The fallout from President Obama’s indiscreet remarks in Jeffrey Goldberg’s landmark Atlantic article has begun. One day after the article dropped, reports of the President dissing major world leaders and close allies fill the London papers, which highlight Obama’s belittling of David Cameron. The Times of London‘s headline blares, “Obama Lays Blame for Libya Mess on Cameron,” and continues:
In highly unusual criticism of a serving British prime minister from his American ally, Mr Obama claimed that Mr Cameron stopped paying attention soon after the 2011 military operation because he was “distracted by a range of other things”.
Mr Obama also made clear that he forced Mr Cameron to sign up to Nato’s benchmark of spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence. “Free riders aggravate me,” he told The Atlantic magazine, which reported that he instructed Mr Cameron “to pay your fair share” during a G7 summit last year.
The Financial Times (“Obama Criticizes ‘Free Riding’ Allies in 2011 Libya Campaign”) notes that the French came in for a beating too:
Mr Obama said that British prime minister David Cameron was “distracted” in the months after the death of Mr Gaddafi and suggested that then French president Nicolas Sarkozy was more interested in trying to “trumpet” his country’s involvement in air strikes in Libya than ensuring a peaceful transition to a new government.[..]
In an interview in which the president already appeared to be letting down his guard with 10 months still left in office, some of Mr Obama’s most pointed comments were directed at Mr Cameron.[..]
On the French role in the Libyan campaign, Mr Obama said that “Sarkozy wanted to trumpet the flights he was taking in the air campaign, despite the fact that we had wiped out all the air defences and essentially set up the entire infrastructure” for the intervention.
Expect more shoes to drop—and the anger in London and Paris will be less damaging than the fallout in other parts of the world. For instance, the Iranians are starting to weigh in:
Advisor to Iran president citing Obama on Iran/KSA need to share Middle East, work out a cold peace https://t.co/5ACvEvZNYj
— Laura Rozen (@lrozen) March 10, 2016
The Iranian trumpeting of Obama’s position will almost certainly not be warmly received in Riyadh, Dubai, and Amman.
This sets up an odd duality: the President in the interview is reflective, thoughtful, making a strong case for why he is wiser and more far seeing than other people. But on the other hand, running your mouth and being openly contemptuous and dismissive of fellow leaders to a journalist is the mark of a careless and clumsy amateur. As so often is the case with this President, there’s a wide gap between the cerebral processes and the ill-considered actions. This would be somewhat explicable in the rookie year of a presidency, but it’s very hard to understand in the final year of an Administration.