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Richard Grenell

Richard Grenell

Posted: December 23, 2009 10:56 PM

Obama's Popularity Isn't Translating Into Progress

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The White House staff should never allow Barack Obama to go to Copenhagen again. The last time Obama went to Copenhagen the United States was turned down from the 2016 Olympic bidding process in the first round. This last week, Obama went to Copenhagen for the UN Climate Change Conference and he came up short on his goal for an international agreement on one of his priority issues. If Obama can't convince the international community to go along with one of his signature issues then the President's clout isn't what some Americans claim it to be. Other than health care reform, President Obama has talked about global warming and climate change issues more than almost any other issue during the campaign and since taking office. The Copenhagen disaster is a real sign of Obama's shallow influence internationally.

The biggest news coming out of Copenhagen, but not covered by the American media, is that Obama hasn't been able to convince other countries to act even though he is the most popular head of state. We're one year into Obama's presidency and the international community has yet to take action on any U.S. priority. You have to wonder why world leaders claim to love him but won't follow him.

Obama's popularity and charisma failed to convince the world to bring the Olympics to the U.S., to sign the Copenhagen agreement, to produce new additional NATO troops for Afghanistan or Iraq, to produce any additional action on confronting Iran's continued uranium enrichment and even to convince his own Democratic party to support some of his priority issues.

Candidate Obama received the media's overt support throughout the primary and general elections and became an international superstar. Today, Barack or Michelle Obama continue to appear on large and medium sized magazine covers from health and fitness publications to news periodicals to cooking and sports magazines and in nearly every language.

But Copenhagen has shown that we shouldn't confuse Obama's popularity with progress. He is clearly popular in other countries but it is because he isn't asking them to act. Or if he is, he isn't strong enough to convince them. They love the easy ride.

Iran's illegal enrichment of uranium is a perfect example of Obama's weakness. During the Bush administration, the president and his team were able to isolate Iran and organize the international community to produce Security Council sanctions and a total of three UN resolutions. Although forcing the Security Council to negotiate and ultimately vote on tough resolutions is never easy and always unpopular, it is an important leadership test. China, Russia and others weren't happy to be forced to confront Iran -- but ultimately Iran sanctions were passed with unanimous support.

The Obama team has chosen to take the easy and popular path. There has been no increase in sanctions or additional UN resolutions on Iran since the Bush administration ended. In fact, multiple deadlines have passed without repercussions for the government of Iran. Enrichment continues at multiple sites in Iran even though the UN Security Council has demanded the government suspend enrichment with verification.

Obama's popularity may produce large crowds and warm compliments, but one thing I learned while serving 8 years at the United Nations is to be suspicious when you are the most popular guy in a room full of international negotiators.