Too Much On His Plate?

According to this story, President Obama has sent a messenger to New York Governor David Paterson, advising him that the President does not want him to run for election in 2010.  Apparently the President prefers that Andrew Cuomo be the Democratic standard-bearer in the Empire State and is afraid that a run by Paterson — whose poll numbers are awful — will encourage Rudy Guiliani to run.

I don’t know much about New York politics, but I am surprised that the President is trying to micromanage gubernatorial races that won’t occur until next year.  It is impossible to avoid President Obama these days; he is everywhere, seemingly doing everything.  He gives regular speeches on his health care reform efforts, today he appeared on multiple Sunday morning talk shows, last week he decided to change the approach to missile defense, he’s been on Leno, he’ll be on Letterman, he’ll be chairing a meeting of the U.N. Security Council, and now he is trying to tell New York’s Governor what to do about his future political career.

Perhaps Presidents have always tried to control political decisions at a state or even a local level.  With everything else that is going on, however, I would feel better if the President and his advisors would leave New York political decisions to New York politicians and focus exclusively on the many things he already has on his plate.  As my grandmother used to say, those who try to do too much end up doing nothing well.

Foreign Policy Blues

There has been a lot of criticism from the right, and some other quarters, of President Obama’s recent decision to scrap elements of a missile defense system for Eastern Europe.  The move has bitterly disappointed our allies in Poland and the Czech Republic, who were to host elements of the system and viewed it as important to their security against a resurgent Russia.  Mark Steyn’s typically acerbic view of the matter is here. This article argues, on the other hand, that the disappointment felt in Eastern Europe is actually the product of a series of failures, many of them by NATO, to live up to promises and agreements.  In other words, the writer suggests that the bitter reaction in Eastern Europe to the missile defense decision should not be laid totally at the feet of the Obama Administration.

Still, foreign policy is a constant challenge, as nations jockey for position in pursuing what they believe to be in their own best interests.  Any national leader worth this salt is regularly assessing other leaders and drawing conclusions about whether those leaders can be pushed or prodded, threatened or cajoled, or moved by guilt or fear into changing a position or staying their hand in the face of a new challenge.  When Vice President Biden predicted, during the recent presidential campaign, that President Obama would be tested by some foreign policy crisis early in his presidency, I think Biden was thinking in this terms.

When world leaders look at America today, in the wake of the missile defense system, what conclusions will they draw?  Will they see a country that seems to be looking inward, focused on domestic issues like health care and the economy, to the exclusion of international affairs?  Equally important, when world leaders look at Eastern European countries, or other erstwhile American allies, will they see nations that are perhaps a bit less confident in the prospects of getting help from the West, and therefore more susceptible to sabre-rattling?   These are the kind of realpolitik evaluations that are not really affected by well-crafted speeches.  We need to show our allies that they can count on us in a pinch, and we need to make sure that other contestants on the world stage know that as well.