Conservative media figures claim Obama's actions at Americas summit showed "weakness"

››› ››› TOM ALLISON & JOCELYN FONG

Following President Obama's trip to the Summit of the Americas, conservative media figures characterized Obama's actions at the summit as weakness, continuing the trend of portraying Democrats as weak on matters of national security and foreign policy.

Following President Obama's recent trip to the Summit of the Americas, conservative media figures appearing on April 20 news shows characterized Obama's actions at the summit -- shaking hands and accepting a book from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and listening to a speech by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega -- as weakness, continuing the trend of portraying Democrats as weak on matters of national security and foreign policy.

On April 17, Internet gossip Matt Drudge linked to a Reuters article with the headline "A Smile and a Shake for Chavez." The two-paragraph Reuters article reported that Obama and Chavez "shook hands on Friday at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad."

On April 20, the conservative echo chamber reverberated with charges that Obama's actions betrayed weakness, including in some instances, media figures using explicitly gendered language to denounce the president's conduct.

Morning Joe

During the April 20 edition of Morning Joe, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan repeatedly asserted that Obama's interaction with Chavez and Ortega signaled "weakness." Buchanan said that Obama "allowed himself to be disrespected" and twice compared Obama to a child being bullied, stating, "I think Barack Obama has come off as the kid on the schoolyard that can be pushed around because he's too sweet."

Host Joe Scarborough also said of Obama's reaction to Ortega's speech: "You don't sit there while the United States of America is savaged by a communist leader, Daniel Ortega, who has no moral high ground -- Ortega has no moral high ground to savage us -- and sit there and not get up and at least defend our country. That shows weakness. This isn't about pride. This isn't about our ego. This is about showing weakness on the international stage."

During one segment, co-host Mika Brzezinski commented to Buchanan and Scarborough: "[G]uys, my concern is all this criticism is just a little too macho."

Today

During the April 20 edition of NBC's Today, Meredith Vieira hosted Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich, who asserted that "the smiles and the handshakes" Obama extended to Latin American leaders are examples of Obama's "record" of "weakness" on foreign relations:

VIEIRA: But, Newt, you heard what the president said, that he does not believe that shaking the man's hand will endanger the strategic interests of the United States. So you disagree with that?

GINGRICH: No, first of all, I think stopping us from drilling for oil endangers our strategic interests, but I think symbolically we've had weakness in the last two weeks with North Korea. We have weakness with Iran. We have bowing to the Saudi king. We have weakness with Hamas. We have weakness with Cuba, and the Cubans have not produced a single political prisoner. And I think we have to recognize if the administration wants to look at facts, that the record is even worse than the smiles and the handshakes.

Gingrich added that Obama "ought to talk to Chavez in a cold and distant way, because Chavez openly, constantly, attacks the United States -- just as the Iranians are building a nuclear weapon every day, and smiling at them doesn't slow down the nuclear program a bit."

Fox & Friends

During the April 20 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy asked Gingrich: "Mr. Speaker, I want to talk to you real briefly about our president and Hugo Chavez. They did some handshaking and grinning down there, and, in fact, Mr. Chavez gave our president this book and sent it to number two on the Amazon list. What did you think about that exchange?" Gingrich responded, in part, that the president's bowing to the Saudi king and "embrac[ing]" of Chavez is "a very unhealthy strategy for us."

Gingrich continued: "We want America to be strong enough to ignore Chavez and, frankly, shake hands with the Saudi king. I think there's something fundamentally something wrong with weakness in America and then trying to placate dictators."

Co-host Brian Kilmeade then asked Gingrich, "What do you say to people who say that this is like Jimmy Carter -- this is very similar to what Carter did?" Gingrich replied, in part, that "this does look a lot like Jimmy Carter" and that "Carter tried weakness, and the world got tougher and tougher, because the predators, the aggressors, the anti-Americans, the dictators, when they sense weakness, they all start pushing ahead."

