It’s been over a month now and the chattering classes are still engrossed in the conflict between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu. There was no question that the joint press conference held after their White House meeting showed two men barely disguising their personal dislike for each other. That sort of personalization of political affairs is supposed to be beneath the level of professionalism expected to guide such appearances. Apparently it wasn’t in this case.
While the Bibi/Barack animosity currently is first in the list of important political personality conflicts, Obama is not very high in Vladimir Putin’s BFF calculations. In a way, the Israeli and Russian prime ministers share the same disdain for the U.S. president. Neither of them view Obama as a serious and experienced leader. Both Netanyahu and Putin have extensive professional political backgrounds as well as former lives in military special operations (Netanyahu) and intelligence (Putin). Both consider themselves warriors. Obama is not a member of their club and thus does not have their respect. Obama’s preferred opposite number is Dimitry Medvedev, a trained lawyer, academically oriented and an instinctive negotiator.
Another example of influential personality conflict has existed between the privileged Hamid Karzai and the top American representatives. Karzai is a rich, well-traveled, multi-lingual sophisticate. Some might question the latter characteristic, but that’s how he views himself. The American ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, formerly the military commander in Afghanistan, is finally leaving that country with a record of having had virtually no personal relations with President Karzai other than repeated disagreements. In the end it has been reported that the animosity was so great the two men barely spoke to each other.
The late Richard Holbrooke, who certainly was as sophisticated as Karzai, also flunked the Karzai social test. So much for US/Afghan diplomatic relations. The fact that President Obama lacked respect for Karzai – and it became known — did not help. Only smooth-as-silk Dave Petraeus and successful counter-insurgent Stan McChrystal have had the Afghan president’s respect. The new American ambassador, Ryan Crocker of Iraq War fame, is hoped to be able to carry the right magic.
The Americans aren’t the only ones plagued by political personality disorders. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran, apparently has severely blotted his copy book — as the British would say — in respect to his relations with the Supreme Leader, Ayatiollah Ali Khamenei. Poor old Mahmoud began to think he actually was the man in charge in Teheran. As an example to all around him regarding who was boss, he dumped the intelligence minister. He had to reverse himself on that little faux pas, but went ahead later in May of this year to fire the oil minister and took over the job himself.
Whatever gave Mahmoud the idea that he could effectively ignore the Guardian Council and the Supreme Leader in this manner is beyond understanding. They struck back at Ahmadinejad’s effrontery and said his action was illegal and implied even possible criminality. Deaf, dumb and blind the Iranian president is not, so what perverse logic was in play in this affair?
The German newspapers and the influential magazine, Der Spiegel have made a great deal out of the refusal of Chancellor Angela Merkel to acquiesce to the requests of her “good friend” Barack Obama to have Germany share the military and financial burden of the UN-approved action against Qaddafi’s Libya. The real story, however, is the personal and political breakdown between Angela and the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy. This was exactly the kind of joint military operation the two leaders of the EU had often spoken about. When Nicolas asked her to dance, Angela declined to do the Anglo-French waltz.
Now the buzz about Europe is that “Kaiserin” Angela is more than a little miffed at Nicky for taking for granted dear old Deutschland — and her. She had already made clear that she and Germany did not care for this military business anymore. They had to be dragged kicking and screaming into Afghanistan, and Sarkozy obviously ignored that. Just a lovers’ quarrel? Not according to those who know, say the Euro tabloids.
So there it goes: Fidel loves Hugo Chavez, but brother Raul is worried over Hugo’s broader ambitions as Latin America’s socialist revolutionary leader. Venezuela’s provision of 100,000 bpd of cut-rate oil to Havana has softened Raul’s personal attitude. Bashar al-Assad thought his mild manner and British wife would be all that was needed to keep the Brits on his side. Wrong! David Cameron thought his newly-developed friendship with Barack Obama would give him some back-up in warding off Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s dressing-down over Cameron’s forthright stand on Beijing’s human rights record. It didn’t happen. So much for friends when you need them on that issue.
There are of course dozens more instances where politics and personalities influence international events. We haven’t even begun to touch on the sexual misbehaviors such as Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s recent interlude with the hotel maid. That lost him his IMF job and possibly the French presidency. Remember Lady Edwina Mountbatten’s 1947 dalliance with Pandit Nehru? There’s still controversy over that matter in Britain and India today.