- - Monday, May 25, 2015


British Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent stunning victory for his Conservative party catapulted him to one of the three top Western world leaders, alongside Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Francois Hollande. Mr. Cameron wasn’t supposed to win for numerous reasons, not the least of which because of his austerity policies and vigorous opposition from Labor and Liberal parties that thought a bigger government was the key to Britain’s growth.

Of course, President Obama’s strategists believe that Mr. Cameron won because he employed techniques employed by Mr. Obama in his 2012 campaign victory, even to the extent of employing Jim Messina, the president’s top campaign manager. But Mr. Obama’s smoke-and-mirror strategy was different from Mr. Cameron‘s, no substitute for a solid record that the prime minister compiled: strong on adhering to announced policies, especially in terms of illustrating that although friends with Mr. Obama, it wasn’t a Ronald Reagan-Margaret Thatcher situation that saw a united twosome. Note, too, that unlike the sycophant American media that give Mr. Obama a free pass, the British press takes no political prisoners, subjecting leaders like Mr. Cameron to a scathing assault and erroneously predicting his rejection by voters.

Just think how historians will write about world leaders in the year 2015. Angela Merkel has taken the lead in working overtime to deal with Greece’s debt problems so that the European Union will remain intact, and has been the key figure in dealing with Vladimir Putin and his Ukraine incursions. Francois Hollande has escalated his war against radical Islamic terrorists at home and in Algeria and Niger. Mr. Cameron delivered on his austerity promises, kept an arms length from Mr. Obama (except for photo ops) and played hardball with the EU in urging reforms. And he’s effectively managed Scottish nationalists hell-bent on independence and Brits wanting to leave the EU, no matter that the liberal American media now predict — without solid evidence — that both of these opponents will eventually have their way.

What can be said of President Obama in 2015? As an historian, I compare him to the most ineffective president the nation has had since the tenure of Thomas McKean (1734-1817) of Delaware. Yes, McKean was president of the Continental Congress from July 10, 1781, to Nov. 4, 1781, when there was no Constitution and the presiding officer of Congress was the closest entity to a president. McKean, about whom I wrote my master’s thesis in 1962, was out of his element when it came to national leadership because, under the Articles of Confederation that governed the revolting states, he was given no power, only ceremonial duties.

And that has been the same route for Mr. Obama, big on ceremony, fundraisers and campaign-style speeches, woefully inadequate in terms of using his authority to work with Congress to effect policies.

If the Brits under Mr. Cameron have been more careful in their foreign policy interventions (Parliament recently turned down getting involved in a bombing campaign in Syria), it isn’t because of a dereliction of international duty. Rather, it’s because the United States under Mr. Obama hasn’t committed to a strategy that would be effective in easing world crises. It doesn’t take a doctorate in international relations to fathom that the Obama administration made a colossal mistake over the years in its treatment of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, viewed by the president through his words and actions as more offensive than the Iranian leaders who shout “Death to America.”

Late last year, according to the Harvard Gazette, a poll of 26,000 individuals on five continents and 30 countries was conducted to evaluate the 10 top world leaders in terms of their job performance. Not surprisingly, Mr. Obama wasn’t anywhere near the top, outdistanced greatly by Chinese President Xi Jinping, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Angela Merkel. Mr. Obama was viewed as average, nothing special, a rating somewhat reminiscent of the story of the high school basketball star who peaked at age 18 and ended up barely eking out an existence and reputation for the rest of his life.

Recall Mr. Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, less than eight months after he entered the White House? A recent poll of Americans indicated that 55 percent believe he didn’t deserve it. And now he’s moved from a prizewinner to a member of the JV team of world leaders.

Thomas V. DiBacco is professor emeritus at American University.

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