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March 16, 2009

Please, President Obama, Stop ‘Repairing’ Our Relations with the World


For years we’ve been instructed that the Texas cowboy, an incompetent ignoramus, had destroyed America’s image abroad. Then the oceans rose and the Savior came, two years removed from the Illinois state senate, and promised to “repair” America’s relations with the world.


He won. He’s begun his restoration work. And for our country’s sake, he’d better stop now.


Putting aside the Daily Kos-spawned quasi-conspiratorial ramblings in the congressional halls and editorial conference rooms of the mid-2000s, President Bush performed quite well on the international stage. Spreading democracy, significantly expanding free trade, granting hope to Africa and fostering loyal alliances in Eastern Europe were hardly steps that harmed America’s image abroad.


Those countries once held out as quintessential illustrations of devastated relationships, namely France and Germany, not to mention our continental neighbors, have since elected right-of-center heads of state whose admiration of the United States can scarcely be overstated.


In other words, our image surely ain’t broken. Yet the “Citizen of the World” can’t help but try to fix it.


Barack Obama’s idea of relationship-building was clear when he opposed NAFTA (in Ohio, yet curiously not in Texas) to the dismay of Canada and Mexico; opposed CAFTA, which opened up trade with several Central American nations; and importantly, opposed a free trade agreement with Colombia, our best friend in South America and a neighbor of Hugo Chavez.


Then Obama signed into a law the economically harmful and protectionist “Buy American” clause, for which Obama has already been blasted by Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union and several of the latter’s member states, some of which have felt compelled to reciprocate. Yes, an international trade war – launched by your favorite Citizen of the World.


Britain has also been a lucky recipient of Obama’s restorative diplomacy, beginning with Obama’s expulsion from the Oval Office of a precious bust of Winston Churchill that Bush treasured and the British offered to loan to Obama as well. Then came Gordon Brown’s visit to Washington, which oddly failed to include a formal dinner, and at the last minute saw the cancellation of a customary joint press conference “because of snow,” to the understandable shock of the British.


The gift exchange was no more encouraging. Brown lavished Obama with a pen holder carved out of wood from an old warship that helped fight slavery, and a sister ship of the HMS Resolute, oak from which was used to make a desk in the Oval Office. Brown also gave Obama a framed commission for the HMS Resolute and a first edition of a Churchill biography.


Obama responded with a set of 25 DVDs. The Hollywood movies reportedly included Gone with the Wind, with its appropriately famous one-liner: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”


Following the uproar in Britain, word came that Obama and his staff had been “overwhelmed,” and had little time for international niceties. Yet wasn’t it Obama who complained to John McCain that a president needs to be able to do more than one thing at a time? Besides, we cannot blame it all on incompetence – Obama’s campaign rallies, election night party, and inauguration demonstrate that every time an event is about Obama himself, he seems to get it perfectly right.


Interestingly, an administration official told The Sunday Telegraph, “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.” Indeed, there doesn’t seem to be any previous occasion where the British Prime Minister was received a worse manner. Restore away!


The Brazilian media also saw a snub from the White House when a visit by the Brazilian president was moved because of . . . St. Patrick’s Day. To add insult to injury, the White House misspelled the Brazilian president’s name in the official announcement.


Another spelling fiasco came with Obama’s idea of giving a “reset” button – literally, a big red button – as a gift to the Russians, supposedly symbolizing a born-again relationship. Only instead of “reset,” the Russian translation on the button read “overcharged.”


Is Obama’s foreign relations structure in disarray? Possibly. India has already seen a series of snubs from Obama. Europeans were unpleasantly surprised to hear Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, unprovoked, proclaim that U.S. democracy has existed “a lot longer” than European democracy, after explaining that she “never understood multiparty democracy.” This is before she referred to two European officials by incorrect names.


The British are grumbling that Obama’s administration isn’t answering phone calls relating to the upcoming G20 summit. “You cannot believe how difficult it is,” one explained.


Had Bush mistreated America’s most loyal ally, rescheduled a presidential guest visit due to a foreseeable holiday, or offended the Europeans on their own turf, his actions would have been scrutinized as irrefutable evidence of his intrinsic ineptitude on the international stage. Yet when Obama, due to a toxic mix of arrogance and inexperience, so damages our reputation in only two months in office, he is “repairing” America’s image abroad.


Please stop the restoration, Mr. President. We are far better off sticking with the old.


© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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