It turns out that just as the financial crisis and recession did not much change Americans' fundamental attitudes on the balance between government and markets, so emollient talk and confessions of past American sins did not much change the behavior of those who consider America a sworn enemy. The mullahs still want their nuclear bomb.
American officials could stop talking about a "war on terror" and speak instead of "man-caused disasters." But that did not disarm the Islamist terrorist who shot up the recruiting station in Little Rock, Ark., or the Muslim psychiatrist who opened fire at Fort Hood or the pampered Nigerian who tried to bring down Northwest flight 253 over Detroit.
Obama did manage to abandon his statement that the Detroit bomber was an "isolated extremist" and admit that he was in touch with al-Qaida terrorists in Yemen. Yet his administration quickly sent him into the civilian justice system, where he predictably clammed up, and until a reversal yesterday, proclaimed that it would keep sending Guantanamo detainees to Yemen.
We have all experienced the cognitive dissonance that comes when it turns out that the world doesn't work the way we assumed it would. It's hard to give up your assumptions and easier often to believe that unexpected events and results were an aberration from norm that would quickly snap back to what we expected.
Midcourse corrections in these circumstances are often awkward and difficult to execute, the more so when all eyes are on you and any change in direction is the subject of universal comment and adverse criticism.
Getting elected president of the United States must be an enormously confidence-building experience: So many people wanted the job, and you got it. Being president can be more chastening when events don't turn out as you anticipated.
The great presidents -- Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt -- faced events no one expected and in response changed policies and priorities without ever, so far as we know, losing their nerve. Lesser presidents, including Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, did so as well. Will Barack Obama?