President Obama’s administration just can’t leave well enough alone. First, it couldn’t manage to be respectful to Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, during his visit. When a State Department official responsible for planning the visit was questioned about this by the Sunday Telegraph, the official’s response was:
There’s nothing special about Britain. You’re just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn’t expect special treatment.
Next, it was Russia’s turn. The “reset/overcharge” fiasco at least led to an internal apology by long-time Clinton aide Philippe Reines, which is more than Britain has received. Too bad the apology was as poorly-written as it was cringing. Then Poland got the Obama treatment, when its pleas for continued American support on missile defense were met with a stony mention of further discussions.
But Obama doesn’t give up easily: he’s an equal opportunity offender. French newspapers are reporting that Obama has written a reply to a letter from former French President Jacques Chirac, who’s now the head of the “Jacques Chirac Foundation for sustainable development and cultural dialogue.” In his reply, Obama states he is “certain that we will be able to work together, in the coming four years, in a spirit of peace and friendship to build a safer world.”
The left is now falling all over itself to explain that, of course, Obama knows Sarkozy, not Chirac, is the President of France. And we don’t doubt – well, at least not seriously – that he does. But you don’t see Gordon Brown writing to Bill Clinton to say that he looks forward to working with the Clinton Library.
There’s a good reason for that. The essence of international relations is that they are conducted between states, not between states and NGOs. It’s not appropriate for a foreign leader to subvert our sovereignty by bypassing our government and promising to work with an American NGO. American leaders should show the same respect for other states.
Good manners do dictate a civil response to such a letter, even if it does come from an NGO headed by a corrupt and disgraced former President of France, who when in office made no secret of his dislike of the United States, whether led by Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. But there are many ways to respond that do not state a desire to work together: finding the right words in these circumstances is what diplomats are for. Unfortunately, in the Obama administration, diplomats – especially diplomatic ones – are in very short supply.