A quiet record of foreign policy successes

A few years ago, before the 2008 elections, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) proclaimed on Fox News that al Qaeda members would be “dancing in the streets” if Barack Obama were elected president.

Given Anwar al-Awlaki’s death, and al Qaeda’s brutal losing streak in recent years, it’s probably safe to conclude that King’s buffoonish comments look even more ridiculous now than they did at the time.

Indeed, given recent developments, NBC’s First Read raises a good point about President Obama and foreign policy.

No president since George H.W. Bush has had more foreign-policy successes happen under his watch than President Obama. The death of bin Laden. The dismantling of al Qaeda. The ouster of Khaddafy. And the end of combat operations in Iraq. Yet when you look at polls and Obama’s approval rating, he’s getting almost no credit from the American public, a la Bush 41.

Noting the lengthy list of the Obama administration’s counter-terror successes, ABC’s Jake Tapper asked, “Remember when Rudy Giuliani warned that electing Barack Obama would mean that the U.S. played defense, not offense, against the terrorists? If this is defense, what does offense look like?”

Good question.

Taking a step back, though, I’m still struck by the extent to which this White House chooses not to take foreign-policy victory laps. If the Bush team had built up this impressive a record, is there any doubt there would be pictures of Dick Cheney and Bill Kristol chest-bumping on the South Lawn?

What’s more it’s not just counter-terrorism. There’s far more to foreign policy than striking bad guys, and Obama and his team have a string victories on the global stage — I still think the New START treaty is under-appreciated — that are routinely overlooked, at least by domestic audiences.

As we discussed last month, that the president has proven to be an effective international leader is no longer much of a question. But because Obama doesn’t feel the need to don a flight-suit, it seems as if the political world and much of the public just doesn’t notice.

Why does the administration choose not to invest more energy in patting its own back? If I had to guess, I’d say it comes down to two things. One, Obama doesn’t bring a dance-in-the-end-zone style to his responsibilities. Bush tried to milk national security for political gain, and maybe the president found it distasteful and prefers a classier approach.

And two, it probably wouldn’t matter much anyway — Americans’ interests are focused so heavily on the economy, nothing else sways public attitudes.

But that leads to another question: should Obama and his team do more chest-thumping and take more victory laps? Should they try to get the credit they deserve, and reinforce the image of Obama as a skillful and effective leader? I don’t think it’s a stretch to say a Republican president with a record as impressive as Obama’s would be talking about little else.