Smart Power I: Sarkozy dismisses Obama as “unsubstantial”

posted at 9:29 am on April 16, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

The Obama administration spun the European Grand Tour as a tour de force for Barack Obama, even though Obama failed to get any combat troops for Afghanistan, failed to gain Russian cooperation on Iran, and left the American economic agenda at Andrews AFB.  The White House claimed that Obama had set the stage for more respect and cooperation from European allies.  However, the Times of London reports that Obama left Nicolas Sarkozy completely unimpressed, and complaining that Obama is “insubstantial”:

Mr Sarkozy is pouring cold water on President Obama’s efforts to recast American leadership on the world stage, depicting them as unoriginal, unsubstantial and overrated. Behind leaks and briefings from the Elysée Palace lies Mr Sarkozy’s irritation at the rock-star welcome that Europe gave Mr Obama on his Europan tour earlier this month.

The American President’s call “to free the world of the menace of a nuclear nightmare” was hot air, Mr Sarkozy’s diplomatic staff told him in a report. “It was rhetoric – not a speech on American security policy but an export model aimed at improving the image of the United States,” they said. Most of Mr Obama’s proposals had already been made by the Bush administration and Washington was dragging its feet on disarmament and treaties against nuclear proliferation, the leaked report said.

Sarkozy has taken aim at two specific claims that Obama’s team made of his diplomatic prowess.  During the trip, Obama took credit for settling a dispute between China and the EU on tax havens, and for brokering the acceptance by Turkey of Anders Fogh Rasmussen as NATO Secretary-General.  Sarkozy now disputes both accounts, and says Obama had to be “shamed” into acting at all:

According to the leaks, Mr Sarkozy shamed Mr Obama into intervening: “You were elected to build a new world. Tax havens are the embodiment of the old world,” he is quoted as saying. He also reprimanded Mr Obama for setting US goals for climate change that were inferior to Europe’s, according to his staff.

Again, according to the Sarkozy version, at the Nato summit in Strasbourg, Mr Obama was meekly yielding to Turkey’s refusal to endorse Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the alliance’s new Secretary-General. It took pressure from Mr Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel of Germany to stiffen him up and change his mind, say the French.

Was Obama really going to back down from Turkey’s challenge to Rasmussen?  That would explain the little non-apology pas de deux that Rasmussen clumsily executed over the publication of the Prophet Cartoons in Denmark.  Without a strong show of American leadership, Rasmussen had to act to rescue the appointment.

That’s nothing short of embarrassing.  It’s neither smart nor power.  I can understand the impulse to avoid arrogance, but an American President has to show leadership on the world stage.  He shouldn’t have to get forced into it by France and Germany.

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That’s french for lightweight.

scrubjay on April 16, 2009 at 12:06 PM

It was rhetoric – not a speech on American security policy but an export model aimed at improving the image of the United States

Obama’s words are rhetoric designed to burnish a public image? No way! How could anyone say such a thing! That would mean … his motive for speaking is not the best interests of the U.S., but instead for the sake of appearance … that he’s basically an empty suit. That’s a very serious charge. You’re attacking the very integrity of the man. Racists.

Paul-Cincy on April 16, 2009 at 12:07 PM

It took pressure from Mr Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel of Germany to stiffen him up and change his mind, say the French.

Myself and the other 47% of Americans that didn’t vote for Obambi knew he was all celebrity and no substance, but when the US has a president that needed the leader of France to help your president to find his spine you know you’re nation is in deep shiite!

I just wish only the 53% of the morons that voted for THE ONE will have to suffer the consequences of the empty suit coming home to roost, but alas ALL OF AMERICA WILL SUFFER because of the stupidity of 53%!

Damn…shown up by the French in the backbone department…now that is truly pathetic!

Liberty or Death on April 16, 2009 at 12:12 PM

but an American President has to show leadership on the world stage.

Obama doesn’t do ‘leadership’. He’s a community organizer. Maybe he can teach Sarkozy how to paint protest signs and canvas a neighbor hood.

AUINSC on April 16, 2009 at 12:25 PM

Now now people, there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for this. I’m sure Obama was just trying to eat his belgian waffles while that meanie Sarkozy was pressing him to make a decision on the tax havens. Sarkozy was simply unaware of the “let the man finish his waffles” precedent.

The problem with the Turkish objection to Rasmussen came from Obama not being able to find the “Present” button at his seat. Turns out it was there but some State Dept lacky accidently put “npecet” so Obama was simply caught in an understandable state of befuddlement and couldn’t even uhhhhh his way out of it.

Wait, what’s this? Voting present and refusing to answer questions are signs of unsubstantiality? Huh, who would have thought how someone acted in the past is a pretty good guide to how they will act in the future.

jarodea on April 16, 2009 at 12:30 PM

Apparently, Sarkozy was able to detect this in the few short meetings he’s had with The Messiah. Why didn’t the US during months of campaigning?

n0doz on April 16, 2009 at 9:44 AM

Yep, most people with a functioning synapse saw Obambi for what he is, all celebrity and no substance, an empty suit! Unfortunately in America we had 53% of the voting population that are weak minded lemmings and/or just morons if they couldn’t see him for what he is.

