Politically speaking, the low point in how President Obama’s approach to foreign policy is perceived may have been in 2011 when an advisor described his actions in Libya, where a coalition was trying to oust dictator Muammar Qaddafi, as “leading from behind.”
Most Americans aren’t used to hearing that. Even though they’re weary of war, either they want a more assertive United States, it seems, or the kind of non-interventionist approach favored by Sen. Rand Paul. “Leading from behind” sounds so … unexceptional.
Today, Obama faces two immediate and potentially very dangerous situations abroad: the downing of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet over rebellious territory in eastern Ukraine that is supplied and apparently directed by a Russian leader – Vladimir Putin – who never got over the breakup of the Soviet Union; and an Israeli military incursion into Gaza that feels like little progress has been made in the Jewish state’s relations with its Palestinian neighbors despite decades of talk.
Add to that such ongoing problems as Syria, Iraq, and Iran – not to mention tens of thousands of child migrants showing up at the US border because their home countries in Central America are wracked with violence – and the President’s daily intelligence briefing must be extraordinarily depressing.
Nobody thinks the US can or should solve the world’s problems, even if it’s sometimes still referred to as the only remaining superpower. But the US role in the world was very much the central issue in Sunday’s TV news shows.
Secretary of State John Kerry hit all five of the major network programs, presenting the administration’s case on NBC's "Meet the Press,” ABC's "This Week,” CBS's "Face the Nation,” "Fox News Sunday,” and CNN's "State of the Union.”
“The fact is that the United States of America … is more engaged in more places in the world, and, frankly, I think, to greater effect, than at any time in recent memory,” Mr. Kerry said on ABC. “I can’t think of a time when the United States has been engaged in more places, where people are worried not about our staying, but they don’t want us to leave and they recognize that American leadership is critical.”
Also appearing on “Meet the Press,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina, along with Sen. John McCain one of the Senate’s leading hawks, called Kerry’s foreign policy views “ridiculous and delusional.”
“It scares me that he believes the world is in such good shape. America is the glue that holds the free world together. Leading from behind is not working. The world is adrift. And President Obama has become the king of indecision," Sen. Graham said. "His policies are failing across the globe, and they will come here soon."
Some Democrats are urging a more muscular response to Ukraine as well.
“Clearly President Putin has created the set of circumstances and has supplied the resources … to the rebels so that this tragedy could take place,” Sen. Robert Menendez, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, said on the "Fox News Sunday" program. “For me, I think the West, including the United States, has to have a far more significant response than we’ve seen to date.”
Asked on CNN what the US response will be to the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 response is unlikely to satisfy hawkish critics like Graham.
"We're currently in discussions with our European allies precisely with respect to what the next steps will be," Kerry said. "And rather than shoot from the hip, the president is going to do this in a thoughtful way where it's one day, two days later. We're just gathering more facts. And I think it takes facts for responsible leadership. So that's exactly what we're doing."
“Indecision reigns," Graham retorted. "President Obama is trying to be deliberative. It comes off as indecisive. He's trying to be thoughtful. It comes off as weakness."