Campaigner in chief

With one week until the first critical presidential debate and just five weeks until the election, President Obama is so confident of victory he no longer feels compelled to show up at work and do his job. As polls show him solidifying a significant lead in the battleground states that will decide the election, Obama distanced himself from numerous crises abroad by refusing to meet with his counterparts from the Middle East — the presidents of Israel, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt and Libya — as unrest, terrorism, war or the threat of war threaten their countries, the entire region and the security of the United States as well.

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Grim stuff, to be sure, but Obama and his team would rather focus on the good news, and send Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to honcho such tense and somber discussions. After all, Obama is up in every poll, in every state that matters, and has succeeded in complicating Mitt Romney’s path to 270 electoral votes in ways neither campaign ever expected. Support for Obama is surging in surprising ways, as he has not only erased the advantage Romney had on the question of who was better prepared to fix the economy but watched as economic optimism and confidence that the country is now on the right track reach their highest levels in years.

So as leaders from around the globe gathered at the U.N. General Assembly in New York this week, Obama made a speech, hit up a reception — and then that was it for the leader of the free world. There was, after all, critical campaigning to be done on the set of “The View.” And kicking back on that couch with first lady Michelle Obama was far more fun for the commander in chief than it would have been for him to sit eye to eye with the new Egyptian president and explain why he equivocated recently in calling Egypt an ally, only to be corrected by his own State Department hours later. Laughing it up with Barbara and Whoopi is also far more pleasant than speaking frankly with the president of Libya about how to secure America’s interests there in light of the tragic attack on Sept. 11 that took four American lives, including that of our ambassador, Chris Stevens, and prevent al Qaeda from making Libya a new central headquarters. Goodness knows, of course, how uncomfortable another meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu would have been. This week both The Washington Post and The New York Times, in lengthy reports on Obama’s tenure on the world stage, noted how he has always resisted the kind of relationship-building diplomacy requires and that has long been considered a necessary ingredient of every American president’s success in influencing events overseas.

Serious questions have been raised about the attack on the consulate in Libya, as well as the administration’s refusal to characterize it as an act of terrorism, despite Obama telling the ladies of “The View” that though it’s still under investigation, “There’s no doubt that the kind of weapons that were used, the ongoing assault, that it wasn’t just a mob action.” The questions come as Obama characterized recent events in the Middle East “bumps in the road” during a recent “60 Minutes” interview that prompted heavy criticism from Republicans.

The Obama campaign clearly calculated that in spite of such questions and criticism, blowing off one-on-one meetings with foreign leaders was a risk worth taking as long as the president got through the week without making any news or creating new distractions for himself before the first debate as he takes front-runner status in the presidential race.

Obama enjoys a wide lead over Romney on who would make a stronger commander in chief, and his attempt to phone it in isn’t likely to tip the scales for most undecided voters. But as he campaigns hard for another term, Obama should remember that this is the job he signed up for — and this week, at least, he blew it off.


Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.