In this situation Obambi was meeting with allies (low pressure) and yet THE FRENCH had to prop him up and help him find his stones, now just imagine how THE ONE will do when when he meets with our enemies! Not only will our enemies kick him in the nuts, they’ll eat his waffles and get him to apoligize for it on behalf of himself and America!

We are are in deep poop people, he’s weaker then the French and that ain’t good!

Liberty or Death on April 16, 2009 at 12:35 PM

I hate to interrupt the good clean Obama bashing, but I find it viscerally distasteful to disparage the US President based on the crap that comes out the mouth of EU leaders such as Sarkozy and Merkel, both compromised by their energy dependence on Russia. In fact, Obama’s moves may serve to haul Europe’s butt out of the fire. There is more to the story.

“The political aspect of this should not be underestimated. George W. Bush had extremely bad relations with the Europeans (in large part because he was prepared to confront them). This was Obama’s first major international foray, and he could not let it end in acrimony or wind up being seen as unable to move the Europeans after running a campaign based on his ability to manage the Western coalition. It was important that he come home having reached consensus with the Europeans. Backing off on key economic and military demands gave him that “consensus.”

But it was not simply a matter of domestic politics. It is becoming clear that Obama is playing a deeper game. A couple of weeks before the meetings, when it had become obvious that the Europeans were not going to bend on the issues that concerned the United States, Obama scheduled a trip to Turkey.

When Obama looks at the chessboard, the key emerging challenge remains Russia.

The Germans are not going to be joining the United States in blocking Russia. Between dependence on Russia for energy supplies and little appetite for confronting a Russia that Berlin sees as no real immediate threat to Germany, the Germans are not going to address the Russian question. At the same time, the United States does not want to push the Germans toward Russia, particularly in confrontations ultimately of secondary importance and on which Germany has no give anyway. Obama is aware that the German left is viscerally anti-American, while Merkel is only pragmatically anti-American — a small distinction, but significant enough for Washington not to press Berlin.

there is talk of an alternative natural gas pipeline network from Azerbaijan to Europe.

Turkey is the key to all of this. If Ankara collaborates with Russia, Georgia’s position is precarious and Azerbaijan’s route to Europe is blocked. If it cooperates with the United States and also manages to reach a stable treaty with Armenia under U.S. auspices, the Russian position in the Caucasus is weakened and an alternative route for natural gas to Europe opens up, decreasing Russian leverage against Europe.

From the American point of view, Europe is a lost cause since internally it cannot find a common position and its heavyweights are bound by their relationship with Russia. It cannot agree on economic policy, nor do its economic interests coincide with those of the United States, at least insofar as Germany is concerned. As far as Russia is concerned, Germany and Europe are locked in by their dependence on Russian natural gas. The U.S.-European relationship thus is torn apart not by personalities, but by fundamental economic and military realities. No amount of talking will solve that problem.

The key to sustaining the U.S.-German alliance is reducing Germany’s dependence on Russian natural gas and putting Russia on the defensive rather than the offensive. The key to that now is Turkey, since it is one of the only routes energy from new sources can cross to get to Europe from the Middle East, Central Asia
or the Caucasus.
If Turkey — which has deep influence in the Caucasus, Central Asia, Ukraine, the Middle East and the Balkans — is prepared to ally with the United States, Russia is on the defensive and a long-term solution to Germany’s energy problem can be found. On the other hand, if Turkey decides to take a defensive position and moves to cooperate with Russia instead, Russia retains the initiative and Germany is locked into Russian-controlled energy for a generation.

Therefore, having sat through fruitless meetings with the Europeans, Obama chose not to cause a pointless confrontation with a Europe that is out of options. Instead, Obama completed his trip by going to Turkey to discuss what the treaty with Armenia means and to try to convince the Turks to play for high stakes by challenging Russia in the Caucasus, rather than playing Russia’s junior partner.

the most important message to the Europeans will be that Europe is where you go for photo opportunities, but Turkey is where you go to do the business of geopolitics. Obama gave the Europeans a pass for political reasons, and because arguing with the Europeans simply won’t yield benefits. But the key to the trip is what he gets out of Turkey

Political Season on April 16, 2009 at 12:56 PM

“It took pressure from Mr Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel of Germany to stiffen him up and change his mind, say the French.” Awesome. The Brits can deliver a wicked punch.

EyesOpen on April 16, 2009 at 12:56 PM

You mean…they saw through Him?


Actually, I don’t get why Sarkozy is in a tizzy over climate change (or until recently, global warming)? He strikes me as someone who wouldn’t be buying into this stuff and energy restrictions would only hurt France’s economy…that is, I believe he generally sees that France needs more of a free enterprise system rather than the decades of Socialism that have stagnated their nation’s economy.

