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.
In commercial cities like Hong Kong and Mumbai, businesspeople who ordinarily lean toward America’s Democrats have learned that Obama is no Bill Clinton. In his presidency, Clinton championed new government programs but also recognized the importance of trade, investment and balanced budgets. Clinton signed a reduction in the capital gains tax. He also pushed through NAFTA, saying, “We are on the verge of a global economic expansion that is sparked by the fact that the United States at this critical moment decided that we would compete, not retreat.”
In contrast, Obama has spoken primarily of trade eliminating U.S. jobs. He has implied that much wealth is ill gotten and his policies presume that capital can be allocated better by government officials than free markets, especially in the field of energy. Taxes on investment are set to increase massively in January, with the levy on dividends rising from 15% to as much as 43%.
All of this is noted abroad. The consequence is that people increasingly do business elsewhere. They invest capital elsewhere. Countries are now more willing to seek trade agreements with Canada than with the United States, for example. Allies have to cut deals with the bad actors in their regions. More countries contemplate nuclear arsenals of their own. Tyrannical governments see no cost to crushing dissent violently.
American voters do not cast their ballots based on the wishes of foreigners. But it is worth considering that those abroad who help the United States the most economically and in national defense think matters will improve drastically with change in the White House.
Christian Whiton was a State Department senior advisor from 2003-2009. He is a principal at DC International Advisory.