Who's Afraid of the American President?

By Jamie Stiehm

March 7, 2014 5 min read

Who's afraid of President Barack Obama?

Elegant, sharp Virginia Woolf inspired more fear in Bloomsbury than our genial yet detached commander-in-chief does in his circles, abroad and at home. Our president is a gentleman. Yet the world stage is full of darkness and Congress is full of rogues.

At the highest level of foreign policy, the personal is indeed part of the political. World leaders size each other up all the time. Personal warmth goes a long way, but in the absence of that, it's good to inspire fear in your enemies and frenemies — and a healthy respect among allies and senators.

So, let's see, who's afraid of Barack Obama?

Not President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, as his invasion of Crimea has made abundantly clear. The two never were close, nothing like the bromance between President Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin. Putin, master of the stony glare, is not one to flinch in the face of sanctions or scoldings from Obama and other heads of state. As a highly trained spy and Cold Warrior, what's happening now may remind him of the good old days. And he timed it so well for the centennial of World War I, which broke out in 1914.

Who's afraid of Barack Obama?

Not Hamid Karzai, the wily president of Afghanistan who refuses to sign security agreements with the United States just as our exhausted army is about to pack up and go home after, what — 13 years? Chalk it up, a dozen years for too much of nothing. That's a rude thank-you note to Obama, who vowed to make that rugged, medieval terrain "his" war back in 2008. We can't afford a lost war after Vietnam, but this was certainly not a won war.

Who's afraid of Barack Obama?

Not Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister. Yes, "Bibi" visited the president in the Oval on Monday. The meeting went fine, with smiles and pleasantries for the photo op. But Netanyahu has not given an inch on Israel's occupied territories. Thus no progress has happened on gaining a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians — the most elusive feat of diplomacy that, once again, Clinton came close to achieving in his presidency's last days. Peace or "Shalom" will not happen on Obama's watch. In fairness, the churlish Netanyahu has never deigned to be a partner with the president. Don't even remind me of Clinton and Yitzhak Rabin's devoted friendship.

Who's afraid of Barack Obama?

Not Bashar al-Assad, Syria's tyrant. Obama unfortunately made a statement about a "red line," meaning that if Assad used chemical weapons against his own people, it would trigger U.S. forces. Yet when Assad did just that, there was no American appetite for another military adventure, and Obama stood down. Luckily, Secretary of State Kerry neatly suggested an arms monitoring system that involved Putin, ironically, of all people.

Is anyone afraid of Barack Obama here at home?

Not Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., his 2008 presidential election opponent, nor House Speaker John Boehner. McCain has launched a steady stream of attacks on Obama's "feckless" foreign policy. He leads a chorus of Republican critics in the House and Senate, which charges that Obama's broken words on Syria emboldened Putin in Ukraine. Boehner, despite Obama's overtures, has done little to reciprocate, rudely shutting the government down in the president's face more than once.

Putin, Karzai, Netanyahu and the deplorable Assad. None are afraid of Obama, or the United States of America. It's no secret that as a nation we are war-weary — in fact, fatigued. Besides, Obama is an even-tempered, mellow guy compared to these characters. On the bright side, Obama is not going to start any wars of choice, like the belligerent George W. Bush. Let's be grateful for that.

Intimidation is not Obama's strong suit. That makes it all the more important that he lead Western allies with heightened bonds of intensity, respect and trust during the Crimea crisis.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm, and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.

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