There again, ‘you can take the boy out of the country, but…’

Dr. ZhivBlago on April 16, 2009 at 12:59 PM

I don’t recall france calling Bush dumb…..So who’s the idiot..

tx2654 on April 16, 2009 at 1:04 PM

Sarkozy is no more conservative than Obama is. He’s shutting down tax havens like Andorra and scapegoating them for the recession.

aengus on April 16, 2009 at 1:13 PM

Instead, Obama completed his trip by going to Turkey to discuss what the treaty with Armenia means and to try to convince the Turks to play for high stakes by challenging Russia in the Caucasus, rather than playing Russia’s junior partner.

I’m not sure how significant improved Turkish-Amernian relations will be. Armenia’s not going to pull out of the CSTO anytime soon.

Russia, Armenia to set up joint air defense network

aengus on April 16, 2009 at 1:20 PM

Not sure I would celebrate this piece too much. Basically Sarkozy is angry because Obama wasn’t aggressive enough in cracking down on tax havens and fighting global war….err…climate change, two things he shouldn’t be going along with anyway.

xblade on April 16, 2009 at 1:28 PM

Monsieur Sarkozy is just jealous because he doesn’t have any lichen of his own.

DarkCurrent on April 16, 2009 at 1:38 PM

“Half the world is going to hell, the other half is going to hell, and the third half is also going to hell.”

What I just wrote makes as much sense as ANYTHING purported to be wise leadership coming out of the Obama Administration.
“We fix our debt by going further into debt.”

“After telling the world to hate the USA for 8 years, President Obama has made the world love us again.”

“The real villain in the financial crisis is the private sector-the Washington Democrats hands are clean.”

At the onset of the first traumatic national crisis, I expect President Obama to start crying like a baby, then go all Jimmy Carter and do the absolute wrong thing. He’s a wuss.

Doug on April 16, 2009 at 1:40 PM

I take it as a good sign that The One’s global climate change approach was less aggressive than Europe’s.

/not that having a climate change approach is a good thing

AZfederalist on April 16, 2009 at 2:26 PM

All that will matter to liberal voters is the media spin that all of a sudden due to Obama’s brilliance we are loved around the world. If they thought peace through strength was arrogant and destructive, at the behest of the media howling, what kind of thinking do you expect now?

AnotherOpinion on April 16, 2009 at 2:28 PM

How do you say empty suit in French?

Terrye on April 16, 2009 at 4:26 PM

Anyone notice the subtle migration away from the term “global warming” to the less committal term “climate change?” Could it be that the global warming cabal realizes that the jig is up, especially since their boy at NASA was caught playing fast and loose with the facts? Of course, the Earth will experience climate change; it’s simply nature at work. But if they can convince the world that we somehow control the climate (laughable though that is), then whatever draconian rules and restrictions are put in place will be swallowed like kool aid. The planet has not warmed at all in the last couple of years, despite a dramatic increase in carbon output, so the only way to spin this is by talking about climate change instead of global warming. People are such maroons!

College Prof on April 16, 2009 at 4:56 PM

I guess the French are ok in conservative eyes when they criticize Obama. Who knew?

cornfedbubba on April 16, 2009 at 9:32 AM

No, Sarkozy is. You guys have this nasty habit of equating a nation’s leader with the entire nation, don’t you?

ddrintn on April 16, 2009 at 5:05 PM

But do they still love us? That’s what I need to know.

pjean on April 16, 2009 at 5:16 PM

Look…when a Frenchy Frenchman calls you “unsubstantial”, you’ve got major problems.

uncivilized on April 16, 2009 at 5:29 PM

Smart Power I: Sarkozy dismisses Obama as “unsubstantial”

So now HuffPo’s response will be that M.O. is like so much hotter than Bruni…

Upstater85 on April 16, 2009 at 5:39 PM

I guess the French are ok in conservative eyes when they criticize Obama. Who knew?

cornfedbubba on April 16, 2009 at 9:32 AM

One way to look at it.

Doesnt take away from the fact that for all of Obama’s America bashing, he can’t even get the respect of the French.

Chuck Schick on April 16, 2009 at 8:17 PM

Meaningless slogans, memorized soundbites, and teleprompted texts may be enough to win election in an America devalued by thirty-plus years of leftist/union control of public “education, but in a real summit the utter lack of substance behind the PR image must show through.
We can only hope those stupid enough to vote for Obama will not bear offspring.

Adjoran on April 16, 2009 at 11:39 PM

I always thought that Sarkozy was astute. His comments regarding Obama proves his astuteness.

As a foreign national, I certainly have a low opinion of your President. He is totally hopeless. I think that he has been very dishonest with the USA citizens too. For me this is not about skin colour. It is about how he knows nothing in too many areas to be considered a man with any substance. This is why I agree with Sarkozy.

Even if Bush really did have bad relations with the European leadership, I do not think it was as bad as the libtards try to claim. The leadership of Russia etc. prefer to deal with someone of substance than a flake.

maggieo on April 16, 2009 at 11:46 PM