This week the president of the United States and purported leader of the free world breezed into New York City for a quick game of softball catch with the ladies of “The View,” and a drop-by at the United Nations General Assembly to give a speech. Then he was off to Ohio to resume his most pressing engagement, his re-election campaign, having refused to be detained by pesky world leaders whose requests to meet with him were rebuffed en mass....It's true. If you voted for Clinton, be happy: right now, she's the President of the United States.
[Of course m]eetings between the president and various heads of state would not instantly ameliorate any of these problems. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who’s been designated as a sort of acting chief executive this week, will, I’m sure, manage the responsibility competently.
This isn't the first time this has come up. The problem is especially large with Israel, for some reason. The Obama administration has committed a series of public, diplomatic snubs of Israeli leadership, which I can only assume are purposely designed to show "the Muslim world," widely presumed to hate America in part because of Israel, that Israel and the United States aren't all that close after all.
The President refused to meet with the Israeli Prime Minister (previous link), but found time for a television appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman. (It turns out that the President's afternoon on the day when Prime Minister Netanyahu wanted to meet with him is entirely free.) The US delegation at the UN remained seated throughout another Iranian speech condemning Israel, in contrast to long practice of leaving during these speeches (as the Israeli delegation did). Then, our top UN diplomat didn't bother to attend the Israeli Prime Minister's speech.
At this point, we've moved beyond explanations that merely point to the Presidential re-election campaign's internals suggesting a tighter race than he wants to admit. This is a clear policy decision by the United States to at least publicly downplay the existence of a US/Israeli alliance.
Now, having gone back to look at the President's remarks to the UN, I see no actual recognition of an alliance (or even "friendship" or something similar) between Israel and the United States. The President does speak against the actual elimination of Israel, and he says that hatred of Israel, the West, or the United States should not govern anyone's policy. He speaks against Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, and seems to leave open the door that the US might take some sort of steps beyond negotiation to resolve the matter. Those steps, and what might provoke them, are unsaid.
Still, the main thing that strikes me is this: when President Obama took office, we had four allies in the Middle East. The most important was Egypt, formally a "Major Non-NATO Ally" with whom we engaged in major military exercises. Now, the President says he doesn't consider Egypt an ally, and the President of Egypt says he doesn't think we're allies either. Not enemies, to be sure, but not allies.
The second was Saudi Arabia. One has head nothing much on that front lately, but they cannot be happy about the steady progress of Iran toward a nuclear weapon.
The third was Iraq, with whom we had negotiated a long-term agreement for engagement and support by what was intended to be a major diplomatic effort, based out of the largest US embassy in the world. There were negotiations in process to provide for their protection, as well as a long-term presence of US military trainers to engage and advise the Iraqi Army. Instead the President allowed the negotiations to die, so that our forces had to withdraw entirely, our diplomats were so unprotected that they had to disavow almost all of their intended mission, and Iraqi political leaders were left alone to feel the pull of Iran and the Sunni powers.
The fourth was Israel. At this point the status of that alliance must be said to be unclear. If US military planners are focused on keeping us clear of Israeli actions and their consequences, though, it's dubious whether there is anything like a true alliance at all.
Libya was a good move by the Administration, one that I expect to bear fruit in the medium term. I don't criticize all of what he has done. But our policy in the Middle East -- I do not even include the disaster in Afghanistan -- has been a characterized by a shocking loss of strength and support.