Under Obama, the United States has suffered some real reputational damage. I say that as someone who sympathizes with many of Obama’s foreign policy goals. This damage, unfortunately, has largely been self-inflicted by an administration that focuses too much on short-term messaging. At key turning points — in Egypt and Libya during the Arab Spring, in Syria, in Ukraine and, yes, in Benghazi — the administration was driven by messaging priorities rather than sound, interests-based policy.
That’s why the Benghazi “talking points” fiasco still has legs. Not because of some goofy criminal conspiracy, as imagined by conservatives, but because it shows the administration spent more time thinking about what to say than what to do.
How can Obama repair the damage? One obvious answer is to be careful: The perception of weakness can goad a president into taking rash and counterproductive actions to show he’s strong. The deeper you slide into a perceived reputational hole, the worse this dilemma.