SAN ANTONIO -- The world's most famous teleprompter reader has lost his audience. For two years, President Barack Obama had the American electorate and world leaders eating out of the palm of his hand. At virtually every U.S. and overseas venue, he was welcomed by huge cheering throngs. His oratory was described as "magnetic," "eloquent" and "spellbinding." Just nine months into his term, his "accomplishments" were deemed worthy of a Nobel Prize. Not anymore.
After being chastened by the voters in one of the greatest electoral reversals in American history, the president flew away on the most expensive foreign junket ever taken by an American head of state. But his appearances this week in India, Indonesia and South Korea have made it vividly clear to all that Obama is incapable of shaping events.
Though he still panders to every audience, his obsequious bows to foreign potentates and apologies for America's misdeeds no longer hold the allure and cachet they carried just months ago. In New Delhi, he reiterated his Utopian plea for a world without nuclear weapons and spoke of supporting India's bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council -- without mentioning that both India and Pakistan hide their atomic arsenals from U.N. arms inspectors.
He paid homage to Gandhi, danced with schoolchildren in Indonesia and went to the G-20 summit in Seoul, where he continued to whine about trade imbalances and currency manipulation while defending further devaluation of the American dollar. Along the way, he missed yet another opportunity to define our enemy as radical Islam and ignored American troops in harm's way by treating Iraq and Afghanistan like flyover country.
The president's rhetorical flourishes and quests for applause lines on this trip provide striking examples of his chaotic, uncertain leadership at home and abroad. While he was reiterating his campaign pledge to bring all American troops home from Iraq, his defense secretary, Robert Gates, was suggesting the newly formed Iraqi government may want U.S. troops to stay beyond the 2011 deadline for withdrawal.
But on Afghanistan, Obama may have begun to backtrack. This week, he said: "While I have made it clear that American forces will begin the transition to Afghan responsibility next summer, I've also made it clear that America's commitment to the Afghan people will endure. The United States will not abandon the people of Afghanistan -- or the region -- to violent extremists who threaten us all."
He says he has "made it clear," but he hasn't. Ever since he announced the "surge" in Afghanistan a year ago, he has been talking about commencing the withdrawal of U.S. troops next July. Now he says we will "begin the transition to Afghan responsibility next summer." Does that mean we're going to stay long enough to finish the job -- to actually win in Afghanistan? No one seems to know.
While Obama was enjoying state dinners across Asia, Sens. John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Lindsey Graham and Kirsten Gillibrand were in Afghanistan for a firsthand look at what's happening on the ground. After meetings in Kabul with Gen. David Petraeus and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, McCain told reporters: "It was wrong to set the date of July" for withdrawing U.S. troops. "It sent out the wrong message, and it created a problem."
The former prisoner of war is right -- but he understates the case. The original Obama promise to start bringing American troops home from the shadows of the Hindu Kush -- a pledge made to placate the anti-military base of his party -- created a whole host of new problems. It told the Taliban they can wait us out. It told the Iranians and elements in Pakistan to increase efforts to control the outcome. It told our allies to start packing their bags for home. And it told Karzai and every corrupt government official in Afghanistan to steal as much as they can while the gringos still are writing checks.
Perhaps worst of all, Obama's "withdrawal promise" told the American people we aren't there to win -- that the sacrifice of their sons and daughters was futile. That's not how Christine and Terry -- the parents of Marine Lance Cpl. Terry E. Honeycutt Jr. of Waldorf, Md. -- feel, nor should they. Their son died Oct. 27 after being wounded by an improvised explosive device in Helmand province. Anti-military protesters intended to disrupt their son's funeral, until the Patriot Guard Riders were alerted to the protesters' plan. Instead of having to endure a disgusting graveside demonstration, scores of God-fearing veterans will honor a fallen Marine and his grieving family.
Obama owes all who are fighting this war -- especially Gold Star families like the Honeycutts -- a clear and unambiguous declaration that we are in Afghanistan to win. The time for equivocation has long since passed. In the case of his "withdrawal date," he must do some serious backtracking.