Most voters don’t care about the details of Ukraine, the factions in Libya or the precise battle lines of the Islamic State. But they do have a palpable sense of American weakness.

This was brought home most profoundly by the videotaped beheadings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff. It wasn’t just the savagery that affected so many Americans but the contempt shown by these savages for America — its power, its resolve. Here is a JV team (Obama’s erstwhile phrase) defying the world’s great superpower, daring it to engage, confident that America will fail or flee.

Obama got a ratings bump when he finally bestirred himself to order airstrikes and vowed to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State. Yet almost two months later, there is a realization that the disorganized, halfhearted, ad hoc U.S. reaction has made little difference. The vaunted 60-country coalition is nowhere to be seen. The barbarians are even closer to the gate.