Editorials

President Obama’s overseas tour didn’t make friends or solve problems

The Editorial Board

President Barack Obama had a rare enjoyable moment on his recent trip overseas, testing virtual reality goggles with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
President Barack Obama had a rare enjoyable moment on his recent trip overseas, testing virtual reality goggles with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. AP

“I still have a few more months” in office, President Barack Obama said with a smile during a recent discussion with young people in London when asked how he viewed his legacy.

Yes, he does. But Obama’s trip to Saudi Arabia and Europe was like a sad goodbye.

Perhaps the only charming meeting he had during the tour was with Prince George. It’s true: The 2-year-old prince and his white bathrobe were adorable.

Other than that, the time spent overseas was less than enjoyable.

Little progress in Saudi Arabia

Did the Saudis snub the president?

Surprisingly there was no king or any other person from the royal family at the airport when Air Force One landed in Riyadh. Before the visit, Saudi Arabia had warned the United States that it would sell $750 billion in American assets if Congress passed a bill that would allow victims of Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack to sue foreign governments.

With that downgraded ceremony at the airport, King Salman clearly showed his reaction to the pending 9/11 measure.

Many big issues were on the table for the visit to Saudi Arabia: civil war in Syria, the Islamic State and the role of Iran in the conflict in Yemen. But little progress was made.

It’s no secret that the Saudis remain unhappy about Obama’s deal with Iran. America’s newborn relations with that country are causing other allies in the Gulf to say a dismissive farewell to a lame-duck Obama.

Britain and the EU problem

The president’s next stop was London, where he spoke about the European Union referendum scheduled for June 23.

Obama properly opposed the prospect of Britain leaving the EU, a plan known as “Brexit.” He warned that the United Kingdom would not get preferential treatment over the EU when it comes to negotiating new terms on trade with the United States. And he said it could take Britain 10 years to negotiate a trade deal with America if Britain voted to leave the EU.

Conservatives and liberals in the country did not like his words, which is understandable. Nobody likes other countries’ leaders telling them what to do.

Before Obama’s trip, London’s famous conservative mayor Boris Johnson had contended that Obama’s “part-Kenyan” heritage had driven him toward anti-British sentiment.

After Obama’s words on the Brexit plan, Johnson said it was “inconsistent, perverse and hypocritical” to tell the EU to give up its sovereignty when the U.S. would not dream of doing a similar thing itself.

However, the president’s words were completely correct and in line with his major foreign policies during his time in office.

Yet the status quo has changed. Nationalism, radicalism and terrorism are simultaneously rising all around the world. In Johnson’s words, Obama saw some evidence of that ugliness during his trip to Britain. In the United States, Americans can witness the rising anger of many people through Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Better times in Germany

Let’s count Obama’s stop this week in Germany as a consolation prize.

He met German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. The main topics were Syria’s civil war and its consequences on the refugee problem and ISIS.

Obama stressed that United States and the world need a strong united Europe. He praised Merkel’s refugee plan, saying she was on the “right side” of history.

Merkel responded, “What you see is friendly, close, trusting cooperation that I am very pleased with, also because it helps solve international problems.”

The two leaders have had several problems in recent years. The Germans accused the U.S. of spying on Merkel’s cellphone, and Obama and Merkel have had different views on the global financial crisis. But the woes of the European Union and the refugee crisis have brought them together.

But the German media did not like Obama’s words. Most of them dislike the refugee plan with Turkey for good reasons. They say it’s unfair because Germany is choosing which refugees it allows into the country and is paying Turkey to block other refugees from coming to Europe.

They are also angry because Merkel is allowing Turkey’s president, Tayyip Erdogan, to sue a German comedian for insulting him. That’s absurd.

Unfortunately, Obama and the other leaders were not able in a single meeting to resolve the huge question on the table regarding the crisis in Syria. That’s especially true when it comes to deciding how to respond to Russia’s military involvement there.

Obama’s last trip to Saudi Arabia and Europe was unpleasant. He came across angry to many people. It must have been exhausting.

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