Obama against the world

President Obama pauses at a campaign event at the Summerfest Grounds at Henry Maier Festival Park Sept. 22, 2012, in Milwaukee. AP Photo

(TomDispatch) Since this is my version of an election piece, I plan to get the usual stuff out of the way fast.

So yes, the smartest political odds-givers around believe President Obama has a distinct edge over Mitt Romney coming out of the conventions, the Senate is trending Democratic, and who knows about the House. In fact, it almost seems as if the Republicans put forward the only man in America incapable of defeating an economically wounded and deeply vulnerable president (other than, of course, the roster of candidates he ran against for the nomination).

Romney: Middle East tumult "hardly" a bump in the road
Trump: Obama a "Teflon" president
No bilateral meetings for Obama at U.N.G.A.

In every way that they can control, the Obama people have simply been smarter. Take those conventions: in each of them, the presidential candidate was introduced by a well-known figure who went on stage and ad-libbed. One was an 82-year-old guy talking to an empty chair (and I still thought he was the best thing the Republicans had to offer, including his shout-out about withdrawing all our troops from Afghanistan) and the other was... well, Bill Clinton.

It wasn't even a contest. As for the upcoming debates, if you think Romney can outduel Obama without wandering in among the thorns, I have a Nigerian prince I'd like to introduce you to. In other words, it should really all be over except for the usual shouting and the gazillions of dollars of attack ads that will turn swing-state TV screens into a mind-numbing blur of lies. Even there, however, some Super PAC and dark-money types may evidently be starting to consider shifting funds from beating up on Obama to beating up on Democratic senatorial candidates. It's a sign that the moneybags of the Republican right fear the Romney campaign is a rerun of McCain World and the candidate is a Bain Capital version of John Kerry wind-surfing. After all, Romney seems almost incapable of opening his mouth without letting out a howler, his staff is in a state of civil war, and Republican candidates elsewhere are leaping from the ditched bandwagon, as are even conservative pundits.

By now, Obama and his savvy campaign staff should really be home free, having run political circles around their Republican opponent as he was running circles around himself. There's only one problem: the world. These days it's threatening to be a bizarrely uncooperative place for a president who wants to rest on his Osama-killing foreign-policy laurels.

An Administration of Managers Face the Tsunami

So send Mitt to the Cayman Islands, stick Paul Ryan in a Swiss bank account, and focus your attention instead on Obama versus the world. For the next 43 days, that's the real contest. It could prove to be the greatest show on Earth, filled as it is with a stellar cast of Islamist extremists, Taliban militants, Afghan allies intent on blowing away their mentors, endangered American diplomats, an Israeli prime minister on the red-line express, sober central European bankers, and a perturbed Chinese leadership, among so many others.

In such a potentially tumultuous situation, the president and his people are committed to a perilous high-wire act without a net. It involves bringing to bear all the power and savvy left to the last superpower on Earth to prevent some part of the world from spinning embarrassingly out of control, lest the president's opponent be handed a delectable "October surprise."

Keep in mind that, despite the president's reputation as a visionary speaker, in global terms his has distinctly been an administration of managers. The visionaries came earlier. They were the first-term Bushites, including George W., Dick, and Donald, each in his own way globally bonkers, and all of them and their associates almost blissfully wrong about the nature of power in our world. (They mistook the destructive power of the U.S. military for global power itself.) As a consequence, they blithely steered the ship of state directly into a field of giant icebergs.

Think of that wrecking crew, in retrospect, as the three stooges of geopolitical dreaming. The invasion and occupation of Iraq, in particular -- as well as the hubris that went with the very idea of a "global war on terror" -- were acts of take-your-breath-away folly that help explain why the Bush administration was MIA at the recent Republican convention (as was, of course, the Iraq War). In the process, they drove a stake directly through the energy heartlands of the planet, leaving autocratic allies there gasping for breath and wondering what was next. Since 2009, the managers of the Obama administration have been doing what managers do best: fiddling with the order of the deck chairs on our particular Titanic. This might be thought of as managing the Bush legacy.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of "The United States of Fear" as well as "The End of Victory Culture," runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is "Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050." To listen to Timothy MacBain's latest Tomcast audio interview in which Engelhardt discusses an "October surprise" world and the presidential election, click here or download it to your iPod here. This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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