Post Hoc Criticism of Obama's Copenhagen Trip Justified

Over at Politico's Arena, both Democrats and Republicans are letting the president have it.

Writes Bradley A. Blakeman, a Republican strategist, consultant, and entrepreneur:

Obama lost his first primary for 2012. To put the prestige of the United States and that of his high office on the line is ridiculous. The sad irony of all this is Clinton spent more time sitting on a tarmac in LA getting his hair cut than Obama spent meeting with Gen. McChrystal sitting on a tarmac in Denmark. Obama does not act like a president.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School, opines:

Could this be one more sign that the U.S. Is no longer world champion? Or that the Obama magic that so captivated people outside the U.S. has frayed at the edges internationally too? Perhaps I'm reading too much into a complex decision comparing cities. But the President isn't a mayor and shouldn't have taken this risk and squandered credibility when he needs some national victories in Congress on health. He needed to look like a winner, and now he's personally associated with losing.

There is no doubt that the criticism for this serious mistake in judgment will eventually die down. But the effect is cumulative. The president's inability to bring health care reform to some kind of a denouement was already dragging his presidency down, along with his popularity and that of his party. The unemployment numbers out today are horrible, with jobs still being sloughed off by companies much faster than the total being created. One of the president's biggest supporters, Robert Reich, reminds us that for every job lost, another unemployed worker gives up looking.

The president took all of 25 minutes to meet with his Afghanistan commander, General McChrystal, to discuss a situation that is deteriorating by the week. This is incomprehensible given the seriousness of the situation and McChrystal's dissatisfaction with the administration's dithering over how to prosecute the war.

The president's failure in Copenhagen must be viewed in light of what else he might have been doing to address the growing unease with his presidency -- his lack of apparent leadership where campaigning has become a substitute for making decisions, for instance. If the essence of leadership is the ability to decide the tough questions, the president is failing in that regard. His own party is wondering how strongly he supports the public option in health insurance reform. His commanding general in Afghanistan is wondering why he can't get a straight answer on his request for thousands of more troops to stave off disaster.

And the American people are wondering when the president is going to address the growing unemployment figures and lack of economic activity that have everyone worried.

These concerns will only be heightened because the president made the idea of Chicago getting the Olympics a top priority. Having failed there, where does the Obama presidency go now?

Unless Barack Obama can find it within himself to start leading by substantively addressing the growing sense that he's not in charge, he will discover that even members of his own party will find it difficult to back him when the chips are down.