Updated: October 28, 2013 7:29AM
Much ado is being made about the charm offensive of the new president of Iran, especially at the United Nations this week. More significant is the growing evidence of the failure of the five-year charm offensive of President Barack Obama on the international stage where he had been widely expected to excel.
From the start, Obama made outreach to Iran a priority, emphasizing diplomacy to persuade Tehran to abandon its pursuit of nuclear arms. He made clear time and again he had no interest in regime change, even turning a cold shoulder to the 2009 protests by democracy advocates against a stolen Iran election. But his proffered hand was slapped away by the rabidly radical Iranian president at the time, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
With Hasan Rouhani, a figure widely described as moderate, replacing the firebrand Ahmadinejad, Obama in his speech to the U.N. this week again declared he wasn’t “seeking regime change.” The White House made no secret of its expectations of an informal handshake meeting between Obama and Rouhani.
No thanks, Rouhani said. Administration officials and sympathetic experts explained this away as Rouhani protecting himself from hardliners in Iran. Maybe. But if the actual ruler there, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was aiming for rapprochement, he would have no interest in dealing a humiliating rejection to Obama.
Rouhani may have toned down the rhetoric of Ahmadinejad but he stuck by the message that Iran has the right to enrich uranium for its own purposes. Most observers think those purposes are nuclear weapons.
More embarrassment came at the U.N. as Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, blasted the United States for spying on her nation. It was a reminder that she had canceled a state visit to Washington over the National Security Agency eavesdropping despite Obama’s attempt to talk her out of it. Again the administration and friendly experts explained away this snub by saying Rousseff couldn’t appear to be kowtowing to the overbearing Yankee nation.
At least the U.N. meeting spared Obama any further insult from Russian President Vladimir Putin. He had granted sanctuary to Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker who has caused Obama so much grief and damaged U.S. interests. Putin wrote a put-down commentary article in the New York Times so insulting that it outraged even fierce Obama critics like Sen. John McCain.
Putin rescued Obama from his inept handling of the Syrian sarin gas attack, but it wasn’t to be helpful. His only interest was protecting the Russian client regime in Damascus.
Britain’s Parliament rejected a military strike in Syria that was based, as one member put it, on Obama “foolishly drawing a red line.”
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Recall the adoring crowds that greeted candidate Obama at a Berlin address. Remember how Obama was supposed to be the antidote to the cowboy George W. Bush who would restore U.S. stature in the world.
It’s one thing to wow young people like those Germans who saw Obama as a rock-star politician. It’s another thing to tangle with hard-nosed rulers who care nothing about good intentions and who are ruthlessly committed to their own agendas.