Why are President Obama's recent approval ratings on foreign policy dismal, asks one pundit, when he does what a majority of Americans like him to do?
His answer: "They're not proud of it, and they're not grateful to him for giving them what they want." And, he adds, "To follow a leader to triumph inspires loyalty, gratitude and affection. Following a leader in retreat inspires no such emotions."
The reference here is to Obama's position on Ukraine and Syria where two out of three Americans believe their country should NOT intervene militarily in either place. Two thirds also believe the U.S. shouldn't arms the Ukrainians.
The U.S. president reflected this view on two separate occasions last week, and highlighted the limits of military means to meet the required ends in Syria or the Ukraine.
Obama insisted, "The United States could not have stopped the humanitarian crisis in Syria with military strikes," and added, "It's not that it's not worth it. It's after a decade of war, you know, the United States has limits."
And the president ruled out military response to Russia's moves, suggesting instead that pressure and diplomacy are the way forward in the Crimea dispute: "We are not going to be getting into a military excursion in Ukraine." He also went on to add: "Now is not the time for bluster ... the situation in Ukraine, like crises in many parts of the world, does not have easy answers nor a military solution."
So what is shameful about these sobering statements? Are Americans ungrateful or scandalized to be associated with level-headedness? Do they -- sort of deep down -- prefer to bomb Syria and Crimea, despite the misery of similar experience during a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan? Would've they been proud of their leader bombing or occupying more nations?
The short answer is: NO. They wouldn't.
There are more than a few reasons for the discrepancy between Americans' high approval ratings for the president's policies and low approval ratings for his management of these policies.
The paradox lies not with public opinion. It lies with its gatekeepers.
The pundits of the foreign policy establishment continuously poison public opinion and litter the public landscape with nonsense about a divine American mission in the world.
In response to President Obama's rather temperate statement: "The United States does not view Europe as a battleground between East and West, nor do we see the situation in Ukraine as a zero-sum game," the smug Washington pundit contends: "That's the kind of sentiment you expect from a Miss America contestant asked to name her fondest wish, not from the leader of the free world explaining his foreign policy."
And when a president advances a somewhat modest, more sober agenda than that of his reckless predecessor -- one that looks carefully at how America could meet its global responsibilities and objectives -- he's seen as weak and his vision "anemic", including, by the self-promoting moderates.
And as the U.S. administration weighs its options towards Moscow, expect the editorialists of the most influential publications in the country including the measured The New York Times to be gung-ho about penalties, sanctions, and military pressure.
The Washington Post editorial spoke of a naïve president whose worldview is "based more on how he thinks the world should operate than on reality." And the Wall Street Journal warned Obama of letting Putin get away with carving up Ukraine.
These are only a few samples of the hundreds even thousands of so called analysts, editorialists and "public intellectuals" who continue to ridicule American restraint as retrenchment, and smear realism as defeatism.
These pseudo-academics, pseudo-intellectuals, and pseudo-historians fill the ranks of East Coast foreign policy think-tanks and outlets while the real experts -- the competent majority -- either stay away or are kept away.
Instead of anthropologists, you're likely to meet 'terroristologists', and instead of sociologists, you'll listen to media consultants. Instead of legal minds, be prepared for the lobbyists with big expense accounts.
There are so many of them. So assertive, so wrong, so often. And yet they remain the dominant force on the airwaves, advisory groups and special policy commissions. They're omnipresent at major media outlets, the evening news, Sunday talk shows, opinion pages, and cover stories. Ironically, the more wrong they are, the more successful and more visible they become.
But they are in a class of their own, unaccountable and untouched as long as they reinforce the Washington consensus, namely, America is the world's greatest, truly indispensable and most benevolent superpower.
Instead of enriching and expanding the public discourse over important foreign policy issues, they obsessively try to control it. Anyone who dares to disagree or voice a different opinion is viewed as a "contrarian" or worse, an apologist to evil.
In recent times, they've mostly proven to be utterly wrong about Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, and of course about Palestine, among others. Most supported and promoted W. Bush's "stupid" war on Iraq until it was no longer fashionable to do so following the turmoil, death and mayhem. But they never really apologized for it, alas.
Worse, they theorized for and promoted similar escalation against Iran over its nuclear program until the president pulled the rug from under them.
And today, they speak of how America must punish, humiliate and ultimately defeat Russia over its "saber rattling". They whine over "losing Crimea" -- as if it ever belonged to them -- ignoring the fact that Russia lost and the West gained a foothold in the much larger more affluent Ukraine.
They might be Realists, Liberal-Internationalists, or Neoconservatives, but they all preach the miracle of American power. And they're more than ready to chastise the president for concentrating on his domestic agenda or on diplomacy, when in their view the world is becoming an ever more "dangerous" place!
These pundits cry over 'the good old times' when America threw its weight around; when leaders from all corners of the world kept quiet as Washington spoke. But they ignore the fact that the U.S. still spends on its military as much as the combined expenditures of all other nations of the world. It makes up less than five percent of the world's population but makes up for 50 percent of its military spending.
They see America as the world's policeman, protecting allies and clients throughout the globe, but ignore the fact that Americans are terribly bruised from a dozen years of war and are not interested in more wars and occupations.
They speak of American isolationism when Washington pivots towards Asia and deploys ever-greater naval forces around China.
Even the much-neglected ever forgotten Africa has had its share of American military under President Obama. Last year, the U.S. military carried out a total of 546 "activities" on the continent, a 217 percent increase over five years.
Not to speak of the transnational drone war and the global surveillance program across America and the world.
But the pundits expect more. Demand more. And continuously incite for more.
They know that presidents come and go, but the foreign policy establishment is here to stay as a revolving door to and from government: It's imperial, it's rich -- publicly and privately financed -- and it's dangerous not only for America but for those at the receiving end of its power.
Only the popularization and democratization of the debate over foreign policy beyond its East Coast self-absorbed elites and beltway cynics could make a difference. The process has started, but it has some way to go.