Mitt Romney's foreign policy address has shifted some of the discussion to foreign affairs. In that context, there are three facets of Obama's performance in last Wednesday's debate that raise troubling questions:
(1) Is this how he copes under pressure from (or with surprises from) foreign leaders?
David Axelrod has tried to promote the narrative that the President's poor performance is attributable to having been "taken aback at the brazenness" of Mitt Romney's supposed policy shifts (in fact, the shell-shock came from Obama being confronted by Romney's actual positions, rather than the untruths and distortions the Obama team has so zealously spread). Even taking that weak excuse at face value, however, what does it tell us about the President's capacity to respond effectively to "brazenness" on the part of America's adversaries? Let us hope that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mohammed Morsi, Vladimiir Putin and a whole host of others are never themselves "brazen" enough to be anything but 100% truthful and 100% predictable -- or the U.S. is in big, big trouble.
(2) Does he size up foreign leaders more accurately than he has evaluated Mitt Romney?
In fairness, Obama isn't alone in underestimating how well Romney would perform at last week's debate. But even setting that aside, we have heard from the press both before and after the debate about Obama's personal dislike for Mitt Romney.
From Politico, on August 14 (pre-debate):
Obama really doesn’t like, admire or even grudgingly respect Romney. It’s a level of contempt, say aides, he doesn’t even feel for the conservative, combative House Majority Leader Eric Cantor . . . Time and again Obama has told the people around him that Romney stood for “nothing.” The word he would use to describe Romney was “weak,” too weak to stand up to his own moneymen, too weak to defend his own moderate record as the man who signed into law the first health insurance mandate as Massachusetts governor in 2006, too weak to admit Obama had done a single thing right as president.
From the New York Times, on October 7 (post-debate):
Mr. Obama made clear to advisers that he was not happy about debating Mr. Romney, whom he views with disdain.
Doesn't it seem as though Obama reacts to Romney with a visceral, almost irrational level of dislike? Although Romney may not be everyone's cup of tea, there's no denying that he's been generous with his own money, he's been a good husband and father, and been extraordinarily caring to those in sickness and need (while hardly publicizing it).
So what is the reason for Obama's "contempt" and "disdain"? Let me understand -- Obama embraced Jeremiah Wright and has happily socialized with unapologetic former terrorists Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn . What's more, he apparently believes that Joe Biden -- who has been wrong about every major foreign policy issue of the past thirty years -- is the best choice to replace him as Commander-in-Chief should circumstances necessitate it. But Obama no use for Mitt Romney. Does that make any sense?
None of that inspires me with confidence about Obama's capacity to evaluate people with any degree of accuracy -- and that's a problem when an important part of his job is accurately sizing up foreign leaders.
(3) Does he have trouble prioritizing -- and is his commitment to mastery restricted only to the trivial?
Being able to prioritize is an important quality for a President in general -- and especially in the field of foreign policy. Being able to decide what matters and what doesn't, when to pour on the effort and when to let something go, can make a consequential difference. And yet we now know this, thanks to The New York Times:
Mr. Obama does not like debates to begin with, aides have long said, viewing them as media-driven gamesmanship.
So debating national affairs and making the case for his own policies are somehow unworthy of his attention, but if you believe Jodi Kantor's report in The New York Times, you'll never find a tougher, more determined competitor when it comes to golf, cards, bowling or reading to children:
For someone dealing with the world’s weightiest matters, Mr. Obama spends surprising energy perfecting even less consequential pursuits. He has played golf 104 times since becoming president. . . He decompresses with card games on Air Force One but players who do not concentrate risk a reprimand (“You’re not playing, you’re just gambling,” he once told Arun Chaudhary, his former videographer).
His idea of birthday relaxation is competing in an Olympic-style athletic tournament with friends, keeping close score. The 2009 version ended with a bowling event. Guess who won, despite his history of embarrassingly low scores? The president, it turned out, had been practicing in the White House alley.
When he reads a book to children at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll, Mr. Obama seems incapable of just flipping open a volume and reading. In 2010, he began by announcing that he would perform “the best rendition ever” of “Green Eggs and Ham” . . ..
Frankly, America doesn't need a President who's determined to, say, beat Ahmadinejad at checkers. We need someone who is committed to keeping him from getting a nuclear weapon.