Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How to Alienate Friends and Lose Influence

For all the wailings and lamentations about Bush's "cowboy diplomacy," for all the poses and promises that this administration would "be ready to rule on day one" and be the "bestest administration evar," President Obama and company are not off to a very good start on the foreign relations front.

[I'll let Nate handle the commentary on the home front.]

First, we manage to lose the use of bases in Kazakstan in support of our operations in Afghanistan. Not by choice. No, it happened because we didn't do anything.

Then we promise to give up on missle defence - and get in exchange nothing.

Now, we have the two gaffes over the weekend. We have the juvenile stunt by our new Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her staffers. She presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a large red button, meant to show the Obama administration's desire to "reset" relations with Russia. Only the button was not labelled "reset," rather, it was labelled "overcharge." Leaving aside the question the appropriateness of this sophomoric stunt (Does that big red button remind you of anything? Oh, Armageddon you say?) or the policy moves it portends ("Hey Russia, let's just pretend that Georgian thing never happened") - I am left with this question: Wouldn't you think that someone, somewhere in the State Department would know how to read and write Russian? Is that too much to ask?

But, sadly, that wasn't the worst of the damage. Now, the Obama Administration is doing its best to screw up relations with the United Kingdom.

First, it was the Churchill bust. In the days after September 11, 2001, the British Government under Tony Blair loaned President Bush and the White House a bronze bust of Winston Churchill, as a symbol of the "special relationship" between the United States and Britain. The bust was returned to Britain upon Obama's assumption of office.

Then UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown arrived for his first state visit with President Obama, bringing with him some gifts for the new president: a pen holder carved from timbers from the HMS Gannet (sister ship to the HMS Resolute, and both ships with significance to US-UK relations) and a first-edition seven-volume set of Sir Martin Gilbert’s authorized biography of Winston Churchill. (There's a message in that for Obama - I don't think the Brits took the rejection of the Churchill bust lightly.)

In return, Prime Minister Brown received an insulting break with protocol and a gift set of DVDs. Probably from Best Buy.

And received this send-off:
The real views of many in Obama administration were laid bare by a State Department official involved in planning the Brown visit, who reacted with fury when questioned by The Sunday Telegraph about why the event was so low-key.

The official dismissed any notion of the special relationship, saying: "There's nothing special about Britain. You're just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn't expect special treatment."
As you can probably imagine, the British press is in an uproar. And they deserve to be.

Is President Obama and his administration really this stupid? Or are they too busy "ruling" to govern? I don't know - but there's plenty of speculation. (Don't follow that link if language offends you.)

President Obama's only been in office seven weeks, and I'm already hoping for change.