But these are early steps — and they are also only tactical steps. As the administration refashions its policy toward a changed Europe, will it reexamine its broader strategy, too? Will Obama question his confidence that the United States can safely pull back from the world?
The instinctive White House response will be to head into the political bunker: to deny that it ever displayed isolationist tendencies while painting critics as wild-eyed warmongers. This reflexive belligerence is understandable given that Obama’s political enemies will happily use overseas setbacks to score points.
But the stakes are too high to leave the debate in those trenches. Tempting as it may be, the United States doesn’t get to choose between nation-building at home and leadership abroad; it has to do both. With almost three years left in his presidency, it’s not too late for Obama to change course.