Sometimes a pundit manages to prove the opposite of his intended point. E.g. Shmuel Rosner’s piece in Slate which insinuates that world leaders are disinclined to do anything for Obama because he’s too “nice and conciliatory”. “If he can’t fight, he isn’t scary,” Rosner snarks. (We’re in two wars; how many do we have to wage before we’re fighting?)
Only by Rosner’s own admission, George Bush, who was not nice and not conciliatory and very willing to fight, did even worse. He cites Time‘s judgement that “the Bush administration is neither loved nor feared in growing sectors of the international community — increasingly, it is simply being ignored.”
But you know, if US arrogance and US civility have the same effect, then perhaps the explanation doesn’t lie on the US side. Certainly you can’t suggest that Obama is too nice when you’ve also just shown that not being nice has even less effect.
By his own evidence the likeliest explanation is that the world just isn’t seeing the benefit of aligning with US policy. That’s exactly, in fact, what Fareed Zakaria has been saying.
However, I do think Rosner is exaggerating how bad things are, with a barely concealed smirk. It’s hardly fair to expect Obama’s first year to create a turnaround on Cuba, or even Israel. (In calmer moments Rosner has even explained why no one in the Mideast is interested in peace for now.)
The most important international issue Obama’s addressed is global warming; the agreement at Copenhagen is at least a step back to sanity and working together, which at least is better than Bush’s eight years of noncooperation and denial. But this isn’t an issue that’s going to be solved at international conferences anyway. To put it bluntly, the world will start to take it seriously when the US does… and it hasn’t yet. Don’t blame the Chinese for not doing what we’re also not doing.