President Barack Obama is a stronger president overseas today than he was yesterday. His victory on health care reform is very good for American national security.
We often look at the presidents of other nations and judge them as strong or weak depending on their support domestically. Are they on their way out or are they firmly in control? Other nations do the same to us. President Obama was getting a reputation as a leader who did not have the support of his own people, who could not deliver on his promises. Leaders in other nations saw Obama fiercely attacked every day by a vocal opposition. They judged his political future to be very much in doubt. They were visibly beginning to hedge their bets.
The Supreme Court decision, said Obama, "was a victory for people all over this country whose lives are more secure because of this law." The same its true for Obama's global standing. His leadership is more secure, particularly as the conservative chief justice led the majority in support of the president. You could almost feel political rheostats adjusting around the globe.
As the Hindu, a leading Indian newspaper, immediately opined, "The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday may have virtually handed President Barack Obama a second term in the White House."
The decision upholding the president's main domestic initiative will pay dividends for his global initiatives. It makes him a winner, a stronger leader who stuck with and ultimately prevailed on a historic change of direction. It does not, despite the Hindu's confidence, decide the November election but it immediately makes Obama seem stronger and his political opponents weaker.
Consider the alternative. "There was little doubt that had the Supreme Court overturned his reform," said the Economist, "it would have been mortifying." Instead, the president "will naturally have something of a spring in his step for the next few weeks." It is not a question of the president's confidence, but of other leaders' confidence in him. His victory will aid the president and his national security team as they press for international agreements on Syria, Iran, Afghanistan supply lines, U.S. presence in Asia, and the European economic crisis.
This decision could strengthen Obama's resolve to press forward with his other transformative initiatives, for example on nuclear weapons policy. In the same year he launched his health care reform efforts, the president laid out his plans for modernizing our outdated nuclear strategy. Coincidently, he has recently completed a year-long study on how to implement his 2010 Nuclear Posture Review. Obama is expected to announce his new policy in July. But some of his advisors have been getting cold feet, worried that if the president departed too far from Cold War orthodoxy he would suffer politically.
But as Obama said with Kennedy-like wit shortly after the court's opinion was handed down, "It should be pretty clear by now that I didn't do this because it was good politics." The same is true of many of his national security efforts, particularly his nuclear policy. He believes it the right thing to do, even as his advisors hesitate.
Obama's victory on new health care security for the American people could give him the encouragement and political space he needs to give the nation a more rational nuclear security policy. If so, the nation will be stronger for it.