Communications experts say that, if you make a big boo boo, use humor to deflect the response. That is what President Obama is trying to do with regard to his remarks to Russian President Medvedev that were picked up by an open mic.
But this is too serious for humor. “Is the mic on ?” jokes don’t cut it. Just for the record, I don’t doubt that President Obama wants to do the right thing by his lights for our country and the world at large. But his words to Medvedev betray the president’s failure, after three years on the job, to understand the international situation. They also show that he is willing to reveal more to the leader of a dictatorial regime that bolsters Iran and Syria than to the American people.
Even the editorial board of the Obama-friendly Washington Post realizes that the president has made a miscalculation with regard to Vladimir Putin, the incoming president to whom his remarks were to be “transmitted:”
THE RETURN of Vladimir Putin to the Russian presidency ought to have caused the Obama administration to reshape its policy toward the Kremlin. Putin based his election campaign in large part on anti-Americanism; he has increasingly pursued policies contrary to vital U.S. interests, such as his military support for the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and his threats against NATO’s European missile-defense system.
But instead of reshaping policy, Obama sends Putin a message that he will have more “flexibility” to presumably make more concessions after his last election, when we insular rubes will be less able to influence Obama.
Here is what, according to Karl Rove, the president was saying to Mr. Medvedev:
By telling Mr. Medvedev and his patron, the once-and-future Russian President Vladimir Putin, that he will have “flexibility” after the American election on Russian demands opposing a US missile defense for Europe, Mr. Obama is in effect saying he is ready to do something the Russians will like but that the American people won’t.
Nike Gardiner of the U.K. Telegraph compares the Obama revealed by the hot mic to Ronald Reagan:
Ronald Reagan, together with Margaret Thatcher, stood up to Moscow, and brought the Soviet Empire to its knees. In contrast, Barack Obama has gone on his knees to grovel before the Russians. The exchange between President Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev in Seoul was a display of supplication before a major strategic adversary on an issue of great importance for US national security – missile defense. …
Barack Obama’s comments are disturbing on several levels. First, they display a willingness to placate America’s enemies, and cede ground over issues of national interest. Second, Obama is linking foreign policy decision-making to the timetable of the US presidential election, openly telling the Russians that he will deliver when he is no longer constrained by seeking re-election. This demonstrates contempt for the American people, suggesting that what he tells the Russians may be completely different to his message at home. Third, they reveal a dismissive approach towards America’s friends in eastern and central Europe, as well as US allies in the Gulf states, who must be wondering now if they will be sold out next.
President Obama’s remarks should be viewed against a backdrop of an astonishing surrender to Moscow over Third Site missile defence in September 2009, where he dropped plans for missile defence installations in Poland and the Czech Republic in the face of Russian opposition, a move that was seen as a betrayal of US allies.
An editorial in the Wall Street Journal captures what the open mic exchange could portend for a second term:
The worry is especially apt on national security, where Congress has far less power to limit Presidential policies. Mr. Putin wants to limit or kill U.S. missile defenses in Europe and elsewhere. Mr. Obama hasn't dared to cut such an arms control deal in his first term, but what about in a second? In 2001, he told a Chicago TV station that "I don't agree with a missile defense system."
On Tuesday, Mr. Obama insisted his private exchange with Mr. Medvedev was "not a matter of hiding the ball" until a second term. It's possible, if unlikely, that he was merely stringing Mr. Medvedev along with the old political calendar trick. But one of the lessons of Mr. Obama's first three years is that when he said he wanted to transform America, he wasn't kidding. He probably meant what he told Mr. Medvedev too.
I can’t help but be charmed by Speaker John Boehner’s chiding Mitt Romney, who jumped on the Medvedev remarks, for criticizing the president when he is overseas. This shows John Boehner as something increasingly rare in hyper-partisan Washington: a gentleman.
But Obama will soon be back in Washington, and, if Romney or the eventual GOP nominee doesn’t use this revelation to make the American people aware of the foreign policy possibilities for a second Obama administration, he will be an innocent at home.