June 25, 2013
President Obama on a hot day.
President Obama (Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

I believe that if we’re ever going to do anything about climate change, it has to start with diplomatic agreements. It has to start with real international cooperation, not unilateral actions that gratuitously raise the cost of Americans’ power bills and hurt the U.S. economy.

Today, with the release of the “The President’s Climate Action Plan,” President Obama announced the damage he’s going to do to the American economy through actions that will have no appreciable effect on the global environment, much less lower the earth’s temperature to President Obama’s desired level. And you’ll notice that while Obama’s proposed plan contains a section on “leading international efforts to address global climate change,” his international plan consists of eye-rolling homilies and tired slogans like “spurring concrete action” through “bilateral initiatives with China” (what a joke) and “forging global responses to climate change” through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The president cannot even deal effectively with Congress, and he certainly hasn’t demonstrated the diplomatic skills or foreign policy strength to move the world in the direction he wants it to go.

In case we needed a more vivid illustration of the president’s diplomatic limits, the case of National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden is revealing, in real time, Obama’s lack of stature abroad and the diminished power of the White House. Russia, China, and no less than Ecuador are all showing defiance on this issue. If these countries thought they would suffer any consequences or that they had any price to pay whatsoever — or, for that matter, if any reservoir of goodwill had been built during the Obama presidency — they would do the reasonable thing and matter-of-factly hand over Mr. Snowden. But in this case, they obviously have no interest in cooperating with President Obama. These countries are gratuitously taunting the president and won’t even extend us common diplomatic courtesies. And even worse, it is all happening in public. Essentially, the leaders of China, Russia and Ecuador are giving the president of the United States the diplomatic equivalent of the middle finger.

Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed today that Snowden is in Russia but he will not be extradited to the United States. The Russians may give Snowden up eventually. They likely don’t want him taking up room in their prisons or even in their cities, but they’re toying with Obama just because they can. It’s humiliating, and it’s not helpful to us for other countries to see us in this weakened position.

What does the Snowden episode say about our diplomatic relationships? And by extension, what does it say about President Obama’s ability to forge international consensus on climate change policy? It says something important that President Obama cannot rely on other world leaders to cooperate with him in a situation even where they have no strategic interest. Snowden doesn’t mean anything to any of these countries. He is a criminal who has done what he can for America’s enemies. These countries are not protecting one of their agents. They are doing this because they can, and because they believe what they are doing is preferable to working with this president. If we can’t get them to give up Snowden, there is no way the president is going to get them to join him in his global warming crusade. I hope Republicans in Congress do everything they can to stop the unilateral plan on climate change that the president announced today.