Commenter “T” asks an excellent question:
I really don’t know how intentional the foundation of this [foreign policy] implosion was, but I’d bet good money on one thing: that Obama never thought he’d be diminishing his own persona to the international laughingstock he is becoming.
For the life of me I can’t understand how he believed that he could retain any grace, dignity or respect after reducing the prestige of the country he supposedly leads. If you lead a lesser nation, you are a less important head of state. Did he really (narcissistically) believe himself to be immune?
It’s a good question because there’s a lot of logic there. Under normal circumstances, it would be hard to believe that a president would imagine he could enhance his own prestige—or at least have it remain substantially intact, if already high, as Obama’s was from the start—by reducing the status and power of his own country. After all, doesn’t a president derive that status and power from that of his country (do we know the name of the president of Tanzania)?
But Obama’s circumstances are not normal, and he knows it. I’ve written before about Obama’s belief in the power of his actual person and his empty words devoid of any deeds or backup, and how that belief has been justified to a large extent by the trajectory of his life until now. For most of his adult years he has gotten kudos merely by walking into a room and speaking, and this enabled him to reach the highest pinnacle of American power, the presidency, with a resume that would not have been nearly enough to have catapulted another man into the same position or anything like it.
And until recently, this was true on the world stage as well. When Obama took office, world opinion about his gifts and potential was extraordinarily high. He got the Nobel Peace Prize for merely showing up, and whatever you or I might think of such a dubious honor and how unearned it was, much of the world (and certainly Obama himself) was highly impressed.
Obama seemed to belief in Obaman exceptionalism while simultaneously denying American exceptionalism and also apologizing for his country—remember wife Michelle’s statement about how Obama’s imminent nomination was the first time in her adult life she was really proud of her country? So the country’s pride and prestige was derived from its elevation of Obama, not the other way around.
You might ask whether Obama (and Michelle) actually believed this. My answer is that they both gave, and still give, every indication that they did and do. Variations on the theme have been repeated almost endlessly in an over-the-top manner that would probably embarrass more modest people but that don’t seem to cause even a flicker of shame for Obama and his wife. Some narcissistic bluster is merely a cover-up for feelings of inferiority. But Obama’s bluster feels and sounds like the real deal.
For example, during the 2008 campaign, when most of us were first getting to know Obama, this astounding statement of his on the subject of his foreign policy expertise made a deep impression on me. Now of course I wouldn’t have expected presidential candidate Obama to have owned up to his being a completely untested neophyte in that sphere. But something about the sheer preening juvenile brazen arrogance of his remarks (his college trip to Pakistan qualified him for the presidency?) smacked of being a lot more than a sophistic argument made for show.
Simply put, Obama seemed to truly believe his own bull and to believe others would believe it too. And hasn’t he been more or less correct until recently?
Here’s what Obama said back then:
…[T]his is supposedly the place where experience is most needed to be Commander-in-Chief. Experience in Washington is not knowledge of the world. This I know. When Senator Clinton brags ‘I’ve met leaders from eighty countries’–I know what those trips are like! I’ve been on them. You go from the airport to the embassy. There’s a group of children who do native dance. You meet with the CIA station chief and the embassy and they give you a briefing. You go take a tour of a plant that [with] the assistance of USAID has started something. And then–you go.
You do that in eighty countries–you don’t know those eighty countries. So when I speak about having lived in Indonesia for four years, having family that is impoverished in small villages in Africa–knowing the leaders is not important–what I know is the people. . . .
I traveled to Pakistan when I was in college–I knew what Sunni and Shia was [sic] before I joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. . . .
Nobody is entirely prepared for being Commander-in-Chief. The question is when the 3 AM phone call comes do you have somebody who has the judgment, the temperament to ask the right questions, to weigh the costs and benefits of military action, who insists on good intelligence, who is not going to be swayed by the short-term politics. By most criteria, I’ve passed those tests and my two opponents have not.
In April of 2008 I wrote:
…[A]lthough youthful exuberance and innocence can be charming even in an adult, youthful arrogance and ignorance never is.
Is Obama really this unaware, or is he faking it to appeal to the youthful demographic? I haven’t a clue, but I fear it’s the former…
Whether or not you believe (as I do) that part of Obama’s intent was to reduce US influence and prestige in the international arena, or whether you believe it was not planned but was an accidental result of his own incompetence, there is plenty of evidence that, either way, Obama believed that his own reputation would remain mostly undamaged. That might seem to be a contradiction for some people, but not for Barack Obama.
[NOTE: If you want to see the sort of thing that helps Obama believe that his reputation will remain intact somehow, just take a look at what Andrew Sullivan has to say today.]