Sometimes being president is all about making the least worst decision. Sometimes for President Obama, being president means making the least embarrassing decision. The White House has announced that Obama has canceled his planned “Moscow summit” with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 economic summit. Well, the only thing more embarrassing than canceling the meeting with Putin would be to have the meeting with Putin. When cameras are rolling, the Russian president, who won’t even return Obama’s phone calls, can be expected to look bored, indifferent and bothered by the presence of the president of the United States.
But let’s face it, even if there ever was an Obama-Putin relationship, it’s over for the rest of the Obama presidency. Neither side has to pretend anymore.
In 2008, the blank-canvas candidate that was Barack Obama started with so much potential. His supporters thought everyone from Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and whoever else would naturally swoon over Obama. But I can’t think of a single personal relationship with a foreign leader that could be a positive feature in all the flattering biographies and books about the Obama presidency that are going to be written. Am I missing something? Is there a single instance in which Obama’s personal connection with a foreign leader has made a strategic relationship stronger?
Obama has taken his relationship-building skills, which we have seen up close in his work with Congress, to the international stage with similar results. What world leaders follow Obama’s lead? Who really considers him to be their leader? I know this sounds harsh, but I fear it is true.
Who knows what the consequences will be? In American domestic politics, it won’t matter much, unless you consider the opportunity cost or if, heaven forbid, there is a crisis in the next two and a half years and we actually need the president to assemble an international coalition in furtherance of an American interest.
The non-meeting with Putin is undoubtedly better for Obama than is it for Putin. Obama would probably get dissed, and the rest of the world, while not particularly admiring Putin, might fear him a little more when they see how dismissive he can be of the president of the United States.
Russia’s political leaders have been rolling their eyes ever since the bungled “reset” by the Obama administration in 2009. It’ll be up to the next president to press the re-reset button.
Follow Ed on Twitter at @edrogersdc.