Obama on Egypt...still voting present

In a recent tirade preposterously trashing the right for not "loving freedom," liberal Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson suggests that conservative criticism of Barack Obama's response to the Egyptian uprising is unwarranted.  Accusing conservatives of adhering to the juvenile creed that "Obama Is Always Wrong," Robinson chides, "heaven forbid that the president get any credit."

Uh...my question to Mr. Robinson is simply, "credit for what?"

Sure, the Egyptian military has -- to this point -- prevented the revolt from devolving into a state of utter chaos.  Sure, there's the possibility that democratic rule will emerge in Cairo.  But it strains credulity to its breaking point to suggest that if it does, President Obama had anything to do with it.  Based on CNN's man-on-the-street interviews with Egyptians, they sure don't think he did.  So, Mr. Robinson, what exactly has the President done to be worthy of praise?

I suppose we could give him credit for dusting off the campaign trail clichés and proclaiming that any new Egyptian government should help young people, "fulfill their highest aspirations, and tap their boundless potential."  Perhaps in his next public statement he could assure the Egyptians that, "they are the ones that they've been waiting for?"  And yes, in the midst of the upheaval, he did express hope that the United States would be able to partner with the new Egyptian government.  But as Rudy Giuliani's now prescient admonition warned us during his 2008 Republican convention speech, "Hope is not a strategy."

And that, Mr. Robinson, is why the criticism is appropriate.  It isn't so much about what Obama's position was, but rather his inability to decide and articulate what his position was.  The truth is that the president has largely played the role of a confused spectator in this entire scenario.  And given that the American people hired him to anticipate crises and navigate the country through the sometimes treacherous waters of international unrest, his uncertainty is cause for great concern, not adulation.

If the left is really curious what the seemingly unending barrage of criticism being heaped upon President Obama is about, I'd be happy to inform them.

It's about the glaring paucity of leadership that currently characterizes the Oval Office.  In announcing his presidential candidacy a little over four years ago, Obama declared, "What's stopped us is the failure of leadership...our chronic avoidance of tough decisions."  To anyone paying attention, those were ironic words coming from a man who had made a habit of avoiding tough decisions by voting "present" on 129 bills during his short stint in the Illinois legislature.  On some of the most controversial and divisive topics, Obama refused to exhibit the courage of conviction to take a position, not wanting to be held accountable for his decision.  Commenting on this incongruity at the time, columnist Nathan Gonzales remarked, "As president, Obama will be faced with countless difficult decisions on numerous gray issues, and voting ‘present' will not be an option."  As Egypt demonstrates, someone apparently forgot to mention that to Mr. Obama.

It's also about a dangerous naiveté when it comes to changes in the strategic situation.  Harvard History professor Niall Ferguson explained, "The only thing that seems to not be getting pointed out is that this completely took the administration by surprise, and I mean completely.  They admitted that they had not planned for this scenario.  I find that absolutely astonishing."  When you consider that Mubarak was old and sick, and that Israel had been gaming out this very potential a year ago, Ferguson's bewilderment is understandable.  Excoriating the administration for essentially running two different policies concurrently, he lectured, "You cannot make the foreign policy of a superpower up as you go along."  And that indictment represents the sum of conservative angst.

More broadly, the criticism of Obama is about a disconnected indifference to all matters relating to national security.  Speaking to the Defense Forum Foundation, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and foreign policy guru John Bolton concluded, "the most significant aspect of the president's approach to foreign and national security policy is that he basically doesn't care about it."  That may seem crass, but any fair minded evaluation of the apparent priorities of Mr. Obama reveals foreign policy to be an inconvenient distraction that he is uncomfortable dealing with.  Bolton appropriately surmised that Obama is, "different from the long line of American presidents since Franklin Roosevelt beginning on December the 7th 1941, virtually all of whom got up every morning worrying about threats to American national security policy."

How different?  Far worse than just failing to think about such threats over the breakfast table, his Egyptian bungling reveals (as his incoherent stances on China, North Korea, Israel, Iran and Russia previously demonstrated) Obama doesn't even think about them in foreign policy meetings.

If Eugene Robinson and the left really want to know the impetus behind conservative criticism of Mr. Obama, they could start by heeding the unlikely wisdom of the man Mr. Obama picked to share a ticket with, Vice President Joe Biden.  During the campaign, Biden warned, "The presidency is not something that lends itself to on the job training."  Precisely.  Perhaps Mr. Robinson thinks Joe doesn't love freedom either?

Peter is a public high school government teacher and radio talk show host in central Indiana. Email peter@peterheck.com or visit www.peterheck.com.