Barack Obama was clearly one of the most cerebral and well-spoken presidents that the United States has ever had. But as odd as it may seem, two slips of his tongue may have led to the rise of the two worst dictators so far in the 21st Century.
In 2011, Obama spoke at the White House Correspondents Dinner. One of the guests was Donald Trump. Obama showed little mercy when while looking at Trump, he said, “No one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald. And that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter, like: Did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?” Obama also included a fake video of his birth and an artist’s rendition of what the White House would look like if Trump was president, further embarrassing Trump.
You can see the five-minute video here:
As you might expect, Trump was not pleased by being the butt of the jokes. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said Trump was “pissed off like I’d never seen him before.”
Trump had played around with the idea of running fore president before the 2011 Correspondents Dinner. But the events that evening truly crystallized his hate towards Obama as well as any Democrat who held him in low regard. In June of 2015, Trump announced that he was running for president in 2016. He decimated the rest of the Republican field of candidates and then lost to Hillary Clinton by nearly three million popular votes, but won the outdated and undemocratic Electoral College.
The second faux pas by Obama came in 2014. In March of that year, shortly after Vladimir Putin and Russia had invaded Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine, Obama called Russia a “regional power.” Specifically, he said, “Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors, not out of strength but out of weakness.” Obama describes in in more detail in the following 50-second video:
Knowing what we know now about Putin, it is no surprise that he would be humiliated and outraged at the thought of Russia being called a regional power. After all, his dream as president of Russia was to re-establish the old Soviet Union, with all seventeen republics. He felt that Russia and the Soviet Union had a long and proud history of being a global power and he want to reassert what had been lost at the end of the twentieth century when Mikhail Gorbachev orchestrated to collapse of the Soviet Union in order to give more autonomy to each of the republics.
We cannot say that Obama’s demeaning remarks about Russia caused Putin to bully and ultimately further invade Ukraine in 2022, but it certainly did not help. Putin was also irritated by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who repeatedly criticized Putin and Russia for the lack of fair and democratic elections.
Generally, Barack Obama measures his words as well as anyone. You can see it, particularly in his press conferences, when he often pauses between phrases to make sure that the next thing that he says is precisely what he is thinking and not something that he will later regret.
Life is full of ironies, and the fact that Barack Obama may well have significantly contributed to the rise of dictators Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin can be considered unexpected and certainly unfortunate. It is further evidence that we all make mistakes, even when we try our best to avoid them.