An Obama critic these days is anyone who’s been mugged by reality in the last five years.

President Obama appears at the Brandenburg Gate in Germany. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press) President Obama appears at the Brandenburg Gate in Germany. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

From the left you have Maureen Dowd, who sounds more like Charles Krauthammer:

Stop whining, Mr. President. And stop whiffing. Don’t whinge off the record with columnists and definitely don’t do it at a press conference with another world leader. It is disorienting to everybody, here at home and around the world.

I empathize with you about being thin-skinned. When you hate being criticized, it’s hard to take a giant steaming plate of “you stink” every day, coming from all sides. But you convey the sense that any difference on substance is lèse-majesté.

Also from the left, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) sounds like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) when she bashes Secretary of State John Kerry’s apartheid comment: “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and any linkage between Israel and apartheid is nonsensical and ridiculous.”

The Obama team’s foreign policy jalopy careens around the globe, creating chaos and confusion wherever it goes. Or as centrist foreign policy guru Richard Haass put it:

American foreign policy is in troubling disarray. The result is unwelcome news for the world, which largely depends upon the United States to promote order in the absence of any other country able and willing to do so. And it is bad for the U.S., which cannot insulate itself from the world. . . . The challenge for the Obama administration is not just to ensure American strength and continued internationalism in the face of growing isolationist sentiment. It is also a case of sending the right message to others. We are witnessing an accelerated movement toward a post-American world where governments make decisions and take actions with reduced regard for U.S. preferences. Such a world promises to be even messier, and less palatable for U.S. interests, than it is today.

There are two things going on here simultaneously that have provoked this torrent of criticism from well beyond the Republicans in Congress. The confluence of the two amplify the picture of chaos and confusion combined with the Obama team’s self-pity.

The first problem here is that whatever standing Kerry had when he began his tenure is gone. The face of American foreign policy is now the subject of disdain and biting criticism. Day after day his spokeswoman is subjected to needling from the press. An excerpt from yesterday’s daily briefing:

QUESTION: If that’s his view, that Israel faces the potential – a potential future as a state that has two classes of citizens and there’s not a full-on democracy. If that’s what he believes, why doesn’t he – why does he – why is he taking back his word?

MS. PSAKI: He doesn’t disagree with the notion that many Israeli leaders have also stated – Justice Minister Livni, Prime Minister Netanyahu – many prime ministers in the past from many different political ilks have stated their concerns about a unitary state and a range of impacts that could have. He agrees with that. But he’s not naive about the games played in Washington. He – what we saw yesterday was many people use his comments and the – them out of context to distort his record and distort his viewpoints.

QUESTION: But it sounds like he’s only – and not apologizing, but saying that he regrets that the word was being used because he was caught or whatever word you want to use, or someone recorded him unbeknownst to him, using it. And isn’t it true that – first of all, isn’t it true that he has expressed this sentiment, if not the word “apartheid,” to Israeli leaders in his negotiations?

MS. PSAKI: Which he repeated in his statement, that what he was trying to describe was his belief that it’s not possible to achieve two states living side by side in peace and security without a two-state solution. And yes, that is a sentiment he has described privately, he has described publicly. . . . Again, what he – yesterday, as we were making the decision about putting this statement out, there were several interpretations of his comments that were inconsistent with his record of more than 30 years in public service, the work he’s done to – work with the negotiators to bring about a peace process. It didn’t reflect his views; it didn’t reflect his record. And that’s why we put a statement out. . . .

QUESTION: But it’s – just kind of goes to Matt’s point that if he believes that – this to be true, then instead of kind of saying I regret the statement, it cut —

MS. PSAKI: He didn’t say that. He said he —

QUESTION: Well, not that he regrets the choice of the word – of use —

MS. PSAKI: Of the specific word. Yes.


MS. PSAKI: That’s an important point.

QUESTION: But why does he regret the choice of the word? Because it’s being interpreted by others, or because he doesn’t feel that way? Because it seems as if he clearly feels that way. He’s describing a situation which loosely is interpreted as an apartheid situation and he’s also pointing to others, and so it’s – that are saying it. And so it kind of seems as if he’s trying to distance himself from the criticism and not standing by exactly what he – how he believes it to be the case.

MS. PSAKI: No. I absolutely disagree with that. In his statement last night, he very clearly conveyed what the point he was making. He referred to other officials who have made a similar point.

QUESTION: Exactly.

MS. PSAKI: At the same time, we all know – you all work in words every single day – that certain words have – are interpreted in a certain way, have history behind them. So yes, he would have used a different word. The sentiment about the importance of reaching a two-state solution and the challenges of a unitary state – yes, he does completely agree with that.

QUESTION: So even though he put the statement out saying that perhaps he should have used another word, he still does think that Israel risks becoming an apartheid state in the future if there is no peace agreement and no two-state solution?

MS. PSAKI: I think it’s very important, as we all know, that the use of the word, the way that people interpret the word – the power of words – is a major factor here.

It goes on and on like that. The take away from the questioning and from the coverage in the mainstream media is that Kerry is a very foolish man, quite full of himself and out of his depth. One requirement (I will get to the other below) of “soft power” or “smart diplomacy” is to have smart, disciplined diplomats. This is not the Senate floor where you can talk forever, make whatever gaffes and silly remarks you like and never face criticism. With a secretary of defense who, unlike predecessors Leon Panetta and Robert Gates, is not competent to operate at a high level and a secretary of state who spends too much time explaining what he really meant to say, the administration’s message, such as it is, is muddled and unsteady.

But there is more going on here than Kerry. Those members of the Senate who have expressed trust in him on Iran, for example, look foolish to have held off on sanctions. More and more you see Democrats, scared to death that they will be dragged down by a White House circling the drain, flex their muscles. The House Foreign Affairs Committee now acts unanimously to demand new action on Syria and increased measures against Russia. Senate Democrats do not rush to the administration’s defense.

Democrats or Republicans proponents of realpolitik who once hoped President Obama would provide a course correction to the excesses of the Bush administration now are in despair.

Leon Wieseltier bemoans again and again the vacuum where America once stood and the despair of allies who crave U.S. leadership. (“He is not raising the country up, he is tutoring it in ruefulness and futility. We need to refuse this sullenness.”) Former Democratic congresswoman Jane Harman candidly admits (“it beats me”) she can’t figure out why we haven’t pursued sector-wide sanctions against Russia. And even realpolitik maven and former Obama defender Zbig Brzezinski now taunts the president’s incoherent approach to Russia.

In sum, we have a hollow foreign policy and a secretary of state incapable of improvising. The president doesn’t care to or doesn’t know how to reverse course. (Are 150,000 dead in Syria a “single” or a “double” as he defends his foreign policy in baseball terms?) And now everyone is willing to say so. With Democrats panicked they will lose the Senate and maybe even impair Hillary Clinton (who will be running on the third Obama term), the criticism is bipartisan, endless and unmerciful.