Sending Signals

April 25th, 2009

“It’s unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States.” — President Barack Obama

That is a fascinating statement by the President. On the surface, the words he uses seem pragmatic, insightful and forward thinking. It is evident that the President truly believes he is doing the right thing by shaking hands with Mr. Chavez.

The problem is that the positive intent behind the statement is completely contradictory to the troublesome signal it sends. Read carefully, these 29 words clearly explain the role America will have in the world during his presidency. I cannot think of a time when an American president has so obviously wavered in supporting the principles of freedom, democracy, and the rule of law that America has stood for over the years.

What makes foreign policy so delicate is that every single action a leader makes sends a signal to the rest of the world. The significance of a simple handshake between President Obama and Mr. Chavez does not only impact U.S. and Venezuelan relations. The incident cannot be isolated. That handshake and conversation, which were so publicly seen, also sent signals to Moscow, Beijing, Pyongyang, Tehran, Jerusalem, Ankara, Islamabad and Havana.

There is no debate that America’s image is not viewed positively in some parts of the world. It is healthy to have a new President who takes great steps to better communicate American foreign policy. But what does it really say about American foreign policy when the United States President shakes hands and smiles while talking to individuals who publicly state our system, values and way of life are wrong?

The signal it sends is not one of reconciliation and reaching out, but one of weakness and doubt. The signal from the United States is that while we say we stand for democracy, freedom, individual rights, and the rule of law, we need to do it in a way that does not upset those who disagree with us. The signal it sends is that the United States is willing to acquiesce our own values if it means we might be more popular with a select group of people.

Some of the most troublesome signals that have been sent in the last few months include:

— Our relations with our strongest allies in Eastern Europe including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Ukraine will be viewed through the prism of whether they antagonize Russia. Anytime Russia objects, the U.S. will pull back in the name of “resetting” our relations with Moscow.

— The United States is no longer willing to take a strong, public stand for grass-roots democratic movements such as those taking place in Moldova. Taking a completely tepid approach, which is exactly what happened, will not rock the boat.

— The United States is willing to immediately turn the other way on issues of human rights and basic individual freedoms when dealing with China.

— The United States’ solution to working with Central and South America revolves squarely on working with a Cuban government that rejects political freedom, religious independence, a free media, and any basic form of individual liberty. However, maybe the Castro brothers will stop bashing America so frequently?

It is absolutely in the strategic interest of the United States to staunchly support those who share our values. It is in the strategic interest of the United States to stand up to those who do not.


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11 Responses to “Sending Signals”



  1. Posts about Barack Obama as of April 25, 2009 » The Daily Parr |

    […] about Barack Obama as of April 25, 2009 Sending Signals – opinion-forum.com 04/25/2009 “It’s unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or […]


  2. Topics about Russia » Sending Signals |

    […] Opinion Forum added an interesting post on Sending SignalsHere’s a small excerpt“It’s unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States.” — President Barack Obama That is a fascinating statement by the President. On the surface, the words he uses seem pragmatic, insightful and forward thinking. It is evident that the President truly believes he is doing the right thing by shaking hands with Mr. Chavez. The problem is that the positive intent behind th […]


  3. Kevin |

    One of America’s most infamously wimpy pacifists once said something along the lines of “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” Ironically enough, Venezuela played a central role in that limp-wristed pansy forwarding what came to be known as the “Roosevelt Corollary.”

    I submit that it is the smugly glib bellicosity of willful ignorance that is by far the greatest threat to the strategic interests of the United States.


  4. Tom |

    I don’t advocate bellicosity as a general standard of foreign policy, and I think Roosevelt was exactly right—a soft-spoken word backed up by power you’re willing to use when forced to.

    Trevor is right that our friends need to know that we know who they are and that supporting us is a positive thing. Those who are not friendly, and especially those whose values we can’t support, should know that we can’t be pushed beyond a certain point. There’s no need to be gratuitously rude to foreign leaders, but the President needs to be careful about symbolism. I’m not sure he’s got that part of the job under control yet.

    Trevor’s also right about our being too willing to put up with just about anything Russia does, at the expense of struggling people in the region who deserve our support. We also need to be willing to put more pressure on China regarding human rights. Obama needs to improve on Bush’s approach, but I don’t see him heading in the right direction yet.

    Latin America is and always has been a region of special importance to the U.S. We need to improve on the poor performance of the Bush Administration, but that doesn’t mean we should fall all over ourselves trying to be buddies with people like Chavez and the Castros. That will never turn out well.


  5. Kevin |

    Roosevelt advocated more than simply a softly-spoken word. He advocated genuine, meaningful civility that was more than just skin deep. He even advocated friendliness. But his notions of civility were the bedrock of what he unapologetically advocated.

    Trevor may make some valid points later on in the post. But his premise is an ideological hatchet-job apparently premised on the ignorance of the reader. It doesn’t take the knowledge of a rocket surgeon to surmise the likely connection between his absurd premise and the whack-job conservative punditry’s pontifications of late which it mirrors.


  6. Tom |

    “the smugly glib bellicosity of willful ignorance” and “the whack-job conservative punditry’s pontifications” are pretty good. But my favorite will always be Spiro Agnew’s “nattering nabobs of negativity.” It has a melodic alliterative quality that adds so much.

    But aside from gratuitous insults, Trevor makes a valid point. President Obama gave the very first televised interview of his presidency to al-Arabiya, an Arabic-language news service located in Dubai and backed by Saudi Arabia. He treated the British cavalierly, to say the least, bowed before the King of Saudi Arabia, and went way beyond a handshake to grin and joke it up with Chavez. Just these examples show that the President is off-key in his dealings with foreign leaders. Someone more experienced needs to get him in tune soon.

    As I’ve said before, I support the President, and I want him to be successful in foreign affairs. I certainly don’t doubt his intelligence, and I’m sure he has the best of intentions. But, as Trevor indicates, he needs to start sending the right signals.


  7. Tom |

    Just to add some perspective to the discussion, take a look at this photo of one of the Obama-Chavez interactions. A civil, statesman-like handshake and a few polite words is one thing. But this goes far beyond anything reasonable. Check out the kind of handshake, the grinning and jovial attitude of both, and the body language. The President might as well say, “Hey, this is my kind of guy!”


  8. Kevin |

    Disagreeing isn’t enough? He has to be disagreeable about it in order to send the right message? If that doesn’t represent a form of bellicosity then the word has no meaning except as a caricature of itself.

    So, is that how it is for you? Are you unable to grasp when an individual you have dealings with is committed to pursuing a path you dislike whether you like it or not unless he/she is also rude to you?


  9. Tom |

    Kevin, I’ve gone out of my way to say that I think Obama should be civil and statesman-like in his dealings with foreign leaders. I’ve never said he should be rude or bellicose; just the opposite. However, I think some of his interactions with other leaders, including Chavez, have been inappropriate in the context of U.S. national interests. Trevor is saying the same thing.

    Smug, glib, ignorant, bellicose, unable to grasp — are you using terms like that just because we disagree with you?


  10. Brian |

    The greatest threat to the strategic interests of the republic is the belief that one can actually get something for nothing.


  11. doris |

    I think Obama is right on. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. He intends to improve our relations with the whole world, not just those we approve of. Keep your friends close, your enemies closer. Clear as mud? He is wise and knows what he is doing. Just because I disagree with the way others act or live, I should keep the lines of communication open, I just might need them in the future, when I am broke. Because I bailed out all the rich companies, hmmmmmm?


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