Underwhelmed

02.26.14

Obama Looks Weak Abroad to Those at Home

Even Democrats don’t see him as a strong leader in the world at this point of his presidency.

Six years into Obama’s presidency, the public is losing faith that our president can command the respect of other nations. It’s not hard to see why.

The Olympics in Sochi came to an end last week, and less than a half-day’s drive away, Ukraine is in a state of turmoil, with its leader having fled the capital in the face of protesters demanding reforms. In Venezuela, over a dozen are dead and CNN has been booted from the country in protests against a government that has long stifled democracy and impoverished its own people.

The White House’s reaction hasn’t been much of a reaction at all, at least not publicly.  There’s been no real word on Venezuela. The last White House statement on Ukraine comes from Saturday and says little. On Sunday, the White House notes that Obama and Vladimir Putin chatted on the phone about Ukraine. They also spoke about the situation in Syria, where Russia took the quarterback job, where Assad is missing deadlines for handing over his chemical weapons, and where civilians are still killed daily. They also apparently spoke about the P5+1 talks with Iran, where the discussion is not about getting rid of Iran’s nuclear enrichment capabilities but how to make it less likely to be unpleasant for the West to deal with it.

Now, for the first time in Obama’s presidency, a majority of Americans think he does not command the respect of leaders of other countries.

Now, for the first time in Obama’s presidency, a majority of Americans think he does not command the respect of leaders of other countries.

According to Gallup, a mere 41 percent of Americans think Barack Obama is respected in the world by his fellow leaders. This, a dramatic decline from 2009, when fresh off of his campaign tour through Europe and perplexing receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, some 67 percent of Americans thought Obama was respected around the globe.

It isn’t Republicans driving this decline. The proportion of Democrats who think that the world does not respect Obama has doubled in just the last year, and nearly six out of ten independents concur.  This also comes a few months after Gallup first found voters saying they no longer view Obama as a “strong and decisive leader.”

If he’s not considered a strong leader here, why would our allies (or enemies) think he is?

Americans have grown frustrated with Obama’s handling of our relations with the world over the last year. The most recent polls show half of Americans disapprove of the job Obama is doing at handling foreign affairs, numbers that first entered negative territory last spring and only got worse through a mixture of revelations about NSA spying on allies and the bungled U.S. response to the Syrian crisis.

Of course, while there’s lots of frustration with the president’s approach to America’s role in the world, that frustration isn’t all coming from one direction. At the moment, there is neither a coherent “Republican” nor “Democratic” foreign policy strategy, with both parties grappling with the post-Bush terrain. The right houses hawks and isolationists under one roof. The left has anti-war folks and internationalists alike. .

In short, it may be that everyone seems unhappy with Obama’s prosecution of a foreign policy strategy because there isn’t much of a coherent one at all. No matter your faction, this administration hasn’t done much to inspire confidence.

Tuesday, Marco Rubio took to the floor of the Senate and pointed out the atrocities in Venezuela and voicing frustration with the Administration’s lack of response. (Venezuela’s leader and heir to the legacy of Hugo Chavez, President Nicolas Maduro, called Rubio “loco” earlier this week, which I assume the Senator will take as a compliment.)

“If America and its policy-makers are not going to be firmly on the side of freedom and liberty, who in the world is? Who on this planet will?” asked Rubio as he closed his remarks. “And if we’re prepared to walk away from that, then I submit to you that this century is going to be a dangerous and dark one. But I don’t believe that’s what the American people want from us.”

The American people would certainly like their leader to be respected by his peers around the world. Unfortunately these days, they fear that’s not the case.