It is hard to say who is in more trouble — President Obama or “Meet the Press” host David Gregory.
Gregory’s ratings stink, and his bosses let it be known that they hired a consultant to find out why his close friends and family like him since most viewers don’t seem to. (As an aside, let me say that as bad as Gregory may be as a host — and we saw this coming well over a year ago — the execs who thought up this idea, spent their employer’s money on it and then leaked it should be banished.) He seems disengaged, prone to playing favorites and incapable of staying a few steps ahead of guests and pursuing much-needed follow-up inquiries. He seems laconic on screen, as if he just rolled out of bed and grabbed his script on the way to the set.
Come to think of it, Obama’s ratings stink, he’s disengaged (and “dithering“) on foreign policy crises and he lacks strategic thinking. Lucky for him, Valerie Jarrett hasn’t hired a “brand consultant,” but journalists of all political stripes are despairing about his lack of leadership and international weakness. And unfortunately for the country, having a president who stumbles along, a prisoner of events, is much more dire than a failing TV host. (Really, do we need all these Sunday shows?) NBC may lose ratings, but the West loses freedom, stability and security when the U.S. president is so slow to recognize danger to our interests and even slower to come up with a response, let alone an effective one.
Obama’s troubles metastasize from one region of the globe to another. He fails to check Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (who is reportedly back to using chemical weapons), prepares to bug out of Afghanistan with few if any troops to try to cement gains and makes a rotten deal with Iran. “Ah, this is a man who will blink!” concludes Vladimir Putin. So he gobbles up Crimea. When he has digested that, he continues the pattern of subversion and staged violence in eastern Ukraine. In three years, will the Baltic states be back in the Russian orbit? Seeing events in Europe, the leaders of China and North Korea say, “Ah, this is a man who won’t act!”
It is hardly surprising then that our Asian allies are rattled on the eve of Obama’s visit. The conservative Foreign Policy Initiative explains:
Security issues are sure to be at the top of the agenda as the president and congressional lawmakers meet with Asian leaders. For one, as the People’s Republic of China continues its decades-long program to modernize its military, it is shifting the Indo-Pacific’s balance of power in worrisome ways. For another, North Korea’s growing nuclear, missile and conventional military capabilities are posing grave and growing dangers to South Korea, Japan, and the United States.
Meanwhile, the president has failed to conclude “the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a far-reaching free trade agreement that would promote economic integration and liberalization between the United States and 11 other countries — namely, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.”
If the past is prologue, then we can expect Obama to make many bland statements of support and issue platitudes about the much-ballyhooed Asian “pivot” or “rebalancing.” All that is as useless as his idle threats to Putin. Instead, he and his advisers need to junk their obsession with slashing the defense budget. (China is hiking its defense budget by more than 12 percent and developing “advanced short-and medium-range conventional ballistic missiles, land-attack and anti-ship cruise missiles, counter-space weapons, and military cyberspace capabilities.” Oh, and let’s not forget its huge naval expansion.) And, for once, the president must be specific on his policy commitments and make good on his promises. That means completing the TPP, affording allies closer military cooperation and helping allies boost their defense capabilities. It would also behoove the president to raise the issue of human rights and stress that America’s closest relationships are with democratic countries that respect human rights.
Remember all the shrieking from right and left that we “can’t be the world’s policeman”? Actually, that is precisely what is missing right now and why Putin, Assad, the mullahs, North Korea and China feel emboldened to pressure their neighbors and increase domestic repression. Being the world’s policeman doesn’t mean continually intervening militarily or intervening in every small regional squabble. But it does mean that we, in concert with allies, are going to uphold some basic international norms — no use of WMDs, no invasion of neighbors, no mass murder, etc. Like New York City criminals in the 1970s, the thugs on the international stage now run rampant without fear that they will suffer adverse consequences. That leaves the innocent out in the cold and security in decline; aggression without consequences tears at the fabric of the civilized system of nation states established over decades.
The president is fortunate in one respect. You can get rid of or compensate for a rotten Sunday talk show host, but he’s got job security for the next 2 1/2 years. For the rest of us, the prospect of a world without a strong American president for that long is downright frightening. Let’s hope the U.S. reputation holds up better than NBC’s.