Politics & Policy

Taking His Measure

Americans see Obama as weakening the U.S.

Observing anti-Americanism around the globe in 1967, Ronald Reagan lamented in a speech: “We tried to buy love in the world when we should have been earning respect.” It is an admonition President Obama is predisposed not to heed — and the American people have noticed. As a result of his weak and distracted foreign policy, 51 percent of Americans think the standing of the United States has dropped during Mr. Obama’s tenure. Only 41 percent think otherwise. That was reported this week by the liberal group Democracy Corps–Third Way, which also found that only 33 percent of Americans believe the Democrats are better on national security.

How could Obama — touted as best able to “restore America’s standing in the world” after eight years of the uncouth George W. Bush — bring us to such a pass? Was this not the same man who declared upon his nomination that “generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment . . . when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth”?

#ad#Unfortunately for Mr. Obama, the American people ultimately judge presidents on actions, not words. Unfortunately for America, the same is true of our adversaries.

Almost from the beginning, the White House denied what most Americans clearly perceive: that the U.S. is engaged in a global war. In March 2009, the Pentagon’s Office of Security Review advised staff that “this administration prefers to avoid using the term ‘Long War’ or ‘Global War on Terror.’ . . . Please use ‘Overseas Contingency Operation.’” Also that month, Mr. Obama’s homeland-security secretary told the left-wing German publication Spiegel that she preferred the term “man-caused disasters” to “terrorism,” because “it demonstrates that we want to move away from the politics of fear.”

Last April, the president embarked on what would become known as the “Apology Tour.” In Strasbourg, France, Mr. Obama said the country he represents “failed to appreciate Europe’s leading role in the world” and has “shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive” towards its allies. Two days later in Prague, advocating “America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” he came close to apologizing for our use of such weapons to expedite the end of World War II: “As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act.”

A month later, North Korea tested its second nuclear device, showing that adversaries such as Kim Jong Il are not particularly moved by such language. The American people apparently are not impressed, either. When asked which party is better for making America safer from nuclear threats, Republicans now lead Democrats by 11 points.


Back at home, Mr. Obama’s administration was making war on those who try to keep us safe. His attorney general opened a criminal investigation of CIA interrogators. The White House declared it would close the terrorist-detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, but thankfully has failed at the task so far. Mr. Obama also wants to try terrorists in civilian courts, rather than before military tribunals.

Take the case of the Christmas Day bomber, who attempted to kill nearly 300 passengers and crew on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. Not only did the Obama administration decide to treat the perpetrator as a common criminal, it did so without running the decision past key security, defense, and intelligence officials. The homeland-security secretary’s claim that “the system worked” that day was broadly seen as laughable.

One longs for the days of Democrats like Franklin Roosevelt, who took less than a month to appoint a military commission to try Nazi spies who infiltrated the U.S. in June 1942. By August, all but two had been executed and the matter was closed.

#ad#Meanwhile, those striving for freedom and democracy abroad have gotten a cold shoulder from the administration. A year ago, the secretary of state went to China and devalued bipartisan concern for human rights, saying it can’t be allowed to “interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis, and the security crisis.” President Obama sat on his hands as the Iranian people took to the streets to protest a corrupt election last June.

The biggest affronts of all have been reserved for America’s longstanding allies. Last September, Mr. Obama betrayed two of America’s greatest new partners since the Cold War, Poland and the Czech Republic, in order to “reset” relations with Russia. President Obama’s top political aides dragged Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s name through the mud on national television as the administration dithered on whether and how much to commit to turning the tide in Afghanistan. Colombia, Honduras, Korea, and Iraq also have been shortchanged by Mr. Obama and Democrats on Capitol Hill. But the most insults have been meted out to Great Britain, traditionally our closest ally, beginning with a string of amateurish protocol errors and culminating in a gratuitous pander to Argentina at the expense of British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands.

And that is how, in 14 short months, the American people’s confidence in President Obama and his party’s ability to keep us safe has plummeted. This is unfortunate, given that it takes presidents a long time to regain — at home and abroad — power they’ve lost.

Friend and foe have taken his measure. And his foes are happier than his friends.

– Stephen Yates was deputy national security adviser to the vice president from 2001 to 2005. Christian Whiton was a State Department senior adviser from 2003 to 2009 and served as deputy special envoy. They are respectively the president and principal of D.C. Asia Advisory LLC.

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