This week, Americans were given a window into the way world leaders speak to one another in private. A conversation between President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was caught on a microphone that neither man realized was live.
“On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this can be solved,” Obama said. “But it’s important for [incoming Russian President Vladimir Putin] to give me space … This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.”
“I understand,” Medvedev responded. “I will transmit this information to Vladimir.” The exchange comes two-and-a-half years after Obama scrapped Bush-era missile defense plans in Eastern Europe, bowing to pressure from the Russians.
This unfortunate hot-mic exchange will have security implications, and it will surely sour our relations with allies in that part of the world. But as much as America’s allies might be angered by Obama’s words, Americans should be even more so. Their president — the man charged with conducting America’s foreign policy and overseeing its defense — told another world leader that he is willing to make concessions on an important issue once he has finally and permanently escaped accountability to them. At that point, Obama said, he will have “more flexibility,” presumably to do something they might disapprove of in an election year or view as not in the nation’s best interests.
Set aside the important question of missile defense — Obama was a skeptic on that long before he ran for president. This magic microphone moment calls into question Obama’s concept of government service. If he is acting in Americans’ interests, why must he hide his intentions until his second term? The incident also suggests a rather dim view of American citizens — as rabble unable to grasp the pros and cons of issues like missile defense.
This is not the first time Obama has behaved in this way. During the 2008 campaign, he and presidential rival Hillary Clinton were trying to outdo one another with populist, anti-free-trade rhetoric ahead of the Ohio primary. Obama went so far as to say he might try to pull the U.S. out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, causing some consternation for our Canadian neighbors.
Then the Associated Press obtained a Canadian diplomatic memo revealing that top Obama economic advisor Austan Goolsbee had met with Canada’s consul general in Chicago. The memo states that Goolsbee reassured the Canadians that all of Obama’s talk about NAFTA “should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans.”
This new incident with Medvedev, like the earlier one with Canada, sends a message about Obama. His real foreign policy is not necessarily the foreign policy he wants Americans to think he is conducting.