The PJ Tatler

What is This, Kindergarten, Mr. President?

FP picks up on President Obama’s excuse for deciding not to meet with any foreign leaders during this week’s confab at the United Nations. That decision is the first of its kind in decades; previous presidents met with foreign leaders during UN assemblies in election years.

Mr. Obama was scheduled to attend a reception for world leaders at the United Nations on Monday night. But a campaign adviser acknowledged privately that in this election year, campaigning trumped meetings with world leaders. “Look, if he met with one leader, he would have to meet with 10,” the aide said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

In kindergarten we’re all taught that if you don’t have enough cookies to share with the whole class, you shouldn’t bring any cookies to class at all. Perhaps that kind of “fairness” thinking is behind the president’s decision. He often puts his ideals of “fairness” above other considerations, even admitting in 2008 that he wanted to raise taxes on upper income Americans out of “fairness,” even though such hikes would not close the deficit or help the economy. Both of those considerations were less important to Obama than imposing “fairness.”

It’s infantile thinking, and in the case of meeting with world leaders, can be very counterproductive. Not only are such meetings more important parts of his job than campaigning, which was given the priority according to the nameless aide, but such meetings can and do communicate powerfully. They’re not about “fairness,” they’re about advancing America’s interests and telling the world what’s what. An American president seen meeting with a world leader communicates America’s priorities and can signal resolve or closeness in the bilateral relationship. That’s part of why Obama’s choice not to meet with Israel’s PM was such a big deal, and why his choice to meet with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood president was also a big deal. Taken together those decisions signaled that America might be switching sides.

So now in the face of pressure and having to make a decision, Obama has just thrown up his hands and screamed “No one gets any cookies!”

The world is not a “fair” place. America has to lead and the American president has no choice but to prioritize, lead and communicate clearly. If Barack Obama doesn’t want to lead, he should go back to his backbenching in the Senate or his adjunct professorship.