Pete, your smart critique raises two key points, which supporters of the president might want to mull over as they consider whether a course correction is in order.
First, the roundup of international public opinion highlights what the Obama team often forgets: the whole world is watching wherever the president goes and whatever venue or crisis is occupying him at that moment. The Russians pay attention when he bows in Japan. The Iranians perk up when he meekly agrees to avoid free encounters with Chinese dissidents. The Syrians watch closely when the Obami try to finesse the reaction to the Goldstone report. And the North Koreans breathe a sigh of relief as they watch the farcical negotiations in Iran unravel. One senses that the Obami don’t quite grasp this, that they believe they are simply catering to this or that despot, trying as best as they can to ingratiate themselves and meet the “concerns” of whichever thugocracy occupies their attention that day. But in fact everyone watches everything, and the portrait of accommodation and concession is taken in by many audiences. That image of irresoluteness becomes fixed in our adversaries’ minds, even when they are not the immediate subject of the president’s focus on that visit or in that particular negotiation. Slowly, our adversaries begin to learn and to test us again and again, motivated by a sense that this president can be pushed and intimidated. The task of keeping foes at bay and allies in line becomes more difficult as a result.
Second, Pete observes: “Right now the overwhelming issue on the public’s mind is the economy, where Obama is also having serious problems. But national-security issues matter a great deal, and they remain the unique responsibility of the president.” And when national security does rise to the top of the list of voters’ concerns, it is generally because the public is becoming very, very alarmed. In the case of Obama, a real question is brewing: Is he making us less safe? Well, a year-long campaign of suck-uppery and burying our heads in the sand regarding the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions has made us less safe, many will conclude. Others will wonder whether the president missed a key opening after the June 12 elections and in fact helped to cement the rule of the Revolutionary Islamic regime. And then there is the inexplicable series of decisions on the war on terror — to investigate the CIA, cease enhanced interrogation techniques, close Guantanamo and offload detainees to places like Yemen, and try KSM in a civilian court where he can preach jihad and put the U.S. government on trial for years. The average voter may look at all that and recoil. What is he doing?
Foreign policy is rarely the top issue unless it is the top issue. In the case of Obama, it is plainly becoming a top issue. And considering his track record, that is a very bad thing for the president. His supporters might want to consider how to turn this around.