For such proud proponents of smart diplomacy, President Obama and his administration sure make a habit of antagonizing foreign nations and/or their leaders through needless and often petty insults.
In President Obama’s recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, the President labeled the European and Gulf nations “free riders” when it came to providing troops for UN or NATO interventions, and blamed the prime minister of the United Kingdom and the former president of France for the “mess” that is Libya, post-Qaddafi. He also criticized Saudi Arabia for its funding of radical Islam throughout the world — though I suspect he did not use the term “radical Islam” — specifically citing its misogyny towards women and its poor human record.
President Obama is, in my view, correct in some of these criticisms (especially when it comes the Saudis). However, I do question his willingness to make them public.
A U.S. president should always think carefully before he (or she) criticizes another world leader or foreign nation. A president has enormous power and respect throughout the world. His public criticisms should be made only when he wishes to put public pressure on his target and achieve some goal. He should avoid antagonizing others in a personal manner. He should shun petty and juvenile insults, which lower the prestige of the president and his office. Most importantly, he should always keep in mind that his criticisms could actually provoke these nations into taking actions in opposition to the interests of the U.S.
If President Obama is now going, hat in hand, to the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia to do “damage control”, that leads me to believe that the president was not careful enough with his words during his interview with Goldberg. This is not smart diplomacy.
Actually, it is an example of foolish diplomacy by insult. Here is another example — during a press conference, Obama said of Russian President Putin, “he’s got that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom.” He also claimed that part of Putin’s “shtick” is to try to look like a “tough guy.” These childish insults, the New York Times reported, did indeed antagonize Putin. Following this name-calling, and possibly in response to it, Putin persisted with his “tough guy” routine, by seizing the Crimea from the Ukraine and intervening in the Syrian civil war. None of these Russian actions were positive from the perspective of the U.S. In Syria, the Russians have solidified the brutal Assad regime by devastating the non-ISIS Syrian rebels, some of whom have been funded by the U.S.
Was there any legitimate purpose to these Presidential digs on Putin? If so, what was it?
Unfortunately, President Obama is not the only figure in his administration to employ such foolish diplomacy. In 2014 – once again, in the pages of the Atlantic – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was derided as “chicken shit”, “aspbergery”, and “a coward” by unnamed administration officials regarding the issues of Iran’s nuclear threat and the Middle East peace process. Considering that the U.S. was then in discussions with the Iranian regime on the way to produce its appeasement/nuclear deal, and that the administration has long sought to preside over an Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” to create yet another Palestinian state in the region, these insults strike me as extremely counterproductive. Further, one would expect that the administration might be concerned that insulting the Israeli PM with such personal and juvenile terms might also negatively impact the administration’s relationship with Israel on other, less controversial, policies that it wants to implement.
Smart diplomacy argues the opposite approach – the more U.S. actions and policies that are going to be opposed by the Netanyahu government, the more the Obama Administration should praise Netanyahu. As they say, “you can catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” But, nonetheless, the administration publicized these juvenile insults, seemingly just to antagonize the prime minister.
Of course, no list of foolish diplomacy would be complete without a statement from Secretary of State John Kerry. In 2014, Kerry stated that if there’s no two (actually three)-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict soon, Israel risks becoming “an apartheid state.” Technically, this meeting was closed door, i.e., not open to the public. However, considering that it was told to a “meeting of the Trilateral Commission of private sector leaders from North America, Europe and Asia,” it is hard to believe that Kerry didn’t realize (or should have realized) that the slight would get out. Since Israel obviously does not follow apartheid policies, and would be unlikely to do so in the future, both of which are facts that Kerry should recognize, this is a gratuitous and grave insult to the Jewish state, its government, and its citizens.
Once again, smart diplomacy would counsel that the secretary not insult Israel and the Israelis, but instead praise them.
After seven long years in office, President Obama and his administration have left the Middle East in chaos with their policies. Some critics have argued that they have done so by evil design. I find this hard to believe. Their foolish diplomacy suggests otherwise.
Originally published at American Thinker.
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