Over the past two days, the Obama Administration has scored two major foreign policy triumphs. (Yes, despite what the darker corners of the neocon bazaar may say, for the most part the Obama record on foreign policy has been quite fruitful.)
First, all of Syria’s declared chemical weapons have been destroyed. This was after the usual critics were calling Pres. Obama weak, feckless, and abandoning the Syrian people by not bombing them. (You have to bomb them to free them, of course. Lesson no. 1 in the Bush/Cheney Manual To Win Hearts and Minds.)
Secondly, Vladimir Putin ordered his version of the Senate to rescind the authorization it gave him to intervene militarily in Ukraine. (That’s the wonderful thing about being a strong man: you can tell your legislature to give you authority to invade a neighboring country, and then turn about and tell it to take it away.) Meanwhile, the West is warning Russia that harsher sanctions are still on the table should this be but yet another of Putin’s many feints. And again, this was after the usual critics called Pres. Obama weak, feckless, and abandoning the Ukrainian people by not skirting with starting World War III. (You have to destroy the world to make it free.)
Of course, if George Bush the Second had accomplished any of his objectives without impoverishing the Republic and stirring animosity abroad, every second high school in the country would be named after him. (The ham-fistedness was a feature, not a bug, however.) