Jonathan, Obama’s performance at the G-8 was underwhelming and dangerous on multiple levels. As you point out, his lack of leadership on Iran was perhaps the most visible shortcoming. But in fact, his entire approach to nuclear proliferation and his ability to resist and confront our adversaries are profoundly underwhelming. Charles Krauthammer observes:
Obama says that his START will be a great boon, setting an example to enable us to better pressure North Korea and Iran to give up their nuclear programs. That a man of Obama’s intelligence can believe such nonsense is beyond comprehension. There is not a shred of evidence that cuts by the great powers — the INF treaty, START I, the Treaty of Moscow (2002) — induced the curtailment of anyone’s programs. Moammar Gaddafi gave up his nukes the week we pulled Saddam Hussein out of his spider hole. No treaty involved. The very notion that Kim Jong Il or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will suddenly abjure nukes because of yet another U.S.-Russian treaty is comical.The pursuit of such an offensive weapons treaty could nonetheless be detrimental to us. Why? Because Obama’s hunger for a diplomatic success, such as it is, allowed the Russians to exact a price: linkage between offensive and defensive nuclear weapons.
And Obama seems willing to bargain away a missile shield for Eastern Europe and pussy-foot around Russian aggression. (“[A]s the reset master phrased it with such delicacy in his Kremlin news conference: ‘our disagreements on Georgia’s borders.’”) This is plainly not a president willing to say “no” either rhetorically or otherwise to the demands of muscle-flexers and international bullies. It is easy I suppose to “get along” with others when you simply relent on every issue of consequence. Indeed, America can please many nations by letting them run amok, acquire nuclear weapons, threaten their neighbors, oppress dissidents, and engage in other objectionable behaviors. It remains an open question whether the president lacks the understanding to recognize such behavior as objectionable (i.e. if one is a moral relativist, such issues are only differences of opinion) or the will to exert American influence, or the nerve to stand up to criticism, which inevitably follows when America opposes tyrants, bullies, and rogue states.
And then there is the possibility that the president, like Garbo, simply wants to be left alone — in his case, to work on his precious domestic agenda. (That’s not going so well these days but it clearly holds his interest.) Unfortunately, when the U.S. recedes from its international responsibilities, the world becomes a more dangerous and violent place. The president may shirk from confrontation but the rest of the world does not.