President Obama returned last night from a weeklong trip to Africa, seeking to position himself as part of ailing Nelson Mandela’s legacy and generating strategic photo-ops. On the other side of the continent, Egypt is awash in revolution, with hundreds of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square railing against the American-backed president, with some chanting slogans against the American passivity in the face of crisis. The Washington Post editorialized Tuesday: “For months, as the Morsi government has taken steps to consolidate power, quash critics and marginalize independent civil society groups, President Obama and his top aides have been largely silent in public. No effort was made to use the leverage of U.S. aid to compel a change of policy.”
While the president was in Africa, Secretary of State John Kerry spent time in Israel, using valuable political capital trying to jump-start peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, at a time when few serious foreign policy analysts believe it has any chance of succes—beyond garnering favorable press for trying. (The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg calls Kerry’s a “delusion of the foreign policy elite” in his column today.) This, while the administration appears utterly feckless in neighboring Syria, where civil war worsens, chemical weapons-wielding dictator Bashar al-Assad strengthens his hold on power, and American influence dwindles. “The military situation in Syria is slipping away as the president ponders,”Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl wrote last week.