Obama Struggles to Form Friendships Abroad

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Wednesday, 19 Jun 2013 03:32 PM

By Melanie Batley

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President Barack Obama has struggled to forge strong relationships with foreign heads of state, unlike presidents before him, and recent international encounters with a number of leaders have highlighted his uneasiness with them.

According to The New York Times, not only has the president struggled to bridge the divide with the leaders of two of America's oldest antagonists, Russia's President Vladimir Putin and China's President Xi Jinping, but he also has a tense relationship with the heads of some of America's most important European allies.

Obama traded strong words recently with the Chinese president over computer hacking and Internet surveillance tactics, while Putin continues to openly demonstrate disdain for Obama's policies on Syria.

Meanwhile, America's long-time friend, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has signaled she intends to grill Obama about the National Security Agency's surveillance program, while French President Francois Hollande reportedly is unhappy that Obama didn't do more to help with the war in Mali and respond more robustly in Syria, the Times reported.

Obama also appears to have little influence over the anti-democratic behavior of some of the leaders he's spent significant time cultivating, such as Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Mohamed Morsi of Egypt.

R. Nicholas Burns, a longtime senior American diplomat and a lecturer at Harvard University, says the personal relationships a president builds with foreign leaders can be important, but in the end may have little impact on decisions that have to be made.

He points out that relationships between the United States and other countries continue along the same policy fronts out of necessity, from one administration to another regardless of which party holds the White House.

"You don't need to be buddies with someone to establish an effective relationship," Burns told the Times. "Not everyone can be Roosevelt and Churchill, forming a personal bond to end the Second World War."

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