Feckless foreign follies

Obama is neither trusted by allies nor feared by adversaries

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President Barack Obama's national security policies are much more popular than his domestic policies, according to a poll released Monday by Democratic pollsters James Carville and Stanley Greenburg.

Fifty-seven percent of Americans approve Mr. Obama's policies on national security; 54 percent approve his policies on fighting terrorism and 52 percent approve his conduct of foreign policy, the Democracy Corps said. This compares to an overall approval rating for the president of 47 percent and just 42 percent approval on his handling of the economy.

A datum which must be galling to left-wingers is that the president's most popular policy is his prosecution of the war in Afghanistan, of which 58 percent approve.

But the president's higher marks on foreign and national security policy seem to be mostly because Americans haven't been paying attention. On the two issues which have received much coverage in the news media, Mr. Obama scores poorly. Only 44 percent of Americans approve of his policies with regard to the interrogation and prosecution of terror suspects and only 42 percent approve of his handling of Iran. Fifty-one percent of Americans think our standing in the world has declined on Mr. Obama's watch.

"This is surprising, given the global acclaim -- and Nobel Peace Prize -- that flowed to the new president after he took office," Mr. Carville and Mr. Greenburg wrote.

It isn't so surprising to those who have been paying attention.

"I recently asked several senior administration officials, separately, to name a foreign leader with whom Barack Obama has forged a strong personal relationship during his first year in office," wrote Jackson Diehl, deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Post, Monday. "A lot of hemming and hawing ensued."

One official named French President Nicolas Sarkozy, but his contempt for Mr. Obama is an open secret. Another named German Chancellor Angela Merkel. But, said Mr. Diehl, "Merkel too has been conspicuously cool toward Obama."

American presidents traditionally have had close relationships to Britain's prime minister. But none of the officials Mr. Diehl talked to named Gordon Brown.

This is understandable, if one knows the extent to which the Obama administration has offended America's foremost ally. The most recent blow to the special relationship came March 1 when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, meeting with unpopular Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, a Hugo Chavez ally, offered to mediate Argentina's specious claim to the Falkland Islands.

The Falklands have been a British possession since 1833. The people who live there, all of whom speak English, want nothing to do with Argentina. When an earlier Argentine regime invaded the Falklands in 1982, the British -- with crucial support from President Ronald Reagan -- threw them out.

"Imagine if Britain told us we should negotiate the status of Puerto Rico with Hugo Chavez," wrote Ralph Peters, a retired military intelligence officer. "This story isn't going to have a happy ending."

Mr. Obama seems to have a special animus toward the British. But, as Commentary's Jennifer Rubin noted, Poland and the Czech Republic (betrayed on missile defense), Honduras and Israel also can attest that he's been an unreliable ally and an unfaithful friend.

When Mr. Obama hasn't been sticking it to our allies, he's been attempting to appease our adversaries. So far without success. The ever chimerical Middle East peace is further away now than it was when George W. Bush was president. Our relations with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have never been worse.

Russia has offered nothing in exchange for Mr. Obama's abandonment of missile defense in Europe. Russia and China won't support serious sanctions on Iran. Syria's support for terrorism has not diminished despite efforts to normalize diplomatic relations. The reclusive military dictatorship that runs Burma has responded to our efforts at "engagement" by deepening its ties to North Korea.

For the first time in a long time, the president of the United States is not trusted by our allies or feared by our adversaries and is respected by neither. But Americans, understandably focused on the dismal economy and Mr. Obama's efforts to nationalize health care, have yet to notice.

Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette and The (Toledo) Blade ( jkelly@post-gazette.com , 412 263-1476).


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