American diplomacy is in disarray, and if you don’t believe me, here’s a commentary by CNN — left-leaning CNN, not right-wing Fox News — about President Obama’s recent, occasionally embarrassing trip to Asia: “Two rather undiplomatic incidents marred President Obama’s (Asia) trip. They come atop a year in which Turkish, Saudi and Israeli officials have been similarly discourteous while engaging their American counterparts.”
We haven’t seen such international disdain for the United States since the days of Jimmy Carter, a weak one-term president. Here’s how CNN described Obama’s China incident: “When Obama arrived in China . . . the absence of red-carpeted stairs for Air Force One and open quarreling on the tarmac between Chinese and U.S. officials over press access drew unwanted attention . . .” Did it ever! And then Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte “used foul language in an exchange with a reporter while talking about Obama.” All of this occurred while China, Russia, Iran and North Korea tested the limits of American resolve.
And what was our president’s response to these international insults? He turned the other cheek, telling reporters not to “over-crank the significance” of these demeaning incidents. Well, that’s a typical response from “No Drama” Obama, who always downplays any international unpleasantness. In his make-believe world, everyone loves us, and him.
The truth is everything isn’t fine and our next president must take steps to restore American credibility in the world. Obama and his foreign affairs team — including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — have drawn meaningless red lines, pushed inoperative reset buttons and mishandled relations with other countries from Asia to the volatile Middle East.
Prof. Alan K. Henderson of the prestigious Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy said “such putdowns are a way of expressing dissatisfaction and sending a diplomatic message by other means.” Respected nationally syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer put it another way: “China’s ostentatious rudeness was perfectly reflective of the world’s general disdain for President Obama.” Ouch!
So what were the messages President Obama received in China and the Philippines? Clearly, those governments showed our president and the American people they don’t respect the United States and don’t fear our mild, milktoast-like threats of retaliation. During my 28-year diplomatic career I learned it’s preferable if our adversaries fear us and worry that our president just might retaliate with American military power, something we learned from President Ronald Reagan.
By contrast, President Obama has engaged in what some of his critics have called “international apology tours.” This kind of groveling might please pacifist Nobel Peace Prize voters, but doesn’t establish the U.S. as an international leader, a country to be feared at times, and always respected. Everyone, even Miss America contestants, is for world peace but when push comes to shove, a bit of saber-rattling is appropriate.
While embarrassing incidents were occurring in China and the Philippines, Russia was testing us by intercepting U.S. warplanes in Europe and the Middle East, and China continued to build artificial islands and claim vast territorial waters in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, it appears we paid a $1.7 billion cash and gold ransom to Iran for the release of American hostages. And make no mistake about it, Iran will use that ransom payoff to finance terrorism in the Middle East and beyond. And then there was that long-range North Korean missile test.
So that’s what’s happening in the world while Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump continue to trade lies and exchange insults on the campaign trail. Sorry this column is such a “downer,” but I calls ‘em the way I sees ‘em. The end.
Guy W. Farmer, a retired diplomat, is the Appeal’s senior political columnist.