Yesterday, Tim Pawlenty was the one presidential candidate who put out a statement on Syria:
“Instead of offering principled leadership in the Middle East, President Obama has once again offered inaction. Democratic Syrian activists are getting mowed down by Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime. Inaction is more of the same from our do-nothing President who has failed to offer a budget plan, a social security plan or a jobs plan, let alone show leadership on Syria and the Arab Spring. President Obama himself needs to say clearly that Assad must and will go, immediately recall the U.S. Ambassador to Syria and move to invoke additional economic sanctions. I called for these actions over four months ago; I call for them again today. This brutal regime does not deserve diplomatic recognition from the United States.”
Pawlenty may ultimately prove to be a poor messenger, but that message — stressing the connection between President Obama’s failed leadership on both foreign and domestic matters — is on point and potentially devastating. At this moment, President Obama is getting battered on the right and left on his weak negotiating skills and his executive ineptitude. Foreign policy as a substantive issue may be on the backburner for many voters, but to the extent it confirms underlying unease with Obama as a capable chief executive it is an important topic.
Examples abound to demonstrate the president doesn’t have the decisiveness and boldness to push back against foes and threats. This ABC News headline says it all: “Secretary Clinton Says U.S. Waiting For International Consensus To Call For Syrian President To Step Down.” Meanwhile, his consensus-above-all-else approach to Iran is likewise proving to be a failure as the mullahs progress by leaps and bounds toward a nuclear weapons capability. And we’ve seen Russia, China and even Pakistan get the better of this administration time and again.
While the details of Obama’s foreign policy flubs may not be of interest to the majority of voters, they are illustrative of a growing sense that Obama is “in over his head,” as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said in reference to Obama’s economic leadership.
The Republican campaigns, to one degree or another, understand this. Mitt Romney’s campaign has promised some speeches and policy roll-outs after the August doldrums. I would fully expect him to talk about Obama’s failed leadership on both domestic and foreign policy.
It is significant that in her campaign kick-off speech Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) not only talked about “out-of-control federal spending, the healthcare reform law championed by Obama, a bloated government and the $14-trillion federal debt,” she also pointed to Obama’s foreign policy shortcomings: “We can’t afford four more years of foreign policy with a president who leads from behind and doesn’t stand up for our friends like Israel and who too often fails to stand against our enemy.”
In short, smart GOP candidates would be wise to use foreign policy to drive home one of the most potent arguments against Obama: He is incapable of maintaining America’s standing as an economic powerhouse and international superpower. Unfortunately for Obama, there is plenty of evidence to support that charge.