These are tough times for Barack Obama. Barely three weeks have passed since his party received a "shellacking," as he put it, in the midterm elections, denying him unfettered control over Congress and putting his domestic agenda in doubt.
Obama's approval ratings have been sinking faster than Paris Hilton's acting career, and the president is even finding himself to be the object of mockery on late-night television.As Jay Leno recently noted on The Tonight Show: "In an upcoming interview with Barbara Walters, Sarah Palin says she believes she can beat Obama in 2012. The way things are going right now, [her daughter] Bristol Palin could beat Obama in 2012."
Naturally enough, the newly-weakened president has turned his attention overseas, seeking to squeeze out something – anything! – that might resemble a victory and burnish his image. But even that isn't going all too well. Weakness invites antagonism, and America's foes – and even many of its allies – have wasted little time "dissing" the leader of the free world.
Consider the following: At the recent G-20 summit in South Korea, Obama tried to get America's European partners to press China to change its monetary policy. What should have been an easy sell quickly backfired when leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel turned around and instead berated the president because of the slumping US dollar. Pundits and politicians alike labeled it an astonishing rebuke.
Then, while still in Seoul, Obama was rebuffed by the South Korean government, which refused to sign a much-anticipated free-trade agreement with the US, marking yet another humiliating turn of events.
Other ostensible American pals have also joined in the fun, feeling free to lecture Washington at will. Take, for example, Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Despite owing his job and personal safety to the 100,000 American troops in his country, he felt no compunction about confronting the president and denouncing US policy at the NATO summit in Lisbon last week.
The wily Karzai knows a thing or two about political maneuvering, and saw an easy opportunity to score some points back home at a hapless Obama's expense.
Back in the Middle East, the Obama administration took it on the chin as well, when PA President Mahmoud Abbas rejected an American proposal to restart peace talks with Israel. Egypt, too, got into the act by slapping down the American administration. Cairo rebuffed pleas from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and even Obama himself to allow international monitors into the country to certify that the upcoming parliamentary balloting is free and fair.
Needless to say, this has not gone unnoticed by America's enemies, who are having a field day at Obama's expense.
Just last week, in a provocative and highly unusual move, North Korea allowed an American scientist to tour one of its top-secret nuclear facilities, taunting the US as it continues to expand its atomic weapons program with impunity. It was as if the North Korean regime was sending a message directly to Washington: You don't scare us.
It seems no one on the international stage is really taking Obama all that seriously anymore. All the shine and glitter have worn off.
As tempting as it may be to rejoice in Obama's difficulties – and it is quite inviting – this is no reason to celebrate.
If you believe, as I do, that America is a force for good in the world, a country that upholds the highest values of freedom, democracy and human rights, then any decline in American influence and power is hardly a welcome development.
If anything, it does not bode well for global stability, and opens the door to all kinds of mischief by the bad guys out there.
BUT IT is not too late for Washington to turn things around. There is one dramatic step that Obama can take that would have a transformative effect, not only on his standing in public opinion but on the world itself: Take aggressive action to stop Iran's nuclear program.
The greatest threat to global peace and security today is the possibility of the ayatollahs going atomic. The thought of the would-be Hitler of Persia getting his hands on a nuclear weapon is one that should send shivers down the spine of every Israeli and every Westerner. It would be a game-changer in every sense of the term, upsetting the strategic balance in the Middle East and giving Iran the unprecedented ability to intimidate and coerce its neighbors.
Instead of investing so much energy and resources in trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, Obama would do himself and the world an enormous favor if he would turn his sights toward Teheran. Imposing punishing sanctions and using military force if necessary to stop the Iranian nuclear program would rally the American public behind his administration and underscore the fact that US deterrence is alive and well. In one fell swoop, Obama could restore America to its rightful place on the world stage, while striking an important blow against nuclear proliferation.
Sure, there would be a price to pay, as Muslims around the world would react with fury. But the fundamental truth of international affairs is that it is better to be respected than liked. And right now, America is neither.
Sounds like a pipe dream? Probably. The president has thus far pursued a policy of "engagement" with the Iranians, hoping to avoid a showdown. But this has produced little in the way of results.
So if Obama wants to save his presidency, his reputation and the Western world, his road to salvation may just lie in aiming the crosshairs at a belligerent Teheran.
Containing Iran, and bombing it if necessary, would have a dramatic impact not only on America's strategic standing, but on his own place in history.