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Obama & Our Allies
The Bad Optics of the NATO Snub

The Secretary General of NATO is knocking at the White House door, but nobody seems to be home. Josh Rogin at Bloomberg View reports:

President Barack Obama has yet to meet with the new head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and won’t see Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg this week, even though he is in Washington for three days.  Stoltenberg’s office requested a meeting with Obama well in advance of the visit, but never heard anything from the White House, two sources close to the NATO chief told me.

The optics are absolutely terrible, and in the best possible light constitute a big, unforced error:

Kurt Volker, who served as the U.S. permanent representative to NATO under both President George W. Bush and Obama, said the president broke a long tradition.  “The Bush administration held a firm line that if the NATO secretary general came to town, he would be seen by the president … so as not to diminish his stature or authority,” he told me.[…]

According to White House press releases, Obama didn’t exactly have a packed schedule. On Tuesday, he held important meetings and a press conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the White House (Ghani will meet with Stoltenberg while they are both in town). But the only event on Obama’s public schedule for Wednesday is a short speech to kick off a meeting related to the Affordable Care Act. On Thursday, he will head to Alabama to give a speech about the economy.

Russia is still holding a lot of good cards in Ukraine, and our allies in the Baltics and beyond are petrified; ISIS holds territory in Iraq and Syria as large as the United Kingdom; Iran is advancing on every front even while nuclear negotiations are reaching a head; and NATO is attempting a tricky drawdown from its Afghanistan mission—it is not like the President and the Secretary General would have nothing to talk about.

Furthermore, it is worrying that the Administration did not respond at all. Team Obama is six and a half years into the presidency—they shouldn’t be dropping the ball on something like that. At the most generous, this reads like the misplacing of the invitation to the Charlie Hebdo march in Paris—another unforced diplomatic error.

The good news is that it’s very fixable. The Obama Administration early on made noises about pivoting away from Europe to more pressing matters around the world. It would do well to now make some public gestures to pivot back when it’s clear to everyone that American leadership is still both necessary and desired.

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  • Pete

    The head of NATO should meet with the U.S. president only when summoned.

    It is absurd to think the tail should wag the dog.

    • Josephbleau

      Yes, the US Government should be run by the management handbook of General Motors circa 1960. No cooperation or dignity for subordinates allowed.

    • MartyH

      You think of Obama as a king, a ruler, to “summon” his subjects when necessary.

      The fact that the Administration did not even deign to reply to the request for a meeting is an incredible snub.

      Upon signing the Declaration of Independence, Ben Franklin said, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

      This is figuratively true today. Obama just indicated his preference for hanging separately. While Russia cannot win a hot war against the US, fighting another Cold War against Russia while dealing with an ascendant China as well as the Middle East in flames (and potentially nuclear armed) will be stress America more than at any time since Vietnam.

      Rather than coordinate strategy, ask Europe to increase it defense spending, or even just publicly show support for NATO allies that we are obligated to defend, he turns his back and washes his hands. That’s not the action of an ally during a time of uncertainty.

      • Pete

        ‘ …..ask Europe to increase it defense spending, .. ‘

        Friend, where have you been??? America has been ‘asking’ Europe to increase its defense spending so as to defend ITSELF for decades now.

        Nothing has worked so it is now time for the U.S. to lay down the burden of defending Europe when it is clear Europe will NEVER rise to defend itself otherwise.

    • iconoclast

      NATO is not the Warsaw Pact. NATO is comprised of allies, not subjugated nations.

      • Pete

        Freeloading ‘allies.’

  • wigwag

    A pivot away from NATO is earth-shattering in its implications; it should only be done carefully. But let’s face it; it should be done. How much longer should our European “allies” be permitted to bleed American taxpayers to death? When the Europeans step up to the plate and stop begging Americans to subsidize them maybe it will be time to take NATO seriously. Do we have any NATO allies worth sticking up for? Sure, we have a few like the Poles and the Czechs, but it does’t go much further than that.

    Nevertheless, none of this has anything to do with why Obama is shunning Mr. Stoltenberg. As insipid as they are, the nations of NATO are American allies. Obama doesn’t like allies; he holds them in contempt. Of course Obama doesn’t have time for the NATO Secretary General; he’s far too busy dreaming up new strategies to genuflect to Ayatollah Khamenei.

    • Damir Marusic

      Just would like to highlight two clauses in the post, @wigwag:disqus : “…in the best possible light…” and “At the most generous…”. 🙂

  • adk

    “Team Obama is six and a half years into the Presidency—they shouldn’t be dropping the ball on something like that.”

    They’ve been consistently bad all that time and now it’s very obvious to all except Obama diehards and ever-hopeful TAI writers.

  • rheddles

    Obama wants to fundamentally transform America. He is turning on all our allies and befriending our enemies. We have always been at war with Eastasia.

    • S.C. Schwarz

      Exactly. There is no error here, forced or otherwise. Obama is signaling Russia that he has no intention on honoring our commitments to NATO, any more than we honored our commitments to Ukraine or Israel.

      The left has always believed that US belligerence was a major problem in the world, if not the major problem. Now, at last, they have a president who agrees with them and we see the result. I predict Russia will strike in the Baltic’s before Obama’s term is over, since they can’t count on having another such hapless fool in the White House next time.

  • iconoclast

    This behavior fits in with releasing classified information about Israel’s nuclear weapon program–Obama seems determined to alienate as many allies as possible while appeasing enemies like Iran.

  • jeburke

    Truly liberal Democrats and moderate Republicans, like those who write and publish TAI, have still not come to grips with the fact that has been staring everyone in the face since 2008: Obama is a dedicated leftist ideologue. It’s not foolishly chosen optics, stumbling and incompetence, or even cavalier irresponsibility. Obama is the kind of guy — I’ve known many — who has been guided throughout his life by deep-seated left-wing beliefs.Smart enough to obscure this from many with artful PR — there’s the optics — through four election cycles, the man now feels free to do what he wants. So he can unilaterally change immigration laws, make ridiculous deals with Iran, disrupt the US-Israel alliance, and god knows what else before he’s through.

  • Curious Mayhem

    It’s fixable once Obama leaves office, not before. I was thinking about the Charlie Hebdo aftermath — perhaps Obama and Kerry can send James Taylor to Brussels to sing “You’ve Got a Friend.”

    Obama is a massive narcissist who lives in his own world, where he hobnobs with celebrities and plays golf all day. The bad optics is the number the Washington-based media has done on and to Americans in relentlessly pushing this man as a phony national savior and aggressively blocking and deprecating the bad news.

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