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Obama's 'Brexit' and 'Free Riders' Comments Hurt Him Abroad

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By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security

President Barack Obama received a cool reception when he traveled to Saudi Arabia, Britain and Germany. For him, this trip was unexpectedly contentious. This is largely an unfortunate reflection of the president’s foreign policy and recent comments he made about the countries he visited.

The troubles that the president faced on his overseas trip stem from what Obama said to journalist Jeffrey Goldberg in “The Atlantic”. President Obama criticized our Gulf and European allies as “free riders” and not having “skin in the game” as it relates to Libya.

The other source of serious contention that our allies have with President Obama is his lack of a coherent and credible foreign policy to defeat ISIS. He stated that terrorism is merely a nuisance, something the West has to learn to accept.

Obama and Saudi Arabia See Different Threats to Middle East

Before the president traveled to Europe, he first went to Saudi Arabia. Riyadh’s relationship with the United States has been strained, controversial and contentious on a variety of issues, with the most controversial being the recent Iran nuclear deal.

The Saudis feel that the president tilted U.S. policy toward Iran during his presidency. Recent comments Obama made cemented this viewpoint. Even before he decided to run for the presidency, then-Senator Barack Obama called Saudi Arabia America’s so-called ally in a 2002 speech.

Even in an interview with NPR in December 2014, the president further cemented Riyadh’s view of his tilt toward Iran. “They have a path to break through that isolation and they should seize it. If they do, there’s incredible talent and resources and sophistication inside of Iran. It would be a very successful regional power that was also abiding by international norms and international rules, and that would be good for everybody. That would be good for the United States, that would be good for the region, and most of all, it would be good for the Iranian people.”

Both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia view the security situation in the Middle East differently. The U.S. sees ISIS as the principal threat to the region.

Saudi Arabia also views ISIS as a threat, but the more pressing issue for Riyadh is al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Al-Qaeda is largely centered in Yemen.

This view of al-Qaeda is shared equally with the other Gulf States, who view ISIS as a lesser threat. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States see Iran as the real threat.

Military analyst Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies commented that Saudi Arabia sees Assad and Hezbollah as major threats to the Arab Sunni world. They are closely tied to Iran.

Since 2012, Saudi Arabia has seen the United States as indecisive and ineffective in supporting Arab rebel forces and checking Assad. The U.S. also failed to act decisively on its own red lines and react or check Russian intervention supporting Assad. Saudi Arabia also fears that the U.S. would be willing to accept a settlement that might divide Syria permanently or keep Assad in power.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Arab rebel forces, and the United States are improving their coordination. However, Saudi experts are still concerned that recent U.S. efforts to build up Syrian rebel forces with a larger U.S. advisory effort and heavier arms will come too late to be effective.

The real division is the president’s willingness to accommodate Iran. Tehran has ratcheted up tension and expanded its influence. But the U.S. did nothing.

Obama’s ‘Brexit’ and Other European Dilemmas

Even our closest European allies failed to provide a soft landing for the president. England felt Obama’s stinging rebuke by blaming British Prime Minister David Cameron for the debacle in Libya and his failure to provide for its aftermath.

David Cameron Obama Brexit Comments
David Cameron – feathers ruffled. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

The president’s comments failed him when he waded into the upcoming referendum on whether Britain remains in the European Union or decides to pull out – nicknamed ‘Brexit’ in the United Kingdom.

In a press conference with Prime Minister Cameron, the president insulted the British, America’s longtime ally. He stated, “I think it’s fair to say that maybe some point down the line, there might be a UK-U.S. trade agreement, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon. Our focus is in negotiating with a big bloc, the European Union, to get a trade agreement done. The UK is going to be in the back of the queue. Not because we don’t have a special relationship. Given the heavy lift on any trade agreement, us having access to a big market with a lot of countries — rather than trying to do piecemeal trade agreements — is hugely inefficient.”

After the president wrapped up his pro-EU trip in Britain, he traveled to Germany to promote the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Unfortunately, he ran into thousands of protestors declaring their opposition to the deal.

Ultimately, all of this is a far cry from the over 200,000 Europeans who cheered Obama back in 2008, before he was elected president.

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