The idea that heads of state can become bosom buddies is a bit contrived, yet the ability to develop friendly relationships with foreign counterparts would seem like a job requirement. It’s part of the job in which Barack Obama has displayed little interest.
Back in 2009 when Obama was a global celebrity, other world leaders eagerly jostled for opportunities to be photographed alongside the new political rock star. Obama’s response seems to suggest he didn’t anticipate that his presidency might last far longer than his popularity. Indeed, it even casts some doubt about whether he recognizes the value of making friends.
Gregor Peter Schmitz writes: Obama was scheduled to visit the Church of Our Lady cathedral in Dresden during a June 2009 whistle-stop visit to Germany. Diplomats from the German Foreign Ministry had painstakingly planned every last detail. They were looking forward to the photographs of Chancellor Angela Merkel with the US president in front of cheering crowds.
But the White House bristled. The president didn’t want to do that — that was the word in Washington. He reportedly placed little value on such photo ops, and he had to leave as quickly as possible, to get to an appearance at the Buchenwald concentration camp. The haggling went back and forth for weeks, and in the end the White House gave in, but only a little. Obama raced through Dresden. After their visit inside the church, Merkel had to shake hands with visitors by herself. The president had already disappeared.
On this day, at the latest, it must have dawned on diplomats that this US president was different from his predecessors. He was someone who did not attach value to diplomatic niceties nor to the sensitivities of his close friends, which he already had proven as a presidential candidate. At that time he put Chancellor Merkel in an awkward position by wanting to make a campaign speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate. This site was traditionally set aside for sitting presidents, which Obama also knew.
The Democrat, who prefers to spend his evenings with his family or alone in front of his computer, has made it no secret in Washington that he does not want to make new friends. That maxim especially applies to his foreign diplomacy. Unlike his predecessor George W. Bush, Obama is loved by the people of the world, but much less by their heads of government. On the heels of recent revelations that US spy agencies might have monitored Chancellor Merkel’s cell phone, the complaints about Merkel’s “lost friend” Obama are misplaced. Obama doesn’t want to be a friend.
During a recent visit by a European head of government to Washington, the atmosphere was described as frosty by those in the entourage from Europe. Obama didn’t find the time for even a little small talk, the sources said, and “it seemed to some like an appointment with a lawyer.” [Continue reading…]