A good rule of thumb is to look at what Obama has done, and then do the opposite.
1. Do not deflect blame onto others. Take personal responsibility when foreign policies implode — and at least a few will. Read Churchill’s speech after the fall of Tobruk. Presidents do not scapegoat Congress, the opposite political party, the secretary of state, the last president, cable news, obscure video-makers — or the American people — for an intervention gone badly. Telling the truth is far easier and simpler than inventing a web of Sunday-morning-television talking points, excuses, lies, and pretexts.
2. Share credit for success with Congress and Allied leaders, rather than chest-thumping and spiking the ball over supposedly unilateral presidential achievements where the real work was often done by unsung military heroes or intelligence operatives. A good way to start is by curbing the presidential use of “I,” “me,” “mine,”and “my.” Avoid especially the narcissistic monotony of “my team,” “my staff,”and “my advisers.” The public knows well enough that the president of the United States runs the country and influences the world without hearing ad nauseam from him that he is the center of the universe. The president is supposed to be larger, not smaller, than the rest of us.
4. By the same token, do not publicly insult foreign leaders — whether enemies or friends. Avoid ridiculing Russian president Vladimir Putin as some sort of class cut-up, or Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an insensitive ideologue, or France’s then-president Nicolas Sarkozy as a showboater, or British prime minister David Cameron as ineffectual. Even presidents and prime ministers are creatures of emotion. Enemy strongmen, once insulted, are more likely to cause gratuitous problems. Friendly leaders will keep their distance if they feel the president of the United States is an adolescent name-caller. Inspiration demands elevation; the commonplace earns contempt.
5. Praise soft power, but put little faith in it. Until the nature of man changes, hard power will matter more than all the noble appeals to shared aspirations and similar economic and cultural interests. Soaring rhetoric about global ecumenicalism has a shelf life of about two speeches; after that, audiences can fill in the blanks and snooze no matter how eloquent the cadences. The amoral Chinese and Russians will win over our allies, if the latter feel they are safer and more secure joining with dictators than remaining friends with the United States. Deterrence is won or lost not just by force or the lack of it, but by either the likelihood or the impossibility that it could at any moment be used.
Continue reading below…