What Obama’s last-minute decision to visit Saudi Arabia tells us about his Presidency

Barack Obama just threw a cow’s worth of red meat to his critics (probably not the wisest thing to do in India).

A few weeks ago, his administration explained that the President could not participate in France’s Unity March on such short notice out of of security concerns. Today, he announced an imminent visit to Saudi Arabia in order to “offer his condolences on behalf of the American people”* on the death of dearly-departed King Abdullah.** It would seem there are fewer security concerns in ISIS’ backyard than in Paris; I wonder how much of Riyadh is a no-go zone.

*I just hope he can fit all those condolences on Air Force One; the American people appear truly despondent.

**I also hope he isn’t so stiff from the flight that he has any trouble bowing to the new King.

There are apparently also fewer security concerns in Saudi Arabia than in India. I was initially reluctant to suggest that India’s security measures were inadequate, having read this NYTimes article describing how seriously the country took Mr. Obama’s visit, but I can think of few other explanations for the President’s decision to cut it short in order to make time for Saudi Arabia. That’s right: Obama will abruptly depart the same India where Secretary of State John Kerry spent the Unity March because he “did not want to cancel an important trip to India about economics with the new prime minister of India.”

The contrast is even worse when you consider that King Abdullah’s Saudi Arabia recently made headlines for the poor treatment of its blogosphere (to put it delicately). Tell me, former constitutional law professor, since when does the United States prioritize oil over free speech?  Who do you think you are, Mr. Obama, the President of Argentina? And in case he wasn’t satisfied merely disrespecting what the employees of Charlie Hebdo stood for, Obama also managed to overlook the massacre in Hypercacher when he chose to visit Saudi Arabia over commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Now, here’s the thing: you’re probably going to hear all of the above complaints made by someone at some point today. Maybe you already have. I even sympathize with many of them. But at the end of the day, Obama’s willingness to alter his itinerary on short notice actually heartens me a bit.

Does this look bad? Sure. It’s certainly not the series of decisions I would have made. But it also shows that when Obama copped to his mistake soon after missing the Unity March, he was serious in his contrition. No, this probably wasn’t the best occasion to try out his new approach, but it makes me happy to see a U.S. President willing and able to admit past mistakes and learn from them — and as recently noted on this blog — thereby demonstrating his possession of an important attribute for any effective President.

All that said, I had a lot of fun writing those first few paragraphs. It helps that Obama presented was an especially easy target. But still: no wonder so many people write this sort of article reflexively.

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