Paul Greenberg

The president of the United States really needs a minder. Or at least an aide who'll always tell him when the microphone that's catching his every embarrassing word is open, and broadcasting his buddy-buddy chitchat with some foreign leader to the whole country. And the whole world.

Mr. Obama is bad about that. Not too long ago he was sympathizing with the French president about what a pain both found Israel's pushy president to be. Nothing like having a troublesome little ally who can't see the Big Picture, and raises a petty matter like its own survival when the Great Powers have so much more to think about. Especially the re-election of their leaders.

Mr. Chamberlain and M. Daladier must have felt a similar irritation with Eduard Benes, the president of little Czechoslovakia in 1938, who was such an irritant at Munich conference in 1938, much like his whole country, which would vanish soon enough. The nerve: standing in the way of Peace in Our Time.

No problem. M. Benes would soon be gone. Along with his troublesome little country. How dare he stand in the way of their grand vision!

One can only imagine the contempt the conference's leaders, including Herr Hitler, must have felt for that obnoxious little man and his obnoxious little country. I say only imagine because there was no open mike around to record their cynicism the time.

But in the case of Barack Obama, one need not imagine. Somebody forgot to turn off the microphone the other day at that grand international conference in Seoul, which was supposedly about international security. It left some of us feeling decidedly less secure after overhearing a conversation between the American president and his Russian counterpart. Their conversation, with the whole world listening in, turned out to be less than secure.

Mr. Obama was heard telling Comrade Medvedev -- or maybe it's Gospodin Medvedev in this new but still much-the-same Russia -- that he needs more time to work out some of the issues with this country's missile defense system in Europe because a presidential election is pending in this country. So he was asking the Russians not to press him on the matter. For now.

Implicit in the American president's request was the understanding that he wouldn't want to cave to Russian demands before the election, since Americans have grown a little leery of appeasement since Munich. Or as our president confided to the Soviet -- excuse me, Russian -- leader: "This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility."

After his re-election, anything goes. Like maybe his country's missile defense.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.