Obama’s Foreign Policy: Friends Close, Enemies Closer

Thanks to this week’s revelations that the NSA tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone, I have finally been able to define Obama’s foreign policy. At first, I thought it was just good old-fashioned incompetence and naïveté. No longer. The policy is best described by Michael Corleone’s famous adage from The Godfather: Part II – “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”

Michael Corleone himself was not incompetent. He was ruthlessly, coldly efficient. Obama is cold too. And he knows what he’s doing. How else did he win the Nobel Peace Prize? Certainly not by accomplishing nothing….

Then this must be the genius, albeit imperfect, Obama strategy. Why else would he continue a policy like tapping the cell phone of the leader of one of our closest allies?

The president’s — and his administration’s — response has been essentially “I didn’t know about it, but it’s Bush’s fault” (as usual). This doesn’t fly. “[I]t would have had to be repeatedly approved, including after Obama took office and up to the present time. Is it conceivable that the NSA made the German chancellor a surveillance target without the president’s knowledge?” Der Spiegel asks rhetorically.

No, Obama knew what he was doing. He was keeping his enemies close in order to make them think he was naïve of their doings and to keep a closer eye on them. This is why he has been willing to meet with the clearly radical, moderate-in-poor-disguise Hassan Rouhani. This is why he has been appeasingly weak on Cuba. This is why he was willing to ally with al-Qaeda affiliated rebel groups in Syria. This is why he didn’t care that his Syria policy continued to make him look weak to an increasingly nuclear North Korea.

This is the genius of the Obama strategy, keeping our enemies closer than our friends. But that’s not to say there aren’t potential problems with this strategy. When one adopts it, one puts oneself in danger of confusing friends and enemies, alienating those who should be on your side. Even a genius like Michael Corleone fell into that trap.

Why else would he snub Great Britain by declining to meet with former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, removing the bust of Winston Churchill from his office, and giving Queen Elizabeth an iPod with photos of himself on it as a gift? Why else would he snub the leader of our strongest ally in the Middle East – more than once?


“Obama angered Nicolas Sarkozy by choosing to dine with his family instead of with France’s then-president during his visit to Paris. The Polish and Czech heads of state were informed by telephone by the president that a long-planned missile defense system would not be installed in their countries.” Further, “Obama let the relationships with Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s president, and the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki deteriorate so much that the troop withdrawals grew more difficult.”

Obama’s predecessor Bush, like Michael’s predecessor Vito, seemed at least to possess some wisdom as to how the world worked, who his friends and enemies were, and how to not alienate his allies. But neither possessed the cold efficiency of those who followed them.

Obama’s decisions appeared to be all nonsense until you realize that this is just the soft underbelly of his otherwise genius “friends close, enemies closer” policy.

I hear a collective “ah!” of appreciation as you now realize that he is indeed the one we were waiting for.

Though countries have always spied on each other, one would have thought that there would be a distinction between who you tap and who you don’t based on the deterioration of relations that might result. At least, if you do it, you ought not to get caught.

Or so the conventional foreign policy wisdom would have gone. No longer. Our eyes have been opened and we can now resist the temptation to say what Kay said to Michael in The Godfather: Part II: “You are so blind.”