President Barack Obama’s campaign parade to November 2012 was scheduled to march through a sequence of glamorous and successful international summits, meetings and conclaves.
But it has instead stumbled through numerous failed or embarrassing meetings — nearly all of them heavily televised.
The latest failures came at this week’s G20 summit in Mexico, where Obama’s meeting with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin turned into an embarrassing photo shoot of two unhappy participants.
He next held a widely panned 24-minute conference.
“He took the stage in front of prime-time cameras… after 24 minutes and 43 seconds, we never got the answer on our two burning questions; will Europe be saved and what’s the effect of the free-fall on American jobs?” said CNN’s Erin Burnett.
“Why speak at all in prime time… when he didn’t really have anything specific to say? … there wasn’t any news or any breakthrough to announce,” she said.
“He led with the fact that nothing is happening here… it was a lot of repetition of what we know,” said Leigh Gallagher, an assistant managing editor at Forbes magazine, on Burnett’s show.
“The absence of news is enormous news — very bad news,” said David Frum, an independent commentator.
White House officials tried to wave away Putin’s unfriendly body language at the end of his two-hour meeting with Obama.
“The body language stuff — I’ve been in a lot of meetings with Putin… That’s just — that’s the way he looks,” said U.S. Ambassador to Russia Mike McFaul. “That’s the way he acts. I wouldn’t read anything into that at all,” he told reporters June 18, even as officials admitted the two-hour meeting yielded no results in Syrian or any other disputes.
Still, the Mexico summit was better than Obama’s live-microphone embarrassment at a March nuclear summit in Korea, where he was seen telling Putin’s predecessor, Dimitri Medvedev, that “on all these issues, but particularly missile defense… it’s important… to give me space.”
“This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility,” he inadvertently told a global audience, prompting widespread criticism that he was offering post-election giveaways in exchange for pre-election quiet.
Despite these foreign policy flubs, Obama’s foreign policy ratings are being held up by his vigorous use of drone aircraft to kill jihadis in Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan, and by the public’s approval of his May 2011 decision to kill al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
The killing boosts his image domestically. For example, a May Gallup report said that 49 percent of the public see him as a “strong and decisive leader.” Republican opponent Mitt Romney was rated at 40 percent.
The repeated foreign policy failures, however, threaten that rating.
For example, Obama has repeatedly failed to persuade German Chancellor Angela Merkel to boost spending.
Obama — and many left-of-center economists — want a European spending boost to jump-start the continent’s stalled economy, whose troubles also threaten the U.S. economy’s faltering growth. Free market economists say the economy would be better aided by an end to government overspending.
In May, Obama pressured Merkel one-on-one when they were in the president’s own Camp David reserve. Merkel didn’t budge, but Obama’s failure wasn’t exposed until Merkel later told her German constituents that she would not boost deficit spending.
Since then, Obama has continued to pressure Merkel, who resists because she fears new spending would put Germany’s shrinking population into a debt spiral. The pressure continued at the G20 summit, but there’s no evidence yet that Merkel has buckled.
Obama met with Merkel June 19 at the G20 summit for 45 minutes, but without apparent result.
“The meeting was constructive,” White House spokesman Jay Carney claimed.
“The two leaders agreed to work closely together, including at this G20, to build support for what needs to be done in Europe and the world to stabilize the situation, and support growth and jobs… They also had a short discussion about Syria,” Carney said.
Other summits been a mixed-bag for Obama.
The May NATO summit in Chicago was a campaign trail success, but a national security question mark.
That’s because it granted the president a magnificent stage to announce to his progressive base that he was retreating from Afghanistan in 2014, whether or not Afghan president Hamid Karzai agreed. However, Obama’s determination to withdraw has roiled Afghan politics and has been hailed by al-Qaida’s Taliban allies, who say they’ll take over the country when U.S. and NATO forces are gone.
The November 2011 summit held by the Association of South East Asian Nations produced some impressive TV images, but Obama created some bad press when he credited himself for Boeing’s ability to sell up to $12.7 billion worth of passenger aircraft to a private company in Indonesia.
“The U.S. administration and the Ex-Im Bank, in particular, were critical in facilitating this deal… I want to thank all of the administration officials who were dogged in trying to get this completed,” he said in a statement from the island of Bali.
That claim matched his claim a few days earlier to a Nov 12 meeting of U.S. CEOs that Americans “have been a little bit lazy, I think, over the last couple of decades, and so we have failed to do enough to attract foreign investment.”