Obama Puts Health Reform Before Foreign Policy

Deciphering President's decision to postpone overseas trip

For the second time in a week, President Obama has postponed a planned trip to Indonesia and Australia so he can rally last minute support for a crucial vote on health care reform.

That bit of news didn't make many headlines, but became an active topic of robust debate among pundits who pondered what the move implies.

  • The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan was scathing, calling the delay "embarrassing to our country." "How bush league, how undisciplined, how kid's stuff," she chided. "What an air of chaos this signals to the world." Then she sinks her teeth into the stated reason for the delay, health care reform. "I wonder at what point the administration will realize it wasn't worth it—worth the discord, worth the diminution in popularity and prestige, worth the deepening of the great divide," she writes.
  • Ben Smith, writing for Politico.com, sees no weakness in the move to delay the trip. He thinks it shows "tremendous confidence." "The decision to cancel his trip may look like a sign of urgency but it's also, in the language of Washington, a sign of tremendous confidence: You don't set the President of the United States up to experience humiliation in person," he writes. "It's being taken right now by people on both sides of the fight as the clearest sign yet that Nancy Pelosi has the votes."
  • Sky News' Greg Milam thinks it behooves Obama to stay in Washington for the vote -- a vote that is being watched around the world. "Aside from the domestic politics of healthcare, there is a very big international element to it for him. If Obama can’t ‘win’ on his pet project at home, what possible hope is there of getting peace in the Middle East? Or any of the other international ambitions he has?" Milam writes. "That is what is being whispered in the corridors of Washington and maybe other capitals too. And when that is at stake, a visit to his childhood home in Indonesia and an address to the Australian parliament HAS to take a back seat."
  • At The Corner, a conservative blog, Kathryn Jean Lopez suggests the trip was postponed as a preemptive move designed to provide a convenient cover should health reform fail. "This could be more perception-is-reality staging," she writes. "And if the White House loses, at least the president can say he set everything else aside to try to make it happen."
  • Speaking to Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy, Patrick Cronin, senior advisor & senior director of the Asia program at the Center for a New American Security explained that "during this midterm election year, the President simply could not afford to be up in the air when health care reform legislation was winding its way to a final vote in Congress. It is a reminder how important domestic politics remain relative to the conduct of foreign affairs."
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