Was Bush just better at foreign policy than Obama? 

While focus has been on his domestic policy failures, Obama's foreign policy isn't doing too well either. The Washington Post's Jackson Diehl surveys the international scene:

Is a wounded Barack Obama withdrawing from the world?

Europeans could be excused for speculating as much. The White House announced last week that the president would not attend a U.S.-European Union summit planned for Madrid in May, forcing its cancellation. The spurned host, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, also failed to get a meeting with either Obama or Vice President Biden during a two-day visit to Washington.

Zapatero claimed he had "no problem" with the rebuff. But that was not the reaction back home. "Obama Turns His Back on Europe," said Spain's El Pais. "Obama's No-Show Disappoints Europe" said Germany's Der Spiegel.

Israelis and Palestinians also have reason to wonder. Obama's 70-minute State of the Union made no mention of Israel or a Middle East peace process. Shortly before the speech, Obama told an interviewer he had overestimated his administration's ability to renew negotiations between recalcitrant Israelis and Palestinians.

Then there are the leaders of Iraq. Two of them -- Kurdish regional president Massoud Barzani and Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a leader of the Sunni minority -- have visited Washington in the past two weeks. Both told me they were deeply worried about whether the Obama administration would remain committed to a stable and democratic Iraq. That's partly because Obama's public rhetoric has centered on U.S. troop withdrawals, rather than any vision for the future of the country. "I understand you are totally focused now on withdrawing the troops by 2011," said Hashimi. "But what will come after that?"

Over at Contentions, Jennifer Rubin asks the logical question:

Could it be (Diehl is certainly providing some evidence) that Obama is less effective as an international diplomat that the Cowboy from Crawford? You mean Obama hasn’t bonded with any foreign leader, as George W. Bush did with Tony Blair, for example? (Well, returning the Winston Churchill bust and the cheesy gifts to the Brits probably didn’t help Obama with that ally.) He’s not keeping up with key leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan the way Bush did, we are told. And then there is the Israel debacle. I don’t suppose Obama would win any popularity contests in Honduras, Poland, or the Czech Republic either.

So to sum up, the president who campaigned to restore our standing in the world and practice “smart” diplomacy isn’t much interested in the world, expends little time and no effort in bolstering democracy and human rights, and doesn’t have effective relationships with key allies — at least not as effective as were Bush’s. Well, he did run as “not Bush,” and now he’s living up to that particular campaign promise. Too bad: the result is the most error-strewn, irresolute, and ham-handed foreign-policy apparatus since the Carter administration. Maybe living in Indonesia as a child wasn’t sufficient foreign-policy preparation after all.

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Mark Hemingway

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