I never believed in Barack Obama but I never doubted that he existed. Suddenly, I am having doubts. This afternoon I listened to an NPR story by Ari Shapiro about the President's recent trip to Latin America. Here are some nuggets as best I can transcribe them.
Latin America's enthusiasm for the Obama family burst into view the minute the President and First Lady walked into Brasilia's Planalto Palace on Saturday to face the scrum of local and foreign press.
Said one voice "we have so many good things here: Samba, Cachaça, and" something. Samba is a dance and Cachaça is sugarcane booze. I couldn't figure out how to Google the third good thing about Brazil. Shapiro says:
It was all part of a relationship building spring break trip which had as much to do with business as pleasure.
A "relationship-building spring break"! Well, Barack wouldn't be the first American to go south for a little Cachaça during spring break.
I gather that the President talked a lot about jobs. Good enough. The President sees Latin America as buying power to help the U.S. economy and countries that have made a peaceful transition to democracy. Even better. Now: what was he trying to accomplish down there? Shapiro tells us.
Many Presidential foreign trips come with a to do list of deals and treaties that the U.S. hopes to secure, but that was never the focus of this tour. "I think it was pretty heavy on symbolism and light on substance…"
That quote was Michael Shifter, President of Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank in Washington. Shapiro goes on:
It's difficult to gauge success on a trip designed to build a relationship, as White House spokesman Josh Ernest acknowledged during the last stop in El Salvador: "The easiest way to measure the results of the trip are not the things you can measure immediately but certainly over months and years as opportunities expand in this region…"
Let's unpack that. The President's trip to Latin American accomplished nothing that can be measured now and we will scarcely know in the future what influence it had. That's about as close as one could come to saying that it accomplished nothing without actually saying it.
It accomplished nothing. Accomplishing anything of "substance" was "never the focus." It was all hat and no cattle. I think we have to acknowledge that NPR is not without a sense of responsibility. Yes, they put lipstick on the pig, but they still brought the pig out on stage. On its own merits, this trip looks like a very shallow pretence of foreign policy.
Of course, while Latin America was bursting with enthusiasm for the First Family, American cruise missiles were bursting in Libya. I wonder: did any American President ever launch a war while away on a junket? George W. Bush was ruthlessly (and with good reason) raked over the coals for going on vacation while Hurricane Katrina approached New Orleans. Barack Obama ordered American forces into harm's way while on spring break.
Of course, the Libyan unpleasantness isn't war. It's a "kinetic military action." That's what the Administration now insists on calling it. See Byron York. As the President finally gets back to Washington, the "coalition" of nations involved in the Libyan adventure is falling apart. From the London Telegraph:
The US President "absolutely" ruled out a land invasion to oust Col Muammar Gaddafi and insisted that America would stand down from its leading military role within days. But uncertainty over who would take over military command deepened as France and Britain remained divided over how central Nato's role would be in the international coalition.
The Administration is promising that the U.S. will hand over military command of the Libyan operations within days. But to who? The Arab League? Germany is threatening to all but pull out of NATO if NATO takes command of the operation. Italy is threatening to deny use of its bases unless the leadership question is resolved. How can it be resolved? If anyone in the Obama Administration has a clue, they are keeping it a secret.
I am having really trouble believing that this empty man is really the President of the United States.