(CNSNews.com) - "People don't remember, when I came into office, the United States in world opinion ranked below China and just barely above Russia," President Obama told a gathering of young Southeast Asian leaders on Monday.
"But today, once again, the United States is the most respected country on earth, and part of that I think is because of the work that we did to reengage the world and say that we want to work with you as partners, with mutual interest and mutual respect.
"It's on that basis that we were able to end two wars while still focusing on the very real threat of terrorism, and to try to work with our partners on the ground in places like Iraq and Afghanistan."
Republican critics, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), say President Obama's failure to leave a residual U.S. troop presence in Iraq has contributed to the ongoing disintegration of that country as well as the rise of the Islamic State.
President Obama's so-called "re-set" with Russia has resulted in the worst relations with that country since the Cold War. His antagonism toward Israel's prime minister has elevated tensions with that close ally. The leaders of Iran sneer at the Obama administration, even as the president tries to negotiate a nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic. And anarchy has engulfed Libya, after President Obama ordered air strikes to topple Moammar Gaddafi. And more recently, Americans were chased out of Yemen as the security situation deteriorated.
"He says we're the most respected country in the world once again. You wonder what world, what planet, he is living on?" Charles Krauthammer told Fox News's Bill O'Reilly Monday night.
"And it is not just, as you enumerated, our enemies who have no respect for us -- the Chinese, the Russians, the Iranians, of course, ISIS -- you can go all the way down. It is our allies.
"You think the Ukrainians respect us, or the Poles, the Lithuanians? How about Saudis? How about the Bahrainis? The king of Bahrain was supposed to come to the summit in Camp David with the president of the United States. He stiffs the president and the foreign ministry of Bahrain issues a statement saying on that day, where was the king? At a horse show in England. Now if that's a sign of respect, we've got problems."
Krauthammer also pointed to Egypt: "Where did the president of Egypt go several months ago? For the first time in 40 years he goes to Moscow looking for assistance and for weapons. We had a monopoly in that area of influence. That is not only gone and dissipated, but there's been a revulsion against the United States because we have checked out under Obama. And these allies who have depended on us for so long are finding themselves left hanging in the wind."
When Obama made those remarks on Monday, he was responding to a question, "How do you want the world to remember you?"
"Fondly, I hope," he said to laughter.
"I still have twenty months in office, so I've got a lot of work still to do," he said.
"Obviously there are things I've been proud of." He mentioned the economic recovery, avoiding a "terrible depression," saving the auto industry and averting an international financial crisis.
"That's an important legacy for me," the president said.
He also mentioned providing health insurance (now challenged in the Supreme Court) and "educational opportunity" (he's proposed universal pre-school and free community college for Americans, but he opposes voucher programs).
"Internationally, we've reinvigorated diplomacy in a whole variety of ways," the president insisted, as he launched into the remarks printed above.
He also noted that the U.S. is in the process of normalizing relations with Cuba, and trying to negotiate a deal with Iran.
And he pointed to his administration's efforts to help encourage democracy in Myanmar.
"I think the people of Myanmar deserve the credit for this new opening, but my visit there didn't hurt in trying to reinforce the possibilities of freedom for 40 million people. So that direct engagement, the work that we've done to build and strengthen international organizations, including on issues like public health and the fight against Ebola that is just the most recent example of that -- I think we've been able to put our international relationships on a very strong footing that allows us then to work more cooperatively with other countries moving forward to meet the important challenges ahead.
"But I've still go a lot of work to do, so maybe in 18 months I'll check back with you, and let you know."
Earlier, Obama told the group that "Democracy is hard. I think that many of the things that are said about me are terribly unfair. But the reason Americans democracy has survived for so long is because people, even if they're wrong, have the right to say what they think.
"George Washington, our first president, he complained terribly about some of the foolishness that was said about him. But part of the reason he's considered one of our greatest presidents is because he set an example of recognizing that if democracy was to work, then you had to respect the rights of even those people who you disagree most with. Because otherwise there's no way that a democracy can flourish over the long term."