As his reasonably successful Asia trip came to an end, The New York Times noted that President Obama sounded edgy and frustrated when defending his foreign policy against pointed questioning from reporters:
On a day in which he announced new sanctions against Russia for its continued threats to Ukraine, Mr. Obama said his foreign policy was based on a workmanlike tending to American priorities that might lack the high drama of a wartime presidency but also avoided ruinous mistakes.
“You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference with Mr. Aquino. “But we steadily advance the interests of the American people and our partnership with folks around the world.”
It’s clear that the White House is beginning to understand that even American liberals have to work hard these days to continue to believe that the President is doing a good job in foreign affairs. Unforutnately, it is less clear that the White House knows what to do about the situation.
But neither the President nor Ben Rhodes (who is cited later in the article) appear to be taking on the reason so many of the president’s sympathizers are shaking their heads over the state of American foreign policy today. It is clear to a child of ten that the President and all the people around him totally failed to understand the first thing about Vladimir Putin and his foreign policy agenda. They were caught utterly flatfooted by his move on Ukraine. To both the average layperson and the seasoned foreign policy professional, this looks like a major misreading of a major issue. Many will wonder how an administration that was listening in to Angela Merkel’s cell phone calls could have misread Russia so comprehensively.
A public failure of this magnitude, (comparable in a way to George W. Bush launching a war to stop a WMD program that he then failed to find) is profoundly damaging to public confidence in a political leader. People begin to think that the emperor doesn’t have any clothes and they start to ask questions about what else the President and his team don’t understand.
That the President and a top aide offered a defense of the administration’s international agenda that tip toed past the misreading Russia issue suggests that despite their evident discomfort and concern, the President’s foreign policy inner circle hasn’t yet come up with a strategy for national much less international leadership in our increasingly tumultuous world.