It's shaping up as another disappointing week for President Obama as he struggles to break out of a second-term slump.
The past few days have illustrated again that the president has been thrown off balance by setbacks and scandal, and that his once-soaring influence and glittering image have faded.
Perhaps the worst visual was Obama's encounter with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G8 summit in Northern Ireland. Putin and Obama sat awkwardly in their chairs a few feet apart, their hands clasped across their stomachs, during a photo opp after a tense two-hour private session.
They admitted icily that they had not bridged their differences over what to do about the civil war in Syria. Putin's government is backing the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, while Obama has announced that the United States will send aid to the anti-government rebels.
Putin's government, citing the U.S. program of missile defense, also shot down Obama's proposal, offered Wednesday in Berlin, for the United States and Russia to cut their arsenals of nuclear weapons. "How can we take the idea of strategic nuclear weapons reductions seriously when the United States is building up its ability to intercept these strategic nuclear weapons?" Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said.
"These things clearly do not go together. It's obvious that Russia's highest political leadership cannot take such proposals seriously."
Even the crowd in Berlin was a letdown. Obama spoke before about 4,500 people Wednesday. In 2008, as a candidate for president, he drew an estimated 200,000 to his speech in Berlin.
Other Obama setbacks this week:
–Afghan leader Hamid Karzai suspended his government's participation in the peace process with a blast at the U.S. Karzai said the U.S. was not being clear or consistent in explaining its goals. The Obama administration had just announced the start of peace talks with the Taliban, which now seem to be in limbo.
–Skepticism is rising at home about Obama's defense of his administration's surveillance programs and his handling of various scandals affecting his government, including the targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service. Polls suggest that Obama's credibility is suffering, and his job-approval ratings are tepid.
–There is a distinct lack of progress on gun control. This was one of Obama's main priorities this year. But Vice President Joe Biden, the administration's lead figure on the issue, admitted this week that, even though the administration is still pushing privately for action, there has been little movement toward the administration's position.
–A budget deal, another Obama priority, seems nowhere near fruition.
–Legislation to overhaul the immigration system has run into trouble as conservatives attempt to derail key provisions.
–Obama is being criticized by conservatives for his planned trip with his family to Africa later this month. Critics say that even if the diplomatic, economic and political goals are worthy, the trip as planned will be too expensive – estimated at up to $100 million – at a time of relative government austerity and economic problems for everyday people.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at email@example.com and on Facebook and Twitter.