Everybody is saying no to the American president these days. And it's not just that they're saying no, it's also the way they're saying no.
The Saudis twice said no to his request for normalization gestures towards Israel (at Barack Obama's meeting with King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia, and in Washington at meetings with Hillary Clinton). Who says no to the American president twice? What must they think of Obama in the desert kingdom?
The North Koreans said no to repeated attempts at talks, by test-launching long-range missiles in April; Russia and China keep on saying no to tougher sanctions on Iran; the Iranians keep saying no to offers of talks by saying they're willing to talk about everything except a halt to uranium enrichment; Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is saying no by refusing to meet with Binyamin Netanyahu until Israel freezes all settlement construction; the Israelis said no by refusing to agree to a settlement freeze, or even a settlement moratorium until and unless the Arabs ante up their normalization gestures. Which brings us back to the original Saudi no.
The only thing Obama did manage to get Bibi and Abbas to say yes to is a photo-op at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in NY. Mazel tov.
So why is everyone saying no to Obama?
It's the economy, stupid.
Everyone has worked it out by now: The great secret is out. America's economy has made Obama a weak president, and he will likely remain weak throughout his first term. He has about two years to pull the American economy out of its free-fall before he begins his reelection campaign. If he can do it, and that's a big if, chances are good that he'll get reelected, and in his second term he can try to pull some geopolitical strings. But for the next three years, expect to see a world that says no to Obama. No meaningful and dramatic diplomatic initiative can come out of the White House in the next three years, as long as Obama remains weak.
And that's a real pity, because there are some serious and imminent issues that need to be addressed.
Pyongyang is getting more bellicose and not being punished. The North Koreans have violated every single international agreement and norm, and nothing tangible has happened to them.
In Iran, this registers. "Look at how bad they're being," the mullahs say, "and they're getting away with it." Even so, the Iranian government is weak internally and internationally following its election fiasco.
The US and EU could tighten sanctions against Iran without the support of Russia and China, but they would need political will for that. Sanctions, such as a ban on refined oil imports, barring Iranian flights to America and Europe etc., could have a serious impact on Iran and weaken the regime further. The US and EU can act now against Iran like the US and UK did against Libya several years ago when they persuaded Gaddafi to abandon his nuclear ambitions. Back then, though, the US was much stronger. Now, the American economy, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and North Korea have all weakened the US.
In retaliation for increased, unilateral sanctions, Iran could turn up the heat on US and coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, which will stymie Obama's plan to win and withdraw. In Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran has the US president by the kishkes, in a manner of speaking. And so do the Taliban.
So, when a president with so many problems comes asking for a favor, everyone finds it easier to just say no.
For more of Amir's articles and posts, visit his personal blog Forecast Highs