Why would President Obama part with a long standing tradition and refuse to meet with world leaders this week at the United Nations? It's the single time and place every year where all the world's leaders are in one place. It's the one opportunity all year for face-to face-meetings, to iron out problems and to sound out solutions and to work, without the glare of formal state visits. So why is President Obama doing a hit and run at the UN? Too busy for meetings, but not too busy to go to fundraisers or to appear on New York-based daytime talk shows while he's in the Big Apple?
None of the excuses make any sense -- 'he's too busy campaigning,' 'he can talk to them on the phone anytime,' 'he can't meet with everyone, so he's meeting with no one.'
Everyone is missing the point. In an election year, if the president meets with world leaders, his opponent has the right to ask for meetings, too. And no world leader, who might be facing a President Romney in just a few weeks time, dares to refuse that request. They will all hedge their bets. After all, when the president travels abroad, he often meets with the opposition leader of a country, especially in the middle of an election season.'' And President Bill Clinton, hardly one to promote a Republican candidate, gave equal time to both Romney and Obama speeches at the Clinton Global Initiative Conference this week.
And that is exactly what President Obama wants to avoid -- doing anything that lets Romney look presidential. Obama and his surrogates have been quick to criticize Romney as lacking foreign policy experience. It's hard to make that point if there is photo after photo of Romney grinning and shaking hands with one world leader after another.
So from Obama's perspective, there is nothing to be gained by meeting with those leaders in New York. He's already met with them; he's got those photo ops. But there is everything to be lost -- because Romney does NOT.
And something could go very wrong if Obama met with world leaders, especially if he meets with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Romney has known Netanyahu for years, since they worked together as young men right out of graduate school. They've been friends for decades, and when Romney recently visited Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife had Mr. and Mrs. Romney to their house for a private dinner and reunion. People say they know each other so well they finish each other's sentences. The Romney-Netanyahu photo would be two old pals, and would play well with all those Jewish swing voters in Florida.
Contrast that to the last time Netanyahu and Obama met in the Oval Office. Netanyahu lectured Obama and their body language said it all -- they could hardly bare to look at each other. Another photo of those two scowling and wagging fingers will definitely NOT play well with those swing voters in the swing state of Florida.
Yes, yes, there are major issues on the international stage right now. But from the Obama campaign's perspective, none of them trump the getting their man reelected. They figure there will be plenty of time to deal with the world's leaders in a second term.