An international boost

AN INTERNATIONAL BOOST…. Laura Rozen and Ben Smith had a great piece the other day reflecting on what President Obama’s victory on health care reform may mean for his global standing. Reuters has a related piece today, which agrees that the Leader of the Free World likely got an international boost from his domestic success.

President Barack Obama’s domestic success on healthcare reform may pay dividends abroad as the strengthened U.S. leader taps his momentum to take on international issues with allies and adversaries.

More than a dozen foreign leaders have congratulated Obama on the new healthcare law in letters and phone calls, a sign of how much attention the fight for his top domestic policy priority received in capitals around the world. […]

[T]he perception of increased clout, after a rocky first year that produced few major domestic or foreign policy victories, could generate momentum for Obama’s agenda at home and in his talks on a host of issues abroad.

It’s best not to overstate this, of course. It’s not as if foreign policy challenges will suddenly start producing resolutions, just because the U.S. president delivered on his top domestic policy priority.

But on the international stage, stature matters. Even the Bush/Cheney national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, agreed that the legislative breakthrough can make a difference: “It shows political strength, and that counts when dealing with foreign leaders.”

Obama’s deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes added, “It sends a very important message about President Obama as a leader… The criticism has been: (He) sets big goals but doesn’t close the deal. So, there’s no more affirmative answer to that criticism than closing the biggest deal you have going.”

Today, for example, the United States and Russia are poised to announce an agreement on a new nuclear arms treaty, creating a successor to START. Reuters noted that Russia has been “watching Obama’s domestic successes and failures throughout the process.”

“I think there were some in the Kremlin saying, ‘how strong is he? If he can’t get some of these things through, does that give us more leverage to push him on arms control?'” said Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

As we talked about the other day, global players base their U.S. interactions, at least in part, on their perceptions of presidential standing. If the American head of state is perceived as weak — faltering domestic support, stalled legislative agenda — friend and foe alike will take those cues seriously. If the chief executive is perceived as strong, that matters, too.

And at this point, President Obama’s stature is on the rise.