It's lonely at the top for Obama

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Sun Media, Friday, March 19, 2010

U.S. President Barack Obama’s troubles over foreign policy began when he went to Copenhagen last October to pitch Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics. The president’s hometown finished fourth — dead last. On the south side of Chicago, the Cook County machine used to do a better job of counting votes and rigging elections. Obama should never have gone.

Then in December, he came home from Copenhagen empty-handed again after the failure of the climate summit, where he had raised expectations for a deal by changing his schedule to attend on the last day of the 10-day conference rather than the first on his way to pick up his Nobel Peace Prize in Norway.

Even worse, the Chinese snubbed him by sending their deputy foreign minister, and then their climate change negotiator instead of Premier Wen Jiabao to a heads-of-government session attended by the president of the United States. The Chinese, as later reported by the New York Times, then started a meeting called by Obama without him, leaving him standing in the doorway, saying: “I’m ready to meet you, Mr. Premier, are you ready to meet me?”

This is the point where Ronald Reagan would have been wheels up on Air Force One. Then, when Obama announced a take-note agreement of a $100-billion-a-year transition fund to emerging economies in return for on-site verification of greenhouse-gas emissions reductions, the Chinese stiffed him by announcing they wouldn’t be accepting their share of the money, therefore there was no question of verification, thus preserving their sovereignty.

No one failed to notice the new American president being rolled on the world stage. And that was a very bad day for the U.S. and its friends who count on strong American leadership. The Bush doctrine of American unilateralism has apparently been replaced by a policy that is all talk and no action.

So if you’re wondering why the Israelis announced new settlements in East Jerusalem, on the very day U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was in town, it’s because they can. This has precipitated a crisis between Israel and the U.S., its staunchest supporter.

If you’re wondering why Mexican drug lords murder American consular officials along the U.S. border, it’s because they know they can get away with it.

Similarly, Obama’s overture of engagement with Iran has been ignored, as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to acquire the capacity to build nuclear weapons.

As for the Russians, a lot of thanks Obama got — none at all from Vladimir Putin for agreeing not to deploy an anti-missile shield in the former Warsaw Pact zone of Eastern Europe.

In all of this, Obama can be grateful for having a reliable neighbour and partner in Canada and Stephen Harper. Their partnership was sealed by the $60-billion bailout of General Motors last spring, a deal that was closed by the principals at the top.

And besides two successful bilateral visits, they’ve met another half dozen times on the margins of summits, and will again ahead of the G8 and G20 in Ontario this June.

More to the point, they’re on the phone all the time, discussing everything from Canada’s exemption to Buy America rules to Haitian relief.

As one senior State Department official puts it: “Obama talks to Harper more often than half his own cabinet.”

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