Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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No Bilats

by Elliott Abrams
September 25, 2012


President Obama is at the UN General Assembly today and the total number of foreign leaders with whom he is meeting is zero. These private meetings between two leaders are known as “bilats,” short for bilateral meetings, and they are critical to the success of American foreign policy.

This is a serious problem for American diplomacy, and even the Obama cheerleaders at the New York Times have noticed it. In a story about Mr. Obama and the “Arab Spring” we find the following:

The tensions between Mr. Obama and the Gulf states, both American and Arab diplomats say, derive from an Obama character trait: he has not built many personal relationships with foreign leaders. “He’s not good with personal relationships; that’s not what interests him,” said one United States diplomat. “But in the Middle East, those relationships are essential. The lack of them deprives D.C. of the ability to influence leadership decisions.” Arab officials echo that sentiment, describing Mr. Obama as a cool, cerebral man who discounts the importance of personal chemistry in politics. “You can’t fix these problems by remote control,” said one Arab diplomat with long experience in Washington. “He doesn’t have friends who are world leaders.”

I cannot recall an occasion when a president went to speak at the General Assembly and simply refused to meet anyone. Perhaps this is the product of Mr. Obama’s fight with Israeli prime minister Netanyahu, for having refused a meeting with him Mr. Obama must now pretend (for obvious political reasons) that it isn’t personal and he simply has no time for these unimportant personal meetings. So dozens of foreign leaders–presidents, prime ministers, sheiks, kings–are in New York, have serious things to say to us, want to hear about our policies, and will not be able to see the president. This is a serious failure by Mr. Obama and limits the effectiveness of American diplomacy. One can only hope that if he is re-elected, Mr. Obama will somehow recognize the costs this failure have imposed. Or perhaps in her exit interview Secretary Clinton can explain it to him. Someone should.

Post a Comment 5 Comments

  • Posted by Jack Snow

    What an utter disgrace. Anyone who voted for this man should be ashamed of themselves.

  • Posted by bargal1

    Can someone please explain to this wannabe what his job is? It is quite evident he doesn’t get it and we are the worse for his attempt to turn us all into Muslims

  • Posted by Sean McCaffrey

    Mr. Abrams, surely you recognize that Mr. Obama gains nothing from these meetings… today. Whereas using the time to go and tape an episode of “The View” with Whoopi and Barbara Walters allows him to campaign to millions of women. So, really, cranky Middle East leaders or an hour in front of millions of women voters? This is the Tiger Woods question: would you like to stay home with Elle and screaming kids, or go have an orgy with 10 drunken escorts. President Obama opted for the orgy, too.

  • Posted by Kevin Bayona

    Mr. Obama’s feckless foreign policy has been disastrous for the United States.

    Initially, it appeared Obama would eschew Bush’s neocon foreign policy for a more realist approach. Unfortunately he failed to recognize that personal relationships with your counterparts and others around the world are a fundamental part of diplomacy.

    I have no evidence to back up the following claim, but I think President Obama’s disinterest in diplomatic socializing stems from a lack of confidence in himself – especially among foreign leaders.


  • Posted by Raja M. Ali Saleem

    So, according to Mr. Abrams, President has perhaps refused all the other meetings because he has already refused a meeting with the Israeli PM. That is strange. One foreign leader has so much power that if a US President refuses to meet him, President can meet no one. And still Mr. Abrams thinks that Bibi is not given proper importance. Perhaps President Obama should ask Israeli PM before making US policy decisions because this is the only issue between the Obama and Bibi.

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