With his eyes fixed on the nomination finish line, Barack Obama did not expect a charge of appeasement from President Bush last week. Perhaps the surprise attack explains Obama's disjointed, mushy response.
Or perhaps he doesn't have a good response. That's more likely given Obama's failure to effectively defend his own plans in two tries.
With the mess we are in around the world, it's not enough to say Bush's policies have failed. Anyone who wants to be President also must lay out a credible vision for success.
For Obama, that means more than a "Kumbaya" hope Iran, Syria and North Korea will suddenly behave in rational ways if he's elected. He needs to snap out of the liberal fantasy about root causes that Islamic terrorists will drop their jihad in exchange for better jobs and schools.
Bush's attack found the holes in Obama's national security credentials, which escaped scrutiny during his battle with Sen. Hillary Clinton. Beyond plans to withdraw troops from Iraq, neither Obama nor Clinton has articulated a serious plan for protecting America in a dangerous world.
Most revealing, Obama pledged to meet, without preconditions, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea. Even Clinton calls that naive.
Yet Obama is not alone in that loopy approach, with former President Jimmy Carter meeting with leaders of Hamas, despite its involvement in terrorism and its pledge to eliminate Israel. In that sense, Bush's broadside, delivered in Israel, was aimed at Obama, Carter and the peace-at-any-price wing of the party.
"Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them that they have been wrong all along," Bush said, adding: "As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.'"
Obama's responses, one in a statement and another at a campaign rally a day later, were peppered with mush that Bush was being divisive and fostering fear mongering. That was predictable. Obama's habit of calling every criticism a violation of fair play is a tired copout.
But Obama also hit Bush for foreign policy failures that include the inability to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden, the mess in Iraq, Iran's growing influence there and the strength of Hamas and Hezbollah. Obama linked John McCain to those policies, saying McCain "wants to double-down on" them.
Politically, that's a deft move, because Bush is so unpopular and because most Americans are more worried about the economy than Iraq or the Mideast.
But Obama needs to start thinking beyond politics and talk as though he might actually be President. In the short term, that means being honest with Americans about Iran and its murderous influence.
While it's clear Iran is behind much of the mayhem in Iraq, including the killing of American soldiers, Obama has said he wants to see the evidence compiled by the American military for those charges. Does he not believe the charges? Why not?
But instead of contacting the Pentagon for a briefing, he acts as though America is the problem and Iran deserves sympathy. Which was exactly Bush's point when he mocked the notion that talking to Hitler would have stopped World War II.
Obama is smart and talented, but his views of Islamic fundamentalists, like those running Iran, are consistently muddled. He expresses a sloppy faith in standard political negotiation, as though Hamas and Hezbollah are just special interest groups haggling for a better deal.
He doesn't appear to take seriously their stated goal of wiping out moderate Muslim governments, Israel, the U.S. and anyone who tries to block a strict Islamic empire. No wonder Hamas endorsed him.
On the Hezbollah-led chaos in Lebanon, Obama called for "an end to the current corrupt patronage system ... and a fair distribution of services, opportunities and employment."
Ah, if only it were so easy. "Kumbaya," indeed.