Tell me something: What do you think would happen if the United States concludes that Iran has been cheating and delaying and is about to pop a fully functional nuclear weapons program? Would President Obama respond by joining Israel to bomb the Iranian nuclear facilities to smithereens — or would he stall and equivocate? My bet is the latter and so, just to double down, is what I bet the Iranians are betting. They have taken the measure of Obama. He lacks menace.
Menace is essential in a world leader if he (or she) is going to be feared as well as admired. Obama falls into the admired category — the leader who won the Nobel Peace Prize with mere good intentions, a guy who had a new attitude toward Russia (a reset) and Iran (an approach) and China (a pivot) and, of course, to the Muslim world — an appreciation from a president who had broken the mold. We know him now as someone miscast: a rational man in an irrational world.
A president’s demeanor is no minor thing. It can matter greatly. For an example, history serves up Gerald Ford, president by virtue of a third-rate burglary. Ford succeeded Richard Nixon, who resigned in 1974 on account of the Watergate scandal. The year before, the U.S. and North Vietnam reached a cease-fire in the Vietnam War. Nixon hailed it as “peace with honor.”