A reader recently called to my attention to a 2005 Chicago Tribune story detailing a trip to Eastern Europe that Obama took early in his Senate career. At the time, Obama was seeking to establish his foreign policy gravitas and hence joined then-Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Richard Lugar of Indiana on a trip to inspect weapons sites across the former Soviet Union. “I very much feel like the novice and pupil,” Obama was quoted as saying of his relationship with Lugar (a man who gets uniformly positive press, though he easily makes the list of Top Five Overrated Members of Congress).
One of the stops on the trip included Azerbaijan, where Obama and Lugar met with President Ilham Aliyev. The latter had inherited power from his father two years earlier, won a rigged election, and then crushed protests that erupted in response.
So what topics did Obama raise with Aliyev? Human rights? Political reform? His government’s flagrant corruption and theft of energy revenues? Well, actually the topics he called to Aliyev’s attention were “slightly more parochial,” the Tribune reported:
Why is McDonald’s having difficulty opening restaurants in Baku [the Azeri capital]? And why is Boeing shut out of selling planes to the state-owned airline? “They are two Illinois companies who want to do business and expand,” Obama explained, “but they are having roadblocks.” He didn’t walk away with a concrete answer. He could, however, report back to constituents that he voiced concern at the highest levels of government.
Well, I guess this isn’t as bad as Hillary Clinton threatening to “totally obliterate” Iran, but it’s not exactly inspired foreign policy either. What’s perhaps more troubling is that Obama still seems to look to Lugar, who’s always been overwhelmingly sympathetic towards the Azeri and other crummy Central Asian regimes, as a sort of foreign policy guru.