For such a historic figure, Barack Obama sure doesn't have much influence on the world. That's the theme of reporter Peter Baker's front-page "news analysis" for Monday's New York Times, portraying the president as a passive victim of world events spinning unluckily out of his control: "Obama's Focus on Re-election Faces World of Complications."
For Barack Obama, a president who set out to restore good relations with the world in his first term, the world does not seem to be cooperating all that much with his bid to win a second.
That reality has been on vivid display in recent days. Europe has seemed unable to contain its rolling economic crisis to just Greece. The Syrian conflict has intensified as the United Nations suspended its observers’ mission amid the violence. Egypt’s popular revolution is at risk of being reversed by the military. And the Russians are cracking down at home and rattling sabers abroad.
As President Obama left on Sunday for an international summit meeting in Mexico, the daunting array of overseas issues underscored the challenges for an incumbent who is trying to manage global affairs while arguing a case for re-election. Although American voters are not particularly focused on foreign policy in a time of economic trouble, the rest of the world has a way of occupying a president’s time and intruding on his best-laid campaign plans.
If anything, the dire headlines from around the world only reinforce an uncomfortable reality for this president and any of his successors: even the world’s last superpower has only so much control over events beyond its borders, and its own course can be dramatically affected in some cases. Whether from ripples of the European fiscal crisis or flare-ups of violence in Baghdad, it is easy to be whipsawed by events.
The trick for any president, of course, is in not seeming to be whipsawed, even as his challenger presents him as weak and ineffectual in shaping international events. If a president cannot stand tall in the world, the argument goes, he is not up to the task of governing in a complicated age.
Baker eventually addressed the critical perspective, in paragraph 13 of 21.
Some Romney advisers said Mr. Obama was too willing to avoid accountability by presenting himself as a powerless bystander.
“These crises reflect an absence of leadership from the Obama administration,” said Kristen Silverberg, a former State Department official under President George W. Bush who is advising Mr. Romney. “He sat out the Iran protests, has faltered on Syria and let the Russians know he’ll be even more ‘flexible’ after our election. Global security and the strength of the global economy depend on strong U.S. leadership and a president who believes in America’s role in the world.”
Mr. Obama assumes foreign policy will be an advantage for him, particularly because of his record of pulling troops out of Iraq, helping topple the government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya, taking robust action against terrorists and authorizing the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Kyle Drennen of the Media Research Center compiled a history of the media defending Democratic presidents as victims of circumstance stretching all the way back to Jimmy Carter in 1980.
-- Clay Waters is Editor of the MRC's TimesWatch site