The New York Times reported on Tuesdaythat President Barack Obama’s relatively aloof approach to diplomacy has left him few — if any — close, personal relationships with world leaders.
“Personal relationships are not his style,” Martin Indyk, a former Obama administration official, told the paper.
Obama’s predecessors, in contrast, were far more far more jovial with their international peers. Indyk said former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush “yukked it up with everybody.”
It’s impossible to pinpoint exactly what effect Obama’s approach has had on the international arena, but personal relationships often prove useful during negotiations. The Associated Press noted, for example, that the challenge of destroying the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) involves “overcoming the reluctance of US allies in the Middle East who are deeply frustrated with a White House that they believe has been naive and weak on Syria’s civil war.”
Here’s a rundown of some of Obama’s icy relationships abroad, according to the Times and other accounts.
Iraq and Afghanistan
Obama “never got along” with former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and wanted to see both of them leave office (even though the Obama administration backed Maliki in December 2010).
The Times reported that Bush had maintained routine video conferences with al-Maliki but Obama ended the practice when he became president.
Obama’s relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the subject of much international intrigue, but few think they have warm feelings towards one another.
Last year, a senior Obama administration official called Netanyahu “a chickenshit.” Last week, Netanyahu gave a passionate speech before Congress condemning Obama’s approach to the nuclear negotiations with Iran. Obama did not meet with him during the visit.
The Rest of the Middle East
Administration officials told the Times that Obama had a positive relationship “for a time” with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, but that has apparently ended. Additionally, Obama was once close to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, but his administration was overthrown in 2011.
As for the rest of the Middle East, Obama is “not very close to other leaders in the Middle East, like King Abdullah II of Jordan.”
In 2013, Obama made a special effort to reach out to Chinese President Xi Jinping and the two world leaders had a two-day retreat in Southern California. However, aides “later conceded that the effort at friendship had largely failed,” according to the Times.
When Obama visited China at the end of last year, he and Jinping held a news conference that “lacked the personal warmth” of past events US presidents held with their Chinese counterparts, the Times reported at the time.
“Xi’s thinly concealed anger turned a news conference that should have been a victory lap for two leaders who had just had a productive meeting into a riveting example of why the relationship between the United States and China remains one of the most complicated in the world,” the report read.
From the very start of his presidency, Obama “made little effort” to reach out to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. The Times reported that Obama further “infuriated” Putin in 2013 by saying he looked “like the bored kid in the back of the classroom.”
Since the Russian annexation of Crimea last year, their relationship has only gotten worse. Obama has rallied European leaders to place sanctions on Russia for supporting Ukrainian separatists — which Putin fiercely denies.
Obama made a major international faux pas in 2013 when he referred to a “Polish death camp” instead of a “Nazi death camp.” In response, Donald Tusk, then the prime minister of Poland, ripped into Obama for his “ignorance,” “lack of knowledge,” and “bad intentions.” Tusk, now the president of the European Council, said Obama needed to end the controversy “with class.”
England and France
According to the Times, “The president has built workmanlike relationships with allies like Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain and President François Hollande of France, but nothing close.”
However, according to Cameron, he and Obama are quite close. In a January interview with the Daily Mail, Cameron boasted that Obama refers to him as “bro.”
One of the few bright spots is Obama’s relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. However, even Obama has acknowledged the US-German relationship was “damaged” by documents indicating the US had been monitoring one of Merkel’s phones.
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