Rhetoric Doesn't Earn Respect

By now, you may have seen Gallup’s recent poll concluding that, “For the first time, more Americans think President Barack Obama is not respected by other world leaders than believe he is. Americans’ opinions have shifted dramatically in the past year, after being relatively stable from 2010 to 2013.”

In 2013, 51% of Americans believed that leaders of other countries had respect for Barack Obama, with 43% believing that such leaders didn’t have much respect for him. Just one year later in 2014, only 41% believe that leaders of other countries respect Obama, with 53% believing that those leaders do not.

That’s a pretty big change in a pretty short period of time. Perhaps Obama’s confusing “red line” rhetoric with respect to Syria and his failed “reset” with Russia have something to do with it. In 2009, as a stark contrast, Gallup measured the number of Americans who believed that leaders of other countries had respect for Obama at a high 67%. That’s a 26% drop from 2009 to 2014.

Clearly, many believed in Barack Obama the campaigner, believed that he would somehow make leaders battling democratic principles around the world see the light through skilled, intellectual rhetoric and a willingness to negotiate.

Instead, what the world saw from Obama was inconsistency coupled with weakness. As it turns out, intellectual rhetoric doesn’t intimidate dictators, no matter how well it’s delivered. Weakness doesn’t earn respect from guys like Putin; it also doesn’t send them rushing to the negotiating table with open ears and open minds.

As you have watched the news developing in Ukraine and Venezuela this week, you can’t help but wonder what Barack Obama’s next move will be. And despite past trends, you can’t help but hope that it will be one that commands respect for the ideals we value as a country–freedom, economic opportunity, and human rights.

These are the moments that define who we are as a nation. Times like these remind us best why good leadership matters.

Follow Jedediah on Twitter @JedediahBila

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