Had there been a type of Moody's rating for world leaders, and had those ratings not been delivered in sterile characters like "BBB+" but in unambiguous terms like "go for it" or "you don't want to go there," Barack Obama's performance would have likely been downgraded these days from "disappointing" to "alarming."
What began with a brave declaration of intentions to reinvent history has since emerged as a series of improvisations and embarrassments which remind Israelis of the first Netanyahu premiership. Obama, too, didn't plan to win and reached power unprepared.
First there was health care reform. Even if the bill that has finally reached the Senate passes, a precious year has been wasted because the president arrived at the White House without a blueprint. Then, instead of writing one up at least now that he was selected, he outsourced that task to Congress.
People expected that the charisma he displayed as a candidate would translate into executive resolve. It should have been him showing the legislature a bill, and not the other way around. And the fact that a similar attitude had failed during the Clinton presidency is immaterial, as there was no sense of emergency at the time; on the contrary, those were the days when America rested on the laurels of its victory in the Cold War. Everybody had time and universal health care seemed like an extension of the victors' generosity.
When Obama entered office, people feared for America's economic viability. Anything he would have proposed would have passed in those first weeks, but Obama had no bill of his own because he did not expect his own victory, and because his legislative experience was minimal and his executive experience even less than that. Hopes that Obama would be to the Great Meltdown what FDR was to the Great Depression quickly faded.
Even worse, promises that the current US budget can foot this reform's bills are about as valid as Dubai's promises were when it insisted that its towers of Babel were not being built in quicksand. Regardless of his future plans, Obama should first of all have cut spending. True, the kind of cold-blooded fiscal slashing the whole situation demands would not be delivered overnight even if Jack the Ripper had been treasury secretary. However, a beginning could have been made. Instead, here too Obama only spoke in generalities, promising to "eventually" fine-tooth comb the budget "page by page and line by line." That's like a drinker vowing to stop drinking - after next year. Yet instead of cutting spending upon assuming office, Obama presided over the most extravagant inaugural celebrations ever, thus sending a message that people can go on borrowing, spending and wasting because that's what the president is doing.
No wonder the dollar plunged, joblessness rose and the prospect of stagflation seems increasingly likely.
ALL THIS economic conceit paled compared with Obama's diplomatic aloofness.
What began with a failure to respond to North Korea's blasting of a nuclear bomb that came both unannounced and in brazen violation of agreements with America, soon proceeded to a show of magnificent naivete in the Middle East.
In his Cairo speech, Obama decried the deficit in innovation and investment education "in too many Muslim communities" while promising to host a summit "this year" on entrepreneurship in Muslim communities around the world.
Never mind right now that his summit was never held - they are now talking of next spring. What matters is that Middle Eastern leaders listened attentively and heard no programmatic statement, say an announcement that US arms sales in the region would be cut, immediately and across the board, with the balance diverted to educational spending. Had he done so, people would have said, "Obama means business," that his impassioned speeches are accompanied by plans and the kind of resolve it takes to make them happen.
Middle Israelis hoped at the time to learn that Obama had reached early understandings with local leaders; that Israel would announce some concessions in the morning and Washington's Arab allies would announce others in the evening. It turned out there was no such preparation with either side, because for this president oration was not a way to announce plans, it was the plan itself. Now all understood that just like he wasn't asking Americans to sacrifice anything economically, Obama also wasn't asking much from the rest of the world (except Israel.)
THE DIPLOMATIC cost of all this is exorbitant. Governments across the world are losing respect for the US. Turkey, which once didn't lift a finger without America's approval, is openly waltzing into the sunset with Syria and Iran. Iran has made a mockery of Obama's dialogue gesture. China has made a joke of Obama personally, when it censored his very plea that Beijing ease censorship. Saudi Arabia has ignored Washington's pleas to deliver a peace gesture. And finally, in a natural extension of all this accelerating disparagement, Hugo Chavez publicly backed Iran's nuclear adventurism with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad alongside him in Venezuela - a three-hour flight from Miami.
All of them, from Chavez to Kim, are humiliating America because they have concluded that the decade that began with the 9/11 attacks and later saw a meltdown in Wall Street and now a military entanglement in Afghanistan is about to end with America as dwarfed as Russia was last decade.
Where, then, is all this leading?
Eventually, when the deficit and the dollar sink even deeper while unemployment and interest rates rise that much higher, Americans will understand that action must be painful, swift and immediate. That is when, with or without Obama, they will set the world aside and focus on nothing but economic rehabilitation. The US will cut defense spending deeply, possibly retrieving the entire mini-armies it has in Japan and Germany. Afghanistan, like Iraq and Vietnam before it, will be quit, and all foreign aid programs will be discontinued.
A neo-isolationist Washington will effectively tell the world to try to run its affairs alone, just for several years, during which the US will be geopolitically closed for economic renovations. Then, with defense spending and foreign aid slashed, other budgets will follow suit. The deficit will then be narrowed, the dollar will resurrect, bond yields will drop, investments will soar, new jobs will appear, the US economy will flourish and dictators the world over, when told anything by an American leader, will respond with respect.