Astonishingly, foreign policy analyst Fareed Zakaria, writing in The Washington Post after a trip to Tehran, calls for Obama to "return to his original approach and test the Iranians to see if there is any room for dialogue and agreement."
Give Friedman credit for recognizing that Obama's "hopes of engaging Iran foundered on the rocks of, well, Iran."
Also give Friedman credit for noting, in a column praising Obama's foreign policy, that his Arab-Israeli diplomacy "has been a mess," that he hasn't assembled "a multilateral coalition to buttress the Arab Awakening" and that "his global climate policy is an invisible embarrassment."
Friedman defends Obama on the grounds that the world is "messier" than it was in the days of Henry Kissinger and Ronald Reagan. Well, maybe. We don't have the bipolar conflict between the Free World and the Soviet Union to structure our policy anymore.
What I see in Obama's foreign policy is a retreat from the dreamy assumptions on which he campaigned to a reluctant and stumbling reversion in many areas to policies resembling those of George W. Bush.
Obama, after scorning the policy of promoting democracy that George W. Bush proclaimed in his 2005 inauguration speech (but didn't pursue rigorously afterward), and after reacting with sublime indifference to the Green protests in Iran in 2009, is now talking up democracy from time to time, though only after hesitation.
He took a brave but long-delayed decision to double down in Afghanistan and has authorized drone attacks on terrorists in Pakistan and Yemen that some of his appointees would have denounced as criminal if Bush were still in office.
But he is also sharply cutting back the defense budget, and his failure to negotiate a troop presence in Iraq could have dreadful consequences. Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, like his predecessor Robert Gates, does his best to proclaim that American resolve is firm and can be counted on.
They seem to understand what Obama may not yet accept, that as the world's leading economic and military power the United States is unlikely to be loved, regardless of whether our president is a baseball team owner from Texas or a community organizer from Chicago.
The best we can expect among many of the elites and peoples of the globe is to be respected. And as Machiavelli argued long ago, if you have to choose, it is better to be respected than to be loved.