When President Obama visited Russia in 2009, his hosts, as I reported at the time, found Obama laughably naive. Indeed, they were astonished to find an American president looking for things to give away to Russia in exchange for “good will.” The Russian leadership concluded, in the prophetic words of my source, that they could “steal Obama’s pants.”
The Russians also had a good laugh at Obama’s imperial trappings. These included the flotilla of Air Force jets that brought him and his entourage to Moscow and the takeover of the Ritz Carlton hotel, where (I was told) rooms started at around $1,200 per night and the presidential suite went for $13,000. Russians were mindful that Presidents Clinton and Bush had traveled far less lavishly.
It was, I suspect, the jarring juxtaposition of the two phenomena — a president who travels like Julius Caesar but negotiates like Neville Chamberlain — that most amused Russia’s oligarchs. Like the way the juxtaposition of Greek columns and platitudinous mush amused (but also dismayed) observant Americans.
If Obama and his entourage roar into your town in armored limos and take over the fanciest hotel, no disconnect will exist. There is not the slightest inconsistency between the president’s imperial trappings and his domestic policies.
But when Obama visits important foreign leaders, other than Benjamin Netanyahu, he should arrive by scooter wearing a beany, if not a “kick me” sign. Or at a minimum, he should arrive the way Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte did for his meeting with Obama.