Published November 20, 2012
What happens when you elect a community organizer with no executive experience to the most powerful political office in the world?
The experiment has been playing out for four years and will play out for four more, with disastrous results for the prestige of the presidency. Obama has quietly amassed a list of foreign policy gaffes so long it would make Joe Biden blush.
Take for instance his recent trip to Burma. For fifty years, Burma has been ruled by a military junta that renamed the country “Myanmar.” In 2010, the junta held the country’s first elections, widely denounced as fraudulent by the international community. Most senior offices, including the presidency, were “won” by generals.
Standing next to the Burmese president, Obama referred to his host country as “Myanmar,” an ostensibly innocuous slip of the tongue that in reality comforted a military government that has been slow on human rights reform and alarmed the democratic opposition.
Obama's Deputy National Security Advisor scrambled to assure the Associated Press that “the U.S. government position is still Burma.”
Burmese democrats weren’t comforted when they had their chance for face time with the president. Obama repeatedly and unmistakably mispronounced the name of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition leader and human rights icon who spent 15 years under house arrest before her release in 2010.
The trouble with first impressions is that you only get one. On the first presidential trip to Burma in history, Obama looked unprepared and unprofessional.
His first term has been marred with many similar missteps:
In Latin America, personal and economic freedom is under assault by a violent anti-American gang of Bolivarians led by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. At President Obama's meeting with the heads of South American countries in 2009, Chavez gifted Obama a book assailing the United States for, as the title read, “the Pillage of a Continent.”
Obama politely posed for a photograph with Chavez, shook his hand, and accepted the gift.
Obama’s act of legitimizing a dictator aside, it’s tradition for heads of state to exchange gifts upon their first meeting. When President Obama met then-British PM Gordon Brown for the first time in March 2009, Mr. Brown greeted him with a pen holder made with wood from the Victorian anti-slave ship HMS Gannet, the sister ship of the HMS Resolute, the ship from which the Oval Office desk was carved.
Obama returned the favor with - drum roll please - a 25 DVD set of American movies. But none of Obama’s savvy diplomats realized that American DVDs don’t work on British DVD players.
A month later, Obama’s chance for redemption came when he met Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and was greeted with a silver-framed signed photograph of the Queen with the Duke of Edinburgh. Apparently, he didn’t learn from his mistake. He gave the Queen an iPod.
In February 2010, Obama hosted the Dalai Lama at the White House. Following the meeting, the President’s men ushered His Holiness out a back door – right past a large pile of White House garbage that had been accumulating for days.
In October 2011, leaked diplomatic cables revealed that the Japanese government nixed the idea of Obama visiting Hiroshima, site of one of the nuclear bomb attacks that ended the Second World War, and apologizing for the action. Vice Foreign Minister Mitoji Yabunaka reported to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the Japanese government felt “the idea of President Obama visiting Hiroshima to apologize for the atomic bombing during World War II is a ‘non-starter.’”
Such diplomatic faux pas by George W. Bush would no doubt have sparked peals of outrage and ridicule back home.
There’s little doubt that the Obama foreign policy has been immensely successful for those who covet the opinions of the cultural elite in Western Europe.
But in the eyes of those who matter, the millions of people around the world struggling to break the chains of totalitarianism and establish fledgling democracies, the prestige of the presidency has been stuck in a downward spiral.
Many on the left think that the characterization of the United States as a shining city on a hill, as a beacon for freedom and democracy, is quaint and outdated. It isn’t. But it in order to succeed, it must be personified in a strong president.
Obama showed that he just wasn’t up to the job during the first four years. Judging by his trip to Burma, he still isn’t.