The people abroad who can help America’s economy and security the most want change in the White House this November. This includes the governments that are some of America’s most important friends and the dissidents resisting those that are not America’s friends.
On Monday, deep concerns about President Obama that allied leaders usually express only in private spilled into public. The premier of one of Canada’s provinces said, “People think in this country, perhaps they do, that the Obama administration is good for Canada. … The facts say something else.” Given the typically genteel tones that mark diplomacy among allies in general, and relations with Canada in particular, this was stunning.
What a difference four years have made. In 2008, many allies clearly wanted change to the benefit of Mr. Obama. Some 200,000 Germans showed up in Berlin to hear candidate Obama speak. Der Spiegel wrote favorably at the time: “For a moment, it was plausible to think that he wanted to quickly launch a global transformation through this crowd …”
In Paris, then-President Sarkozy stood next to candidate Obama and said: “The French have been following him with passion. … Barack Obama’s adventure is an adventure that rings true in the hearts and minds [of the French people].”
Then came the reality of the Obama presidency. Allies soon felt a colder shoulder than some U.S. adversaries.
In order to reset relations with Russia, President Obama badly mistreated Poland and the Czech Republic. Both had stuck their necks out and risked Russian ire in agreeing to host missile defense sites at Washington’s request. Early in Obama’s term, he cut a deal with Moscow and scrapped the sites without even consulting the two American allies.
Obama feted China’s unelected leader in a formal state visit and elevated Beijing’s status above many allies. But when the Dalai Lama came to see Mr. Obama for a meeting, he was photographed walking past the West Wing trash heap — symbolism that was not lost on Beijing or those struggling against Chinese tyranny. This May, Mr. Obama’s diplomats ushered a helpless, blind dissident out of the U.S. embassy in China, where he had sought refuge. Pro-American dissidents around the world noticed — and were shocked. Only bipartisan congressional outrage saved him from disappearing permanently at the hands of Chinese officials.
Privately, leaders in places like Japan and Saudi Arabia have been alarmed at Obama’s deprecation of the U.S. nuclear arsenal — and wondering if they may now need their own. President Obama has called repeatedly for abolishing all nuclear weapons, which seemingly would require trusting governments like those of Russia, Pakistan and North Korea. It fell recently to the French to oppose an Obama-proposed change limiting NATO’s ability to use nuclear weapons after a notional enemy WMD attack. Many foreign leaders also think the U.S. came out behind in the new START treaty with Russia, which President Obama negotiated. It reduced America’s nuclear arsenal dramatically while ignoring continued Russian supremacy in tactical nuclear arms.
In three allied Asian capitals recently, I could not find a single senior official who seriously thought Obama’s “pivot to Asia” was real. They instead saw this as either a misguided public relations move or a rhetorical gesture to cover America’s withdrawal from other regions. All are deeply concerned about an increasingly belligerent China. American allies can also see President Obama’s proposed budgets and understand the U.S. military is set to atrophy rapidly.