WASHINGTON -- The glow is off the rose. The euphoria is gone. The thrilled, awe-inspired crowds are no longer there. No, that's not a reflection on the recent Michael Jackson media madness. Instead, it's a summary of the Obama family outing to Russia, Italy and Africa. Other than a week's respite from the deepening U.S. financial crisis, the collapse of constitutional government in Honduras, and staged photo ops, the trip yielded little to give the American people hope that the O-Team comprehends the dangers we face in this world -- or what to do about them.
The trip to Chad and the G-8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, produced no serious risks to our future -- other than the snapshot of Mr. Obama shaking hands with Libya's colorfully clad Moammar Gadhafi, the usual Euro-pablum about global warming's (now re-branded as "climate change") being "the greatest threat to mankind," and empty promises to do more about peacekeeping in Africa. The real damage was done earlier, in Moscow.
According to White House officials busily briefing on what this week's trip was supposed to achieve, Iran was "front and center" on our president's agenda. But the Russians dismissed the recent "unpleasantness" in Iran and the thought of any action against the theocrats in Tehran before Mr. Obama even arrived in Moscow. As Air Force One headed east, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, dutifully following Vladimir Putin's well-honed lead, said: "If I understand correctly, the United States would like to establish more open and more direct relations with Iran. We support this choice. It would be counterproductive to resort to other sanctions." The O-Team describes this as pragmatism. So much for human rights in Persia.
The O-Team also sought to enlist Russian help in pressuring Iran and North Korea to abandon efforts to develop nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them. About the best they got was an acknowledgment from Medvedev: "We should make our utmost (effort) to prevent any negative trends there." To reassure the dubious, he added, "We share the same attitude toward this problem."
Whether the patently naive Mr. Obama believes this falsehood is unknown. We can only hope that those accompanying our commander in chief know better. In February, Moscow's nuclear technicians helped their Iranian counterparts turn on the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant. Despite American overtures to the contrary, the facility still is scheduled to come fully on line -- and therefore generate not only electricity but also plutonium that can be used in nuclear weapons -- before the end of the year.
After spending nearly a full day with Medvedev, Mr. Obama sat down to a two-hour breakfast with the real power in Moscow, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Though Putin said afterward, "With you, we link all our hopes for the furtherance of relations between our two countries," there is little to show for such platitudes.
Just to make sure everyone knows who is calling the shots in the Kremlin, while Obama and Putin were sitting down to swap stories over caviar, Kyrgyzstan's president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, did Moscow's bidding and signed a new lease for the U.S.-built air base at Manas. In February, Bakiyev announced that the base, a crucial logistics hub for U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, would be closed this summer. The only change: a price hike, from $17 million to $60 million, in annual rent. The Russians also announced that U.S. combat troops and supplies now can transit Russian territory to get in and out of Afghanistan. What Mr. Obama had to give away to get these deals hasn't been announced.
The bottom line is that Russia will continue selling S-300s -- the most advanced air-defense weapons in the world -- to Iran. The Russians will not agree to any stringent intervention that might prevent Tehran and Pyongyang from acquiring deliverable nuclear weapons. Worst of all, the "joint understanding" on reducing Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals, which Obama and Medvedev signed with such a flourish Monday, is being interpreted differently already in both Moscow and Washington.
According to the O-Team, they made it "crystal clear" to the Russians "right from the beginning" that there "is no linkage" between a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the construction of U.S.-NATO ballistic missile defense systems in the Czech Republic and Poland. But shortly after they inked the deal, Medvedev observed: "The joint understanding, which has just been signed, declares the link between offensive and defensive armaments. This is a step forward. A short time ago, we had nothing but disagreements. Now we confirm this link, which enables us to bring our positions closer together." In short, somebody isn't telling the truth.
Like so much else in the Obama administration -- whether it is a bank bailout, an "economic stimulus," health care reform or a tax hike -- the devils are in the details. Sure hope someone who cares is reading the fine print.