Also during the April 20 edition of Fox & Friends, Kilmeade introduced a segment by stating, "Meanwhile, President Obama is taking some heat for his warm reception to some leaders who are flat-out anti-American. So has he lost focus on what our real foreign threats are?" During the segment, Fox News analyst and New York Post columnist retired Col. Ralph Peters claimed that "Obama is already starting to make Jimmy Carter look like a victim of raging testosterone" and went on to say: "What he did by talking to Hugo Chavez and embracing him and fist-bumping and making lovey-dovey in the hotel -- God knows what went on behind closed doors."

America's Newsroom

During the April 20 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, co-host Megyn Kelly asserted: "Well, President Obama is raising some eyebrows with his chummy exchanges with Hugo Chavez at a recent Summit of the Americas. Is this just harmless diplomacy, or did the president look weak here?"

From the April 20 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:

BUCHANAN: Joe, I've never seen a president so disrespected at a summit and not make any kind of response whatsoever --

SCARBOROUGH: Yeah.

BUCHANAN: -- as Barack Obama was. He was like a kid being made sport of on the playground by Chavez; 50-minute lecture by that little Ortega in Nicaragua, who said you Americans are doing to poor Castro what was done at the Berlin Wall.

[...]

SCARBOROUGH: How does he strengthen America when Daniel Ortega, a communist, sits in front of everybody in the Western Hemisphere, or at least in the Americas, and delivers a 55-minute tirade against the United States of America -- basically says we're an evil empire. And he sits there and smiles and says nothing to defend us when he gets up.

MARK HALPERIN (Time senior political analyst): Did you have the same concern when Reagan was dealing with Soviet leaders?

SCARBOROUGH: Well, Reagan always spoke truth to power with Soviet leaders. I will guarantee you this: I will guarantee you you will not find a time that a Soviet leader berated the United States of America for 55 minutes while President Reagan sat there smiling. And then when it was Reagan's turn, I will guarantee you he didn't get up and say nothing other than, oh, it's a good thing you didn't blame me for World War I.

BUCHANAN: You know, Joe --

SCARBOROUGH: Pat?

BUCHANAN: Khrushchev disrespected Eisenhower. They were screaming about the U2 at the Paris summit. They blew it up. Ike came on home to cheers from this country. Barack Obama allowed himself to be disrespected. Now, if that's the way he wants to do it personally, that's personal. But he's the president of the United States, and his country was savaged and smeared down there, and he grinned all the way through it.

SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, Mika, that's the bigger problem. We need to separate President Obama personally from the United States of America. And I salute the president -- this president -- for daring to open relations with other countries. I've said for some time we need to figure out a way to open up relations with Iran, with Syria, even Chavez. I've got no problems, but there's a way to do it.

You don't sit there while the United States of America is savaged by a communist leader, Daniel Ortega, who has no moral high ground -- Ortega has no moral high ground to savage us -- and sit there and not get up and at least defend our country. That shows weakness. This isn't about pride. This isn't about our ego.

OFF-CAMERA: Joe, who does it show weakness to?

SCARBOROUGH: This is about showing weakness on the international stage.

HALPERIN: Who does it show weakness to?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, we'll talk about that at the half-hour.

BUCHANAN: I think it shows weakness to the world.

SCARBOROUGH: It shows weakness to the world.

BUCHANAN: Here's a guy that can be pushed around.

BRZEZINSKI: Guys -- guys, my concern is all this criticism is just a little too macho. I mean -- and I want to ask you at the half-hour, Joe, when we do must-read op-eds, what you think he should have done. Because I'd like to hear your insight. I mean, maybe there's a better option.

JOHN HEILEMANN (New York Magazine contributing editor): Do we really think that Daniel Ortega in his 55-minute tirade gained a bunch of new enlistees to the communist cause that's marching across the world?

BRZEZINSKI: I don't know.

HEILEMANN: Doesn't seem that likely to me.

