January 28, 2011
The Rest of the World and Obama
One of the primary narratives of the Democrats and the media during the entire tenure of the George W. Bush's term was that the United States was held in historically low regard throughout the rest of the world. This became, after "Bush lied," the second-most frequently repeated talking point. Whether there was any basis for this claim was immaterial; it was a handy cudgel for defeating and humiliating the president.
For the past twenty-five-plus years, I have been involved in the international marketplace, having dealt in countries as varied as the United Kingdom, China, and Ghana. Never in that period of time, from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama, have I found it more difficult to defend the polices of the United States and listen to more overt criticism of any sitting president than I do today.
Over the years, it has been my experience that at nearly all business meetings or conversations, domestic politics, either in the United States or any other country, is rarely discussed unless there has been a major event such as an election or a natural disaster. Normally, all focus is on the transaction at hand. At times, there has been good-natured banter about the generic American character, but that is more reflective of the fact the United States has, for nearly seventy years, overwhelmingly dominated the world scene. When one is at the top of the heap, an element of envy mingled with grudging respect is to be expected.
During the Bush years, while encountering some criticism of the Iraq war decision and a media-driven reflexive belief in Bush's "cowboy mentality" (promoted to some degree by his Texas drawl and demeanor), there was no noticeable difference in the conversations and attitudes of the many people I met overseas.
By stark contrast, today, virtually every conversation includes a variation of the following: "Do you people have any idea of what you are doing?" The primary reason for this reaction is the stark reality that the current world order, which has been historically successful and dominated by the United States, is beginning to unravel. That unraveling is primarily because of American government-induced financial policies that triggered a worldwide catastrophic collapse in 2008 and the nearly incomprehensible economic policies pursued since.
Over the past two years and into 2011, the United States has gone on the most astounding spending and money-printing binge in the history of mankind. From the end of 2008 through the end of 2011, over $4.3 trillion will have been added to the national debt. That is the same as the annual Gross Domestic Product of the third-largest economy in the world: Japan. Further, the Federal Reserve has increased the money supply by an equally astounding $1.5 trillion, engulfing the world in dollars and thereby triggering inflation, disrupting the normal flow of capital, and promoting additional apprehension of the future.
Yet there does not appear to be any real effort to change course. Instead and despite many underlying factors, such as a stubbornly high unemployment rate, real estate values still declining, a potential stock market bubble due to too many dollars looking for a home, and inflation that the government refuses to recognize, there no indication that Washington D.C. -- particularly after the State of the Union speech -- is taking the current state of affairs seriously.
Despite the obligatory bows to Beijing, the international marketplace does not want to see China replace the United States as the preeminent economic and military power in the world. China is inherently unstable with its population time bomb, and its government cannot be considered benign based on its human rights abuses, totalitarian governing philosophy, and overt desire to dominate the planet.
If the United States collapses under its own weight, the world will be thrown into chaos, and many in the international marketplace recognize that very real possibility.
Thus, in my many conversations with those overseas, the subject matter turns quickly to Barack Obama. The most frequent adjectives used to describe our current president are "incompetent," "amateurish," "narcissistic," "inexperienced," and "haughty." This is often followed by a confession that accusers too were impressed with Obama during his campaign and fell for his smooth delivery, rhetoric, and appearance.
They felt, along with many Americans, that no one could possibly do this much damage in such a short time, considering the sheer size of the United States and its economy. Barack Obama has become the butt of many jokes and satire. Virtually everyone I talk to wants to discuss his failings. Recently, the Swiss Marc Faber, an internationally renowned investor and author whom I have met, said the following on Bloomberg TV's "Street Smart": "Obama has done a horrible job. He's dishonest ... Foreigners laugh at him ... He's like a prostitute."
Mr. Faber is not alone in his sentiment; it has become common not only in the boardrooms, but also the halls of government. I was told by an acquaintance that during the recent G-20 Summit in Seoul, South Korea, there was near-open mocking of Obama behind the scenes. It is not a coincidence that the number of Mr. Obama's trips overseas has been curtailed.
The most telling comment made to me was by a business associate in London when he said, "When the world needs a firm hand and competent leadership, we are given a fool whose only interest is himself and his ideology. His level of incompetence knows no bounds, yet we all must suffer for it."
Throughout the world today, strategies and plans are being put in place on how to survive and prosper without the United States as the major global player if America does not come to its senses, reverse course, and change leadership. Never has worldwide esteem for the United States fallen to such a low point.
As for me, I can only tell those I deal with that I still have faith in the American people -- their determination, their ingenuity, and their ability to finally wake up to reality and change course. I firmly believe that they will. The response when I say those things? "We hope you are right; the world needs your country to be strong and resolute."