The British finally know the true Obama.
Via The Telegraph:
We all pay attention when Barack Obama criticises David Cameron. Such things rarely happen. Although Anglo-American relations are quite often fraught, the conventions of the alliance are strong. Disagreements are private, or expressed publicly only in oblique language. This week, however, the President said that Mr Cameron had been “distracted by a range of other things” after bombing Libya. Britain and France, he suggested, had left Libya a “mess” – or something more unprintable, which was, nevertheless, printed.
If the public wondered how serious this attack was, doubt was quickly dispelled when the administration rushed to correct their boss’ outburst. The BBC could not stop reporting that the follow-up email they had received from the White House expressing sudden presidential joy in the Special Relationship had been completely unsolicited.
Great was the rage in 10 Downing Street that provoked this grovel from Washington. Here was Mr Cameron trying to show British voters in our forthcoming EU referendum that his leadership bestrides Europe and America and that his foot in one camp secures his foot in the other. And here was the President of the United States saying that the Europeans in general (“free riders”), and his closest European ally in particular (Mr Cameron), were useless.
As I say, we noticed. What we did not attend to, however, was the context. The anti-Cameron bit forms only a fraction of a long interview profile of Mr Obama in The Atlantic magazine. In it, Mr Obama discusses what you might call his pre-legacy. Although still in office, he is already preparing his place in history. He is drawing the preliminary sketches for the colossal, craggy rendering which, he must hope, will eventually be carved (along with Washington, Jefferson etc) on Mount Rushmore.
Mr Obama is talking about his world leadership, and a very odd sort of talk it is. He keeps emphasising how he has chosen not to lead. In 2012, he declared that President Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Syria would be “a red line” for the United States. Assad duly crossed that line, killing hundreds, but then Obama decided to back away from his own threat. “I am very proud of this moment,” he tells his surprised interviewer – proud because he broke with what he calls the foreign-policy establishment “playbook”. None of us much likes foreign-policy establishments, but if their playbook says it is a bad idea to threaten a tyrant with punishment and then not carry out that threat, it might just be right.
Since then, America has no longer been believed and Assad has been empowered. President Obama, in the Arab spring, compared Middle East demonstrators protesting against Arab dictators with the “patriots of Boston” He called for Assad to “step aside”. But when that dictator, assailed by such people, showed he really meant business, Mr Obama decided to let him off. The United States passed influence on the future of Syria to Vladimir Putin, who doesn’t much mind bombing anyone.
After the Islamist outrages in Paris last autumn, the President upset opinion at home by not talking about them, since he was busy “pivoting to Asia”. “Why can’t we get the bastards?” an exasperated CNN reporter asked him. He didn’t get much of an answer from the President who worries more about xenophobia than terrorism. The later, considered Obama reply to this question seems to be that one must not encourage “tribalism”, which he regards as the root of all evil. Thus he presents a golden political opportunity to the new big white chief of American tribalism, Donald Trump.
As the coasting President looks back, he finds something wrong with all of America’s friends. Mr Cameron gets off relatively lightly (though he is also criticised for speaking out against “radical Islam”). The then President Sarkozy of France is attacked for enjoying photo-opportunities, Israel for intransigence, Saudi Arabia for repression, Turkey for not being his designated bridge between East and West. Poor, loyal King Abdullah of Jordan complains: “I think I believe in American power more than Obama does”. It is not the Blessed Barack who has failed, but everyone else who has disappointed his high ideals.