I couldn’t help but feel embarassed to see my President bow weakly to a litany of leading Latin American losers this week. From that cartoonish Bolivarian thug in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, to everyone’s favorite blast-from-the-communist-past, Daniel Ortega, it seemed like everyone couldn’t wait to pat and stab our President in the back. And, like all Americans, I was puzzled as to the way that our President stumbled through the Summit of the Americas as if it were some low-level regional manager’s conference at the Ramada Inn. Was it mere poker face? Or is it indicative of deeper failures in an administration with a still-empty White House Protocol Office?
Obama’s foreign policy is simple: International Relations 101. In retrospect, this isn’t a surprise: he is just applying his collegiate expertise to his job. It’s no wonder he once cited his major when questioned about his “experience.” The tip-off was his reference to Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon as a “gamechanger”. Only a man who has studied game theory would refer to our relationship with Iran as a “game”. The fact that President Obama understands how this works is, indeed, a good thing.
What concerns me is the fact that he has taken these theories out of the classroom and decided to apply them to the ultimate real-world IR situation: the foreign policy of the United States of America. Our President wants to use the most delicate aspect of his job as a laboratory for academia. The possibilities are simultaenously intriguing and terrifying. Terrifying for the most obvious reasons: our safety as a nation is in the balance. Intriguing because perhaps he can finally put to rest some of the most outmoded and unrealistic of the myths that are taught at college campuses around this country, opening a new chapter of International Relations in which we can academically address the challenges of our unipolar, globalized world.
But at what cost must this be obtained? And what does it leave our President as: a Manchurian Candidate for the Ivory Tower cabal? Chavez and Ortega are just people, and, despite the fact that both of them are murderers and tyrants in their own right, they are still just people. When addressing them personally, the President lends them respect, but he lends them something that they truly desire: credibility. This exercise demonstrates that any crackpot dictator who takes over a country under the most dubious of circumstances can hold audience with the most powerful and influential man in the world. In a sense, that is our President’s biggest fault. With his head in the clouds of university utopian ideals, President Obama seems unaware of the realities on the ground. This shortcoming was brought up during the election, ironically, by the woman who is now his Secretary of State and has been just as flubalicious as he has in making foreign policy. Those concerns of experience and judgment were not the products of a vast right-wing conspiracy grasping at anti-Obama straws, they were legitimate detractions against the now diplomat-in-chief. His willingness to play Russian roulette with his most powerful ability is his greatest weakness, and we are once again left footing the bill.