Jackson Diehl Says Obama Is Unpopular Abroad

March 08, 2010 1:25 pm ET — MJ Rosenberg

Jackson Diehl, one of the Washington Post's resident neoconservative hawks, offers a uniquely silly take on President Obama's relationship with foreign leaders in his column today.

In his column titled, "A Lonely World for the King of Cool," Diehl lists a whole slew of world leaders with whom Obama has a "cool" relationship. His argument is that Obama, contrary to what most of us think, is not that popular abroad, at least not with foreign leaders. 

Interesting.  When George W. Bush was president, many conservatives and neoconservative took it as a badge of pride that Bush was so universally disliked abroad. That showed he was a "real" American.

But if Obama has put off foreign leaders by not cultivating them enough, it just shows that Obama's "coolness has its cost."

The good news is that Diehl's argument is utterly specious.

The leaders who, according to Diehl, don't cotton much to Obama are: President Sarkozy of France, Chancellor Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Brown of the United Kingdom, President Karzai of Afghanistan, Prime Minister Hatoyama of Japan, Prime Minister al-Maliki of Iraq, and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel.

However, in each case, there is either a policy difference between the US and the respective country or there is nothing at all that attests to Diehl's thesis. Diehl writes about Prime Minister Gordon Brown that "Obama has been portrayed as dissing him since he presented him with a gift of DVD's as a gift during their first meeting in Washington a year ago."  Really?  With all Brown's problems, he just can't get over those DVD's. Please!

As for the others, one by one:

Diehl writes that Sarkozy is mad because of "several perceived snubs." Medvedev and Obama have not "cinched" an arms control deal and (horror of horrors) Obama holds Vladimir Putin "at arm's length." (If George W. Bush had kept him at arm's length he might have missed looking into his soul.) Hayatoma is unhappy about a military base agreement. Karzai does not like being pressured into being more aggressive with the Taliban, although Obama's pressure has clearly been effective. Al-Maliki misses the joint video conferences he used to have with Bush.  And Netanyahu does not like being told to stop building more settlements.

Bottom line:  President Obama has policy differences with some of the leaders of other countries.  As for his "coolness" being a problem, Diehl's story would not have made it into a good high school newspaper because the faculty adviser would have kept asking, "what's your evidence for that?"

But Diehl has none, and he knows it.  He just does not like an administration whose foreign policy tends to prefer diplomacy to force, at least as first resort.

His conclusion tells the real story:

An argument can be made that none of this matters. Bush, after all, was often criticized for depending too heavily on personal relationships -- remember how he looked into Putin's soul? -- and his pals didn't save his administration from being universally condemned as "unilateralist." The Obama administration, in contrast, can argue that it has done pretty well in lining up European support on key matters such as Afghanistan and Iran. And Obama's personal popularity continues to provide leverage with leaders around the world, whether they hit it off with him or not.

That part he's got right.