President Obama (Jason Reed/Reuters) President Obama (Jason Reed/Reuters)

A new NBC poll shows that 50 percent of Americans oppose military action in Syria and 44 percent support it. Wow. That’s not bad for those who think inaction is disastrous considering what hash President Obama has made of this. And, “58 percent agree with the statement that the use of chemical weapons by any country violates a ‘red line’ that requires a significant U.S. response, including the possibility of military action.” Oh well, in that case we must act! (Tip: Don’t conduct foreign policy by polls. The public isn’t all that plugged in, which is why we need actual presidential leadership.)

Most telling, 45 percent don’t know whether we have a national interest in taking action against Syria. (Yet they have an opinion on whether we should or shouldn’t act. Go figure.) The public is confused, understandably so, because the president has explained so little and dithered so much.

What the public really disapproves of is him — only 41 percent approve of his conduct of foreign policy and 35 percent approve of his handling of Syria. (It’s hard to imagine, whatever your view, that you think he’s doing a bang-up job here.)

All of this is illustrative of the president’s gross failure in foreign policy leadership. He seems not to understand that the public must be brought along, educated about the nation’s national security needs and provided with a coherent argument for U.S. action. If not, citizens are unlikely to wake up one morning and cheerily agree that, sure, let’s strike another Middle East country. The president rarely gives a speech about national security, and when he does it is in negative terms. (We must “nation build” at home and a “decade of war is ending.”)

To be candid, other than convincing the public that Republicans are really bad guys, Obama has been singularly inept at swaying the public on much of anything. Americans still dislike Obamacare. On that he’s given hundreds of speeches. They are more skeptical of government than ever before, despite (or because of) his constant arguments that the federal government must do anything worth doing.

In foreign policy Obama is hobbled by really bad ideas (e.g. the United States can disengage), but also by the absence of a GOP target (other than President George W. Bush, of course). He can’t say it is the GOP’s fault he drew a red line in Syria, or that the GOP is to blame for our paralysis over Egypt. Indeed, the president can hardly talk about any significant issue without dragging the Republicans into it and starting a partisan diatribe. (At the March on Washington speech he couldn’t get through half of his speech before accusing opponents of big government of holding down minorities and favoring the rich at the expense of the poor.) Because the GOP is more supportive of much of his national security policy (e.g. drones, NSA) than his own party, he’s deprived of his favorite foil. Without a partisan straw man, he seems rhetorically lost.

Obama appears convinced that the public won’t stomach any American action — which nicely coincides with his own distaste for hard power — so he throws up his hands. War fatigue! He lacks the courage and will to engage the public over a long period of time and make the case for American leadership in the world. The NBC poll suggests that has come back to bite him.

Obama came into office promising “smart diplomacy.” He claimed to have “isolated” Iran. Instead, inane diplomacy has left the United States and him isolated. Worse, he’s left the world in turmoil. It will take a very long time for America to recover from this commander in chief.