Barack Obama's 'Diplomacy'

Matt Lewis
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Posted: Mar 24, 2009 10:47 AM
Gordon Brown and Barack ObamaI'm going to start this post by telling you that I agree with something Barack Obama said in Berlin last year:

"America has no better partner than Europe. Now is the time to build new bridges across the globe as strong as the one that bound us across the Atlantic. Now is the time to join together, through constant cooperation, strong institutions, shared sacrifice, and a global commitment to progress, to meet the challenges of the 21st century."
Now, the question is whether or not he has lived up to those objectives, and at the moment he appears to be failing miserably.

I genuinely think President Obama wants to improve U.S. relations with foreign countries, but that doesn't mean he can wave a magic wand and make it happen. Foreign Policy is often hard, tedious work. It's not just about being "nice" to the rest of the world -- it's a delicate pursuit with heavy consequences for failure. This is a job for professionals, and unfortunately it has been amateur hour ever since the new administration took over.

As it stands now, the gaffes are piling up; the mistakes have been embarrassing, and frankly we're running out of major countries to offend.

As you probably heard, yesterday, our new President stiffed conservative French President Nicholas Sarkozy by sending a letter to his more liberal predecessor, Jacques Chirac. Apparently, the letter included the phrase "I am certain that we will be able to work together, in the coming four years, in a spirit of peace and friendship to build a safer world."

Unfortunately, this gaffe is only the most recent in a long string of ridiculous (and insulting) mistakes.

(Note: I am informed Obama's letter was in response to a Chirac letter -- which makes it less offensive. Still perception is reality, and by engaging in a dialogue with the previous president, it at least looks like Obama was trying to work around Sarkozy by going to Chirac instead).

Before the French gaffe, there was Hillary Clinton's incident with the Russian foreign minister, when she tried to give him a big red button that said "RESET" -- or at least it said "RESET" in English. The botched Russian translation said "OVERLOAD" -- and it wasn't even written in the right alphabet. The entire U.S. State Department apparently could not muster the resources to write out "????????????" instead of "PEREGRUZKA". Heck, I can (and did) have my research assistant do that, and he only took one year of Russian in college.

Of course, the ultimate flub occurred when British Prime Minister Gordon Brown came to town earlier this month. Obama botched the gift exchange by presenting Brown with a collection of DVDs (which don't work in British players). Considering Brown presented Obama with a pen holder made from the timbers of a Victorian anti-slave ship -- and a first-edition biography of Churchill -- Obama's gift (which included the movie "Psycho") was clearly inappropriate.

More concerning, though, was that Obama denied him the traditional joint press conference in the rose garden, which several British newspapers referred to as a "snub".

The Brits are our closest allies in the world, so we rightly put on the Ritz every time their leaders visit. However, the Obama Administration seems not to grasp the unique nature of the Anglo-American relationship, and they apparently didn't think it would be a bad idea make a fool of the Prime Minister. The DVDs may have been an innocent gaffe, but it was a conscious decision to deny Gordon Brown a press conference that he had every right to expect. And it was noticed by the British press where the Daily Telegraph's Iain Martin wrote,

"...When it comes to men, munitions and commitment you'll soon find out why it pays to at least treat the Brits with some manners."