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For Obama, no buddies abroad

Other U.S. presidents have bonded with foreign leaders, but Obama so far has no such ties. Does that matter?

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Bush's comment about "looking into his soul" upon meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested a desire to know and understand the leader, whereas Obama has yet to find his soul mate on the world stage – and may not be inclined to find one.

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No special relationship

"It really is striking about Obama: Most presidents have had a special or close relationship with a foreign leader they could turn to," says Thomas Henriksen, a US foreign-policy scholar at the Hoover Institution in Stanford, Calif. "But it appears to be his nature or personality, the so-called no-drama-Obama thing."

Others link the dearth of leader-level friendships to Obama's personality as well.

"There is a stylistic difference from George W. Bush that is notable," says Stephen Hess, an expert on the US presidency at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "Obama turns out to be much more cool, in McLuhanesque terms of cool and hot," he adds, referring to the Canadian media philosopher Marshall McLuhan.

The question is, does it matter? Mr. Hess is inclined to play down the importance of what he surmises may be a media fixation, saying leaders in the end act on behalf of their own countries. "Each head of state is ultimately and overwhelmingly operating based on interests" – his own and his country's, he says.

Hess, who served in the Eisenhower White House, recalls that President Eisenhower had "a deep affection" for British Prime Minister Anthony Eden. "But when it came to the Suez crisis [of 1956], he had to cut [Eden] down at the knees. Friendship or no," Hess adds, "he did what he had to do."

But others say leader-to-leader friendships can provide important moral support, a valuable sounding board outside the White House cocoon – and have bucked up more than one president in a moment of crisis.

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