After his first foreign trip as president to Europe, Turkey and Latin America, Barack Obama was forced to justify his words and actions in an effort to prove that he is not weak. In the US, Obama’s opponents criticized him for his repeated apologies saying that the president has begun to beg for popularity in Europe and the Arab and Islamic worlds.
Meanwhile, French President Nicolas Sarkozy described Obama as ‘weak,’ a description that has been repeated by other Europeans, especially with Obama failure to convince the Europeans regarding the Afghanistan file. As for Latin America, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez made the most of what Obama said about wanting to listen to others; he gave Obama a book entitled ‘The Open Veins of Latin America’ in the hope that he might read and learn.
Former US president George W. Bush adopted the idea of spreading democracy worldwide in 2004 after having read ‘The Case for Democracy’ by Israeli author Natan Sharansky. Bush liked the symbolic idea of a soldier representing the dictatorship, pointing a gun for a long time at a prisoner representing the nation, but when his arms began to tire, he lowered his weapon and the prisoner escaped. Bush rejoiced thinking that he had found the solution and rushed to preach democracy.
Is Obama like that? Some of his justifications in response to the criticism he received may help us understand, as he said that even if he failed to convince the Europeans to increase the level of their forces in Afghanistan, he succeeded at increasing America’s popularity in Europe, which could help European leaders adopt the positions of their US ally. This indicates that Bush’s unpopularity is what prevented Europe from supporting Washington on a number of issues, whilst the reality of the situation is quite the contrary. Obama will find that many leaders used Bush as an excuse to wash their hands of any matters that they did not want [to be involved in] and that they will change according to a change of interests.
We have France under Sarkozy striving for a role in Iraq after having been at the forefront of the countries against the alliance that Bush wanted to form to invade Iraq. Here’s Iran, which harbors mutual enmity towards the US because of the Iraqi invasion, negotiating with Washington on Iraq! North Korea has not changed its policy of defying the international community with its nuclear program, just like Iran; in fact Tehran is also challenging Obama today with the case of the imprisoned US-Iranian journalist even though Obama extended a hand to Iran and called for engaging in dialogue with it.
Let us recall the early days of the George W. Bush presidency. After Bush’s victory in the 2000 elections, China held an American spy plane and detained its crew, and in March 2001 China also detained a Chinese researcher who was working at an American university. At the time, the American press accused Bush of being weak and demanded a tough response to China. Also at that time, Bush received a letter from the Saudi monarch King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz (the then Crown Prince) in which he threatened severance of ties if Washington did not take a decisive stand regarding the Palestinian Cause. Immediately afterwards, Bush decided to deliver a speech at the United Nations announcing the two-state project.
But then came the 9/11 attacks and Bush transformed into that angry, belligerent man until he left the White House.
The conclusion is that events are what form a leader. Ronald Reagan for example was not the most popular man but he was the person who brought down Communism. Bill Clinton was very popular but he failed to take heed of the Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden threat and pulled out of Somalia after disturbing images of US soldiers [came to light]. Therefore, it is too early to say whether or not Obama is weak.