Smart Power I: Sarkozy dismisses Obama as "unsubstantial"

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.