Obama lost and alone in a world too big for him.
He has been isolated certainly by our enemies. Putin openly scoffs him and Obama’s magic never seems to send a tingle up Putin’s leg.
America’s friends have also become less friendly. Britain’s Parliament has rejected Obama on the high level task of intervening in Syria, and although Prime Minister David Cameron is gamely taking Obama’s side, we see nothing here to match the warmth that existed between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.
The current relationship turned lukewarm, as Charles Krauthammer reminded us in his July column, when spiteful over Britain’s colonial past, Obama “started his presidency by returning to the British Embassy the bust of Winston Churchill that had graced the Oval Office.” But it gets worse or just as bad when Obama shows himself the baffled and over-matched innocent abroad.
War and peace is often decided outside the eyes and ears of the public and in the back rooms when leaders of the world relax with their cigars and brandy and talk turkey. That used to be called the old boy network. Kissinger, for all his flaws (and there were plenty), knew the value of personal diplomacy.
Foreign affairs is both business and personal. Often enough it is less about nation-to-nation and more about person to person. The private touch is vital.
Does Obama have that skill? That does not seem to be the case outside our boundary. His charm likewise gets lost in translation.
Does Obama have friends overseas? Probably, but not enough to count on in a pinch.
We see him adrift from Putin, from Cameron, from Germany’s Angela Merkel, and it gets no better between Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu.
Obama never got around to making friends beyond his automatic admirers here at home, and this is proving hazardous and costly.
Bowing to the king of Saudi Arabia does not amount to friendship. That is simple bootlicking.
That would be one hell of a reason to go to war, over a “red line” remark that was uttered in haste by a man nobody knows.
New from Jack Engelhard, the novel, Compulsive
Jack Engelhard, a novelist for such moral dilemma bestsellers as The Bathsheba Deadline, The Girls of Cincinnati, and the classic Indecent Proposal, his memoir Escape From Mount Moriah, and Slot Attendant – A Novel About A Novelist, Engelhard’s partly autobiographical expose about the trials of making it as a writer, brings his words to the Communities page covering all topics, with special focus on the absurdity of human behavior and reaches around the globe.
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