Why Obama shook Chavez's hand

Soon enough Mr. Obama’s critics will be howling that he is meeting with the leaders of problematic countries with no dramatic concessions to show for it. But again, they will be missing the point. As he made clear during the campaign, the president believes direct diplomacy is a tool in America’s arsenal. It is not a prize to be won.

Mr. Obama’s new diplomacy is well-suited to an era of democratic government and instant communication. By refusing to snub Hugo Chávez, Mr. Obama makes it harder for dictators and anti-American activists to demonize the U.S. Of course, national security is not a popularity contest. But since governments around the world are increasingly democratic, they must respond to the attitudes of their people. A popular America has more leverage at the negotiating table on issues from trade to terrorism. While Republican operatives may dismiss the significance of having a president the world admires, the fact is that Mr. Obama’s popularity brings tangible benefits we have lost over the last eight years.