'A Small President on the World Stage'

"The world misses the old America," Peggy Noonan writes today in the Wall Street Journal. "It is a world in a new kind of flux, one that doesn't know what to make of America anymore. In part because of our president," she adds, regarding Mr. Obama's trip to the United Nations:

A scorching assessment of the president as foreign-policy actor came from a former senior U.S. diplomat, a low-key and sophisticated man who spent the week at many U.N.-related functions. "World leaders are very negative about Obama," he said. They are "disappointed, feeling he's not really in charge. . . . The Western Europeans don't pay that much attention to him anymore."

The diplomat was one of more than a dozen U.S. foreign-policy hands who met this week with the new president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani. What did he think of the American president? "He didn't mention Obama, not once," said the former envoy, who added: "We have to accept the fact that the president is rather insignificant at the moment, and rely on our diplomats." John Kerry, he said, is doing a good job.

Had he ever seen an American president treated as if he were so insignificant? "I really never have. It's unusual." What does he make of the president's strategy: "He doesn't know what to do so he stays out of it [and] hopes for the best." The diplomat added: "Slim hope."

This reminded me of a talk a few weeks ago, with another veteran diplomat who often confers with leaders with whom Mr. Obama meets. I had asked: When Obama enters a room with other leaders, is there a sense that America has entered the room? I mentioned De Gaulle—when he was there, France was there. When Reagan came into a room, people stood: America just walked in. Does Mr. Obama bring that kind of mystique?

"No," he said. "It's not like that."

Why would it be? De Gaulle and President Reagan loved their countries unequivocally. Mr. Obama is as ambivalent on the topic of American exceptionalism as Vladimir Putin's ghostwriters.