Obama practices 'risk-averse' policy

By David Ignatius

WASHINGTON – It’s embarrassing when President Barack Obama’s risk-averse refusal to engage foreign-policy issues becomes so obvious that it’s a laugh line for the president of Iran.
“I do believe that some conversations and key issues must be talked about again once we come out of the other end of the political election atmosphere in the United States,” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said cheekily in an interview last Sunday. I hate to say it, but on this matter the often-annoying Iranian leader is right.
Less than six weeks before the election, the Obama campaign’s theme song might as well be the old country music favorite “Make the World Go Away.” This may be smart politics, but it’s not good governing: The way this campaign is going, the president will have a foreign affairs mandate for … nothing.
The “come back after Nov. 6″ sign is most obvious with Iran.
Ahmadinejad and some of his aides let slip during their visit to New York that they may be willing to offer a deal that would halt enrichment of uranium above 5 percent. Is this a good deal or not, in terms of U.S. and Israeli security? Sorry, come back later.
Will Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu keep his gun in the holster until after the polls close? The White House certainly hopes so.
The Obama arm’s-length approach is evident with Egypt and the other nations that are convulsed by the Arab uprising. The U.S. is launching an innovative economic-assistance program to help President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government. But you don’t hear much about it this election season.
And though Obama was eloquent in his speech to the United Nations Tuesday in eulogizing Christopher Stevens, America’s brave ambassador to Libya, the administration has been reluctant to talk about resurgent al-Qaeda operations in that country.
I’m told that the talk in the Libyan underground is about a “global intifada” like what the new al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has been preaching for the last five years. But ask U.S. officials about that subject and you get a “no comment.”
To be blunt: The administration has a lot invested in the public impression that al-Qaida was vanquished when Osama bin Laden was killed on May 2, 2011.
Perhaps the most disheartening example of a topic that has been deep-sixed during campaign season is the war in Afghanistan. This month marked the end of the surge that President Obama ordered in December 2009, and troops are now back to the pre-surge level of about 68,000. How fast will that number decline over the next year? Here again, we probably won’t know until after Election Day.
This strategy of avoiding major foreign policy risks or decisions may help get Obama re-elected. But he is robbing the country of a debate it needs to have – and denying himself the public understanding and support he will need to be an effective foreign-policy president in a second term, if the “rope-a-dope” campaign should prove successful.
David Ignatius’ email address is davidignatius@washpost.com.