Most recently at the G-20 Summit, the Chinese denied the President the red carpet treatment offered other world leaders. Whether the snub was deliberate is still in question (which has not stopped Donald Trump from declaring that he would not have stepped off the plane).
But the G-20 kerfuffle comes in the midst of other slights. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte
called Obama a "son of a b****", leading to the cancellation of a planned meeting between the two this week. Less dramatically but perhaps more significantly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel spurned an invitation to meet with Obama later this month, an unheard of event. In April, the Saudi King refused to meet Obama as he stepped off the plane.
In part. His presidency has been marked by disputes with those delivering rebuffs to him. The war on drugs by Duterte, who has been called the "Trump of the Philippines," has seen some 2,400 people executed
since he came to power two months ago. Duterte has been irritated by criticism of the policy from the Obama administration, which moved to commute the sentences of hundreds of prisoners serving time for drug-related crimes. Equally, Obama's policy toward acceptance of Iran's nuclear program alienated many Israelis.
Most serious, however, is the changing relationship with the world's second biggest economic power. The US relationship with China, heading in the right direction at the end of George W. Bush's second term, has been fraught as of late, particularly in relation to the disputes occurring in the South China Sea. During his first term, Obama called for the United States "pivoting" back to Asia
after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But this is not all about Obama -- despite the fairly disastrous incursions into Iraq and Libya -- but about changes that have occurred in the world over the past years.
The slights felt by Obama reflect a different international situation in which the United States has remained relatively the same, but in which other powers have grown more restive and assertive, less accepting of US leadership and less willing to grant it automatic authority.
Joseph Lieberman noted earlier this year, "...the world has never seemed as dangerous and leaderless as it does now. Only the extremists and bullies act boldly, and therefore they have seized the initiative." But it is not just extremists and bullies.
Duterte appears to be from the new political breed of maverick referred to by Lieberman, put into power by a disquieted electorate, apparently anxious to challenge the status quo. Just as Trump triumphed in the Republican Party and, to an extent, Brexit succeeded in the United Kingdom, Duterte reflects antipathy with politics, proving, perhaps, that it is a worldwide trend.
Obama may be more at fault with regard to Israel, now no longer the biggest recipient of US aid. Netanyahu has seen policy in the Middle East, since Obama took office, focus less upon Israeli-Palestinian issues and more on ISIS, relations with Russia, and the war in Syria. Even here, though, events have overtaken policy through the extreme and nihilist challenge of ISIS.
But the Chinese slight is most stinging to the United States, reflecting Chinese emphasis on foreign policy at a time of growing internal insecurity. When Obama took office, China, which initially weathered the economic storms well, saw its remarkable economic growth slow. But now, the Chinese are showing their muscle in the South China Sea. The Obama administration has been reduced to reacting to Chinese assertions; the Chinese -- and others -- have, not surprisingly, become bolder, if not the bullies or extremists referred to be Lieberman.
As Obama salutes his staff for the last time in January, he will feel none of the disgrace of Richard Nixon, nor the utter repudiation that Jimmy Carter or George W. Bush must have experienced. He hardly exits through what might be called the "ass end" of history, like his predecessor Warren G. Harding.
But nor will he leave the Oval Office in a more confident country more in control of the world than when he entered it. Indeed, his successor may well, in future, wish for the halcyon days of Obama's tenure.