Imagine a foreign leader, visiting the White House, being overheard and captured on microphone whispering conspiratorially to the U.S. President that he intends to undermine the interests of his own country in order to please the United States.
Could one imagine British Prime Minister David Cameron saying that he would give up the Falklands when he had a little breathing space at home? Or Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu winking and hinting that Iran’s nuclear weapons weren’t so bad after all? Or for that matter, once and future Russian President Vladimir Putin telling President Obama that he will stop making so much fuss over the U.S. missile defense program?
Hard to imagine, isn’t it? The international media would be shocked. Yet, when it comes to President Obama, who recently made remarks equally damning, shock turns to amusement and raised eyebrows in most of the national and international media. It is almost as though Americans and the world have come to expect Barack Obama to act against the interests of his own country and its allies.
The issue at hand is, of course, Monday’s hot mic debacle in Seoul, South Korea, where President Obama was caught whispering sweet things to outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Obama urged Moscow to give him “space” until after the November ballot. “This is my last election…After my election I have more flexibility,” Obama promised. “I will transmit this information to Vladimir,” nodded Medvedev eagerly.
The two presidents were unaware that their words were picked up by the microphones as reporters were led into the room. The White House has tried to make light of the “gaffe,” suggesting that the President was merely saying that nothing ever gets done in an election year. “Since 2012 is an election year in both countries, with an election and leadership transition in Russia and an election in the United States, it is clearly not a year in which we are going to achieve a breakthrough,” commented U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes.
But that was not what Obama said. He said that “my last election” is what is holding him back. Furthermore, the body language of the two leaders also suggested that something more was going on. The leaning bodies, the closeness of the faces, the little confidential pat on Medvedev’s arm (or was it the knee) delivered by Obama—all spoke of intimacy and shared interests.
After Obama’s election in 2008, a foreign dignitary visiting the United States explained the worldwide euphoria that greeted Obama’s election this way: “He is one of us.” Indeed, Obama has been called the first “post-American President.” The world may see more and more manifestations of that perspective if the President does indeed shed his pre-election inhibitions.