That surprising assessment does not come from the National Review or the Washington Examiner, both of whom would almost certainly agree, but from the New York Times. While Peter Baker attempts to put some gloss on Barack Obama’s ability to make the US more popular simply by not being George W. Bush, he has to admit that it has translated into few if any benefits for the US. Instead, the distinct impression left by other nations is that they’re relieved to have an American President willing to accept the role of doormat:
But eight months after his inauguration, all that good will so far has translated into limited tangible policy benefits for Mr. Obama. As much as they may prefer to deal with Mr. Obama instead of his predecessor, George W. Bush, foreign leaders have not gone out of their way to give him what he has sought.
European allies still refuse to send significantly more troops to Afghanistan. The Saudis blew off Mr. Obama’s request for concessions to Israel, while Israel rebuffed his demand to stop settlement expansion. North Korea defied him by testing a nuclear weapon. Japan just elected a party less friendly to the United States. Cuba has done little to liberalize in response to modest relaxation of sanctions. India and China are resisting a climate change deal. And Russia rejected new sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program even as Mr. Obama heads into talks with Tehran.
For an administration whose officials regularly boast of having what they call ‘the best brand in the world,’ there is growing “frustration with what other countries are prepared to contribute to advancing supposedly common interests,” said Stephen Sestanovich, a former Clinton administration ambassador with ties to the current team. Personal relations are important, he said, but national interests still dominate. “That’s what American presidents generally discover.”
The White House wants to push back against this image by claiming that its Russian diplomacy has won important concessions on nuclear-arms reductions. Important to whom? The Russians can hardly afford to properly maintain its arsenal now, and certainly can’t afford a new nuclear arms race. Vladimir Putin saw firsthand what happens when an American President bets our economy against Russia’s.
Furthermore, all of that Russian diplomacy has failed to lessen the threat of Russian expansionism in the Caucasus and eastern Europe. Has Russia withdrawn from Georgia’s disputed provinces? They have not, despite their promises to do so. Obama’s sudden reversal with Poland and the Czech Republic have done nothing to make our allies in eastern Europe feel secure in our alliance. Nor did Obama get a single concession from Moscow on Iran for all of the concessions the US has given to Putin and Dmitry Medvedev.
The new “smart power” looks a lot like the old appeasement, and the entire world – including the New York Times – has realized it.
Update: I forgot the link to the story; it’s now up.