In the Obama world of foreign relations, sleeping with the enemy means screwing your friends

PAJAMAS MEDIA does a great job of putting Obama’s belligerent behavior toward its allies into perspective.

Richard Fernandez @PAJAMAS MEDIA

(Notice the difference in the body language in photos of Obama when he is with Israeli leader Netanyahu vs when he is with Palestinian leader Abbas)


Robert Kagan says that whether Israel deserved a tongue-lashing from Barack Obama or not, it can console itself by observing  that it is in good company on the outs. Britain, France, India, Poland, the Czech Republic and Japan are all huddled under the bus along with it. That’s not to mention the occasionally abandoned, like the Iranian dissidents or the Dalai Lama, who had to come through the door where they take out the trash to talk to the press. Israel is where all the other allies have been at one time or the other. What’s instructive, Kagan says, is who’s remained inside the bus and not crushed under the wheels.


Who has attracted attention in the Obama administration? The answer, so far, seems to be not America’s allies but its competitors, and in some cases its adversaries. If there were a way to measure administration exertion in foreign policy, the meter would show the greatest concentration of energy, beyond the war in Afghanistan, has been devoted to four endeavors: the failed first-year attempt to improve relations with Iran; the ongoing attempt to improve relations with Russia; the stalled effort to improve cooperation with China; and the effort — fruitless so far — to prove to the Arab states that the United States is willing to pressure Israel to further the peace process. Add to these the efforts to improve relations with Syria, engage Burma and everything with Af-Pak, and not much has been left for the concerns of our allies.


Maureen Dowd (Who recently praised Saudi Arabia\’s women\’s right record while bashing Israel) doesn’t see any pattern to the President’s actions. She believes that the President’s pique at Israel was spontaneous because of the “supremely aggravating character of Bibi Netanyahu”, but Kagan suggests the President has a tendency to take alliances for granted while attempting to mollify enemies. This makes sense from a certain point of view. He’s a wooer, not a keeper. His whole life has been focused on getting to the next rung, the next office. Once that rung is attained, why it’s meant to be stepped on to get to the one above. And why not? Since your friends are already your friends you don’t need to be nice to them. On the other hand you have to convince your enemies to like you because they don’t like you yet. And a smart man should unsentimentally work on them.


The problem is that over the long haul international relations are about the keeping, not the wooing. Building a really stable international framework, as opposed to getting a photo op, means creating a foundation based on shared values. Sometimes the bad guys like being bad guys. After all is said and done, Venezuela will import 30,000 Cuban advisers whether Obama has been nice to Chavez or not. Although it’s politically incorrect to say it, one reason why America has enemies is because there are some countries out there that are not worth making friends with.


Robert Kagan wrote that “this administration pays lip-service to ‘multilateralism,’ but it is a multilateralism of accommodating autocratic rivals, not of solidifying relations with longtime democratic allies.” I think Kagan is wrong. The administration sometimes acts like it is the center of the universe. Real multilaterism is possible only when an administration is able to see itself as part of a community; a leader perhaps, but not separate from a group of nations which shares certain common interests and beliefs. President Obama’s foreign policy is strikingly unilateral in the sense of the kind of man who flies on a whim to “see the total eclipse of the sun” because it really revolves around him. (Indeed!) Read more: Unilateralism

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