NBC’s chief foreign correspondent was a bit of a skunk at the “Meet the Press” garden party … er … round table that otherwise would have been an uninterrupted cheer-leading routine for the president. (You know the deck is stacked when David Axelrod, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Tom Brokaw and Joe Scarborough make up the panel. Good grief.)

Barack Obama, Chuck Hagel, John Brennan President Barack Obama and his nominee for defense secretary, former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

At any rate, Richard Engel was there to splash some cold water on the proceedings:

“Now if you’re going to look at the United States from the outside, it seems like a lot of this administration is focused on very trivial issues. I watch your show. I watch a lot of television. And it seems like 90 percent of the debate is on things that are totally disconnected from the rest of the world. The Middle East is in collapse, al-Qaeda branches are still out there. The last two wars that we have been involved in have been total catastrophes by almost any standard. And these problems aren’t going away.”

Actually these problems are getting worse and America’s stature is being intentionally diminished by selection of nominees like Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel who’ve spend the last decade or so trying to abandon wars, slash the military and show solicitude toward Iran and its chief ally, Syria.

There was then this unintentional bit of hilarity (Brokaw was a guest, but willing unlike David Gregory to ask a probing question):

MR. BROKAW: President famously said to Medvedev of Russia, tell President Putin, I’ll be more flexible in my second term.

MR. AXELROD: No, I don’t know that he said flexible, but…

GREGORY: I’ll have more flexibility.


MR. BROKAW: Yeah, I’ll have more flexibility in my second term. What did he mean by that?

MR. AXELROD: I don’t know. I never asked him about that, Tom. But I– but let me slide over and evade your question and– and– and…

(Cross talk)

MR. AXELROD: No, no, no. Look, I think that it’s clear that when you’re in the middle of an election campaign, whoever you are, you have less flexibility. So I mean, I– I– I don’t– I think more was made– more– more…

(Cross talk)

MR. BROKAW: …different– different kind of relationship with Russia, which is after all a behemoth out there that we’re not talking about very much and it’s got big stakes in Iran and Syria…

MR. AXELROD: I think we have to– we– I think we have to deal with Russia. They are a player on a number of– of issues that are important to us. And we have to feel out the relationship now with Putin who is being very aggressive. But I just want to make one– I– what?

GREGORY: We’re almost out of time.


GREGORY: We’ve got about five seconds here.

MR. AXELROD: I don’t think that the United States of America can be effective if we stand with the forces of, uh, uh– of autocracy against the yearning for freedom.

Hypocrisy is the compliment vice pays to virtue, eh? Axelrod should try reciting that line to the Green Movement, the Chinese dissidents, the victims of Vladimir Putin’s kangaroo court justice system, and the others whom Obama has ignored or demoralized by currying favor with their oppressors. Really, it is a marvel that political hacks are able to rival Lance Armstrong in the shamelessness department.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will testify this Wednesday. It may be the last opportunity to glean insight into the dysfunction and attention deficit that plagues the administration. A conservative critic of the administration suggests a few questions, including these:

Why did the U.S. outsource the arming of the Libyan revolutionaries to Qatar with its known preference for Islamists, instead of taking charge of that ourselves, perhaps in Sicily to avoid putting ‘boots on the ground’ in Libya? Do you believe that the resulting dominance of militias on Libya by Islamists s harmful for the US as we’ll as for the Libyan people?


Why didn’t the U.S. do more after the fall of Gaddafi, and particularly after elections demonstrated the politically moderate attitude of the Libyan people, to assist the new authorities in training and organizing effective security forces?


Why is you administration repeating the same mistake in Syria, outsourcing the security needs of the anti-regime forces, to a competition between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, with much more serious consequences than in Libya, both for the Syrian people and for U.S. interests, including an emerging leadership role for al-Qaeda affiliated groups?

Actually these would be among the questions to ask of Hagel as well. Is he going to be any more inclined to interrupt the president’s fixation with remaking America at home, force him to focus on growing threats and recommend deliberate action? (Don’t hold your breath.)

Our global reticence, magnified by the hurried flight from Afghanistan and new crop of nominees, will embolden Iran, whose despotic leaders can now put aside the sliver of concern about U.S. military action. This in turn will increase the chances of Israel’s unilateral action. Our shriveled world presence will encourage China to be more aggressive in Asia and Putin to keep his boot on his people’s throats.

Let us be clear: This is the president’s chosen foreign policy, namely a weaker America that leaves our allies to fend for themselves and signals to foes it will not block their ambitions. Into that vacuum left by the U.S. departure — be it in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Asia, the Maghreb or our own hemisphere — will rush anti-democratic, anti- U.S. forces. Whoever succeeds President Obama will have quite the mess to clean up.