In what many will interpret as an astonishing snub to NATO in the face of Russian aggression, President Obama has refused to meet with the new head of the treaty group, who is currently visiting Washington, D.C.
“President Barack Obama has yet to meet with the new head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and won’t see Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg this week, even though he is in Washington for three days,” writes Josh Rogin at Bloomberg View. “Stoltenberg’s office requested a meeting with Obama well in advance of the visit, but never heard anything from the White House, two sources close to the NATO chief told me.”
“The leaders of almost all the other 28 NATO member countries have made time for Stoltenberg since he took over the world’s largest military alliance in October,” Rogin adds. “Stoltenberg, twice the prime minister of Norway, met Monday with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa to discuss the threat of the Islamic State and the crisis in Ukraine, two issues near the top of Obama’s agenda.”
It is difficult to perceive Obama’s refusal to meet with the new NATO chief as anything but a signal to Vladimir Putin that he should not expect too much trouble from this Administration. Stoltenberg had to settle for a meeting with Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, and even that was arranged at the last minute.
Rogin notes that little evidence exists for the President being occupied with more urgent matters in the time during which he could meet with Stoltenberg: the President is scheduled to deliver “a short speech to kick off a meeting related to the Affordable Care Act” and “a speech about the economy” in Alabama while Stoltenberg is in town.
Rogin quotes Kurt Volker, who represented both the Bush and Obama administrations to NATO, marveling that Obama’s snub is unprecedented, particularly at such a tense moment: “It is hard for me to believe that the president of the United States has not found the time to meet with the current secretary general of NATO given the magnitude of what this implies, and the responsibilities of his office.”
The NATO snub “fits into a narrative pushed by Obama critics that he would rather meet with problematic leaders such as Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who will get an Oval Office meeting next month, than firm allies,” Rogin concludes. “The message Russian President Vladimir Putin will take away is that the White House-NATO relationship is rocky, and he will be right.”
NATO commanders, including American generals, have been saying Obama’s current strategy isn’t thwarting Putin’s ambitions. They want a more direct confrontation, through measures such as providing lethal aid to the Ukrainians against rebel forces receiving plenty of lethal aid from Russia.
Obama doesn’t want to talk about it; he has never been one for honest intellectual engagement with his critics or the admission of error, but he is taking it to pathological levels during his final years in office. He thinks he “handled” the worst-case scenario by telling Putin not to invade actual NATO members. Putin has systematically tested Obama’s resolve by escalating the Ukraine conflict, and issuing blustery threats to everyone who does care about Russian adventurism, such as telling Denmark he’s prepared to nuke their navy.
One of the few things Obama has been totally honest about is his belief that the American century is over. Vladimir Putin, the Chinese politburo, the mullahs of Iran, and the terror masters of ISIS all share that belief. And now, so does NATO.