Mr. Obama always says a lot of smart things—and mostly without Hillary-like hedges. Much more than most foreign policy blabbermouths, he is attuned to the underlying centrality of politics in most world problems, and to the need to seek diplomatic solutions. But though he is forever highlighting politics and diplomacy, he is never explaining exactly how his policies deal with the politics or how to make diplomacy work. And though he is forever mindful of the traps of military force, he has no real feel for how and when to use force and how to make it fit into an overall policy. Once there is any kind of crisis, he doles out little pieces of policy daily. So, one day it’s emphasizing the importance of preventing genocide against the Yazidis; the next, it’s not promising to prevent the genocide; the next it’s some airstrikes; the next it’s more airstrikes; then quiet about arming the Peshmerga; and then letting news of efforts to seriously arm the Peshmerga leak out. A few months ago it was backing Maliki as the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iraq, only to forsake democracy and Maliki now, in the name of the Iraqi “constitution.” Obama may view this as making sensible decisions in a step-by-step manner. To those trying to understand what he’s doing, they simply can’t follow him, let alone understand how the pieces and the day-to-day changes mesh.
Even after almost six years, Mr. Obama just doesn’t seem to get the point that his success as a leader depends directly on the understandability and persuasiveness of his strategies. To get support, he’s got to explain openly and repeatedly what the stakes are in various situations for Americans, what are the achievable objectives (not just desirable ones), and precisely how he proposes to use American power (or that of other countries) to attain those goals. Without such a strategic package, he will never conjure the necessary support to solve or manage tough problems.