SCARBOROUGH: You know, we've gotta go to break, but -- and we'll talk about this --

BRZEZINSKI: Yeah.

SCARBOROUGH: -- later -- but the thing is, a president always sends a message to the world. There are -- I know this is hard to believe -- there are very evil people in the world who want to kill Americans, and they look for an opportunity at all times for weakness. When they find weakness, they exploit it. That's the danger. No, Daniel Ortega can't hurt us. But if the president's seen as weak, that can hurt you, me, New York City, everybody.

[...]

BUCHANAN: Well, let me say this: I agree with a lot of what Obama and [Secretary of State] Hillary [Clinton] are doing in terms of policy. But I think he allowed himself to be disrespected. The perception was he was being made a mockery of down there. Chavez was up there putting that stupid anti-American book in his face. He gets lectured for 90 -- for 50 minutes. Then he goes over to [Bolivian President Evo] Morales and talks about how wonderful it is that he's an indigenous -- Morales is an ethno-nationalist. He believes the Spanish and the white people should be put down because they've run things.

What is he doing? What I wanted him to be, Joe, was be the president of the United States. Jack Kennedy at Vienna, that first summit, Khrushchev pushed him around, took the measure of him. Right out of there you went to the Berlin Wall, you went to that 58-megaton explosion --

SCARBOROUGH: Right.

BUCHANAN: -- you went to the Cuban Missile Crisis. I think Barack Obama has come off as the kid on the schoolyard that can be pushed around because he's too sweet.

BRZEZINSKI: No. No, no, no.

SCARBOROUGH: You need to be careful about the signals you send.

From the April 20 edition of NBC's Today:

VIEIRA: What do you take away from the president's visit to Latin America? What do you think his goals were? And in your estimation, was it a successful trip?

GINGRICH: Well, I think first of all, the importance of the Chavez smile and handshake is illustrated by your report just now, on the jump in the book sales from number 54,000 to number two. Everywhere in Latin America, enemies of America are going to use the picture of Chavez smiling and being with the president as proof that Chavez is now legitimate, that he's acceptable. He is a dictatorial figure; he is an anti-American figure.

But what I find distressing is that this administration is opposed to looking for oil offshore, but the president bows to the Saudi King; the president is friends with Venezuela, whose biggest impact on us is that they sell us a lot of oil. And I just think that there's a shallowness about how they analyze things. It does matter to the world if the United States tolerates a vicious anti-American propaganda campaign and then smiles and greets the person who has systematically been anti-American for his entire career.

VIEIRA: But, Newt, you heard what the president said, that he does not believe that shaking the man's hand will endanger the strategic interests of the United States. So you disagree with that?

GINGRICH: No, first of all, I think stopping us from drilling for oil endangers our strategic interests, but I think symbolically we've had weakness in the last two weeks with North Korea. We have weakness with Iran. We have bowing to the Saudi king. We have weakness with Hamas. We have weakness with Cuba, and the Cubans have not produced a single political prisoner. And I think we have to recognize if the administration wants to look at facts, that the record is even worse than the smiles and the handshakes.

VIEIRA: But do you think he should not be trying to mend relationships with other world leaders?

GINGRICH: How do you mend relationships with somebody who hates your country, who actively calls for the destruction of your country, and who wants to undermine you?

VIEIRA: Well, we certainly have mended relationships with countries that have hated us in the past. Russia comes to mind. China comes to mind.

GINGRICH: But we didn't rush over, smile, and greet Russian dictators. We understood who they were. Yeah, you can talk -- I'm not against him talking to Chavez. But I think he ought to talk to Chavez in a cold and distant way, because Chavez openly, constantly, attacks the United States -- just as the Iranians are building a nuclear weapon every day, and smiling at them doesn't slow down the nuclear program a bit.

VIEIRA: You have called the Obama administration the most radical left-wing administration in American history with a fantasy foreign policy that has no connection to reality. Do you believe that we are heading straight for a major foreign policy crisis?

GINGRICH: I think inevitably, sooner or later, we're going to have a big problem. And what I said is based on what I just said to you. The North Koreans fire a missile, nothing happens; the Iranians announce their 7,300th centrifuge to build nuclear weapons, nothing happens; Hamas fires another missile into Israel, nothing happens. Cuba releases zero prisoners, we make nice to Cuba.

There's no sign that Chavez has become any less anti-American, and I think we have to be honest about dangers in the world. I am for doing methodically and calmly, as Ronald Reagan did, the things that will work, but I'm not for deluding myself about whether or not words and smiles are a substitute for real strategies.

From the April 20 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:

DOOCY: Mr. Speaker, I want to talk to you real briefly about our president and Hugo Chavez. They did some handshaking and grinning down there, and, in fact, Mr. Chavez gave our president this book and sent it to number two on the Amazon list. What did you think about that exchange?

GINGRICH: Well, first of all -- first of all, people should realize it's very important what a president of the United States does. That book was at number 54,000. It's a viciously anti-American diatribe. Now it's at number two. Chavez's people will use that smiling picture all over Latin America to say Chavez's anti-Americanism is acceptable.

The fact is this president is opposed to looking for oil in America but bows to the Saudi king, embraces the Venezuelan dictator -- I think that's a very unhealthy strategy for us. We want America to be strong enough to ignore Chavez and, frankly, shake hands with the Saudi king. I think there's something fundamentally something wrong with weakness in America and then trying to placate dictators.

KILMEADE: What do you say to people who say that this is like Jimmy Carter -- this is very similar to what Carter did?

GINGRICH: Well, you know, when we did our movie, Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous with Destiny, we have a section on Carter and, frankly, this does look a lot like Jimmy Carter. Carter tried weakness, and the world got tougher and tougher, because the predators, the aggressors, the anti-Americans, the dictators, when they sense weakness, they all start pushing ahead. And the reports out of Pakistan are very alarming about the degree to which the Islamists are gaining ground and the people who favor a modern civilization are losing ground in that very important country.

DOOCY: If only I could have gotten Hugo Chavez to give the president Tales from the Dad Side.

[...]

KILMEADE: Meanwhile, President Obama is taking some heat for his warm reception to some leaders who are flat-out anti-American. So has he lost focus on what our real foreign threats are? Joining us right now Colonel Ralph Peters, Fox News strategic analyst and columnist -- you see a lot of his columns in the New York Post. Colonel, first off, talking with Chavez: good move, bad move -- certainly historic, correct?

PETERS: My president went to Trinidad, and all I got was this lousy Che Guevara T-shirt.

KILMEADE: And a book.

PETERS: I mean, good God -- yeah. I mean, Obama is already starting to make Jimmy Carter look like a victim of raging testosterone. Now, overall, it's not a problem to talk with opponents. You learn things about them -- fine. But it can't be one-sided. Obama said one right thing down south. He said our relations with Latin America need to be based on mutual respect. Well, what part of mutual doesn't he understand?

For instance, you know, he cozied up to every dictator in sight; ignored our friends and allies. But just take Hugo Chavez. Everybody's saying, well, it's great, he talked to Chavez, there'll be a new era. What he did by talking to Hugo Chavez and embracing him and fist-bumping and making lovey-dovey in the hotel -- God knows what went on behind closed doors.

What he did was undercut the forces of democracy in Venezuela. Hugo Chavez has been punishing elected officials that oppose him, driving them into hiding, beating up opponents, putting them in prison, subverting the constitution -- and by making nice with Chavez, he has -- Obama has empowered the worst guy on the continent.

From the April 20 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:

KELLY: Well, President Obama is raising some eyebrows with his chummy exchanges with Hugo Chavez at a recent Summit of the Americas. Is this just harmless diplomacy, or did the president look weak here?

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