A revealing map of which world leaders Obama called back today

November 8, 2012

(Max Fisher/Washington Post)

A tradition of American presidential elections is that the winner gets congratulatory phone messages from many foreign heads of state. It's pro forma diplomacy, but it can be revealing in who the president-elect (or, in this case, the sitting president about to serve his second term) chooses to call back, or not call back.

The White House just put out a press release of which world leaders got return calls from President Obama, all of which it says he made personally and this morning. The list is a little bit surprising: Obama called four Middle Eastern heads of state, three European, two Latin American (but not Mexico!), plus Canada, India and Australia. Conspicuously absent: the East Asian states to which the Obama administration has been pivoting

One obvious explanation for this could be the time zone difference. If Obama was calling at, say, 8 this morning, then it would have been 9 p.m. in Beijing and 10 p.m. in both Tokyo and Seoul. Still, it would have been midnight in the Australian capital, and he got Prime Minister Julia Gillard on the line. 

To be clear, there is probably not very much to read into this list of calls. It seems more likely that, for example, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda would have been at an important dinner than that Obama snubbed him.

It is interesting that Obama called Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, the democratically elected leader and Muslim Brotherhood ally who is also a source of some wariness in U.S. security circles. That would seem to suggest a degree of at least interest in high-level engagement with the new Egypt. 

Still, in broad terms, this map is mostly interesting for the degree to which it reinforces common perceptions of America's foreign policy: friendly with Western Europe, obsessive about the Middle East, unaware of Africa, and not quite as present in Asia as it might like to be. None of these views are any more or less true because Obama did or did not call a certain head of state this morning, but it's hard to miss the parallels. 

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Max Fisher · November 8, 2012