Rubin: the president can do that pesky foreign policy stuff after the campaign
posted at 4:36 pm on September 24, 2012 by Libby Sternberg
In a fascinating five-minute interview today conducted by Thomas Roberts on usually liberal MSNBC, former Clinton Administration State Department Spokesman Jamie Rubin tried to defend President Obama’s decision not to meet with foreign leaders in New York this week. But it was painful to watch him struggle not to be too critical of the White House.
Roberts introduced the segment by noting that when President Obama goes to New York this week to address the United Nations, he hasn’t scheduled any meetings with foreign leaders. Roberts also pointed out that other presidents did meet with foreign leaders even during election seasons and the president has found time to schedule a visit to the daytime talk show The View.
“Do you think politically that’s a mistake?” Roberts then asked Rubin.
What followed reminded me of a tap dance where Rubin struggled mightily to say something to put the president’s action—or lack of it—in a favorable light:
RUBIN: Well, the president has put forward a pretty compelling case for his stewardship on foreign policy and I think he’s going to run on that. In terms of foreign policy decision-making, there are many ways in which leaders in the modern era can talk to each other. I think that one-on-one meetings are often the best, but there are other ways. He clearly set his priorities. Governor Romney has used that as a way to attack him, and he’s suffering that critique. Frankly, I don’t think the number of meetings you have at the UN is going to be a decisive factor. The voters will make, you know, decisions based on an overall record, not this kind of, you know, one-upsmanship.
Roberts, to his credit, was undaunted. He mentioned the various crises in the Middle East, and again brought up the president’s planned visit to the TV show The View.
ROBERTS: If the president doesn’t take these one-on-one meetings but then will make time to do basically a campaign stop for this pretaped interview on their sofa, doesn’t that set him up for these vulnerable jabs from the right?
As an aside, one would think it would make the president vulnerable to jabs from curious journalists, but we live in the age of incurious reporters when it comes to actions by a liberal president.
Rubin had to know he would lose all credibility as an analyst if he didn’t state the obvious—that the country’s foreign policy might benefit from these meetings:
RUBIN: You know I come from the foreign policy community. I’ve been in sessions where the president’s schedule is being decided. And guys like me would make the case that this is a unique opportunity to get a lot of business done, whether it’s (Egypt’s President) Morsi, whether it’s shoring up the coalition on Iran, Israel, whoever. And we would make that argument. So, you know, as a foreign policy professional, I certainly would prefer to see the president having more meetings, rather than less, no matter who the president is because I think that America’s president has a strong influence on the world’s events, and the more he’s getting that message across both publicly and privately, the better off we are. But they obviously made a different judgment.
Then followed a question from Roberts suggesting that perhaps the president’s strategy is to “do no harm” during this campaign season, the implication being that the president is, at least in part, avoiding harming his campaign.
RUBIN: I think you’ve probably hit the nail on the head that the overall approach in these months before the election is do no harm, is get through this period of time and then, you know, there’s time in a second term to do the business of the United States. But again as a foreign policy professional, I’d prefer the campaign didn’t interfere. Obviously it has.
And with that, Mr. Rubin was out of his misery; the interview was over.
Watch for yourself (beware: MSNBC often embeds ads at the outset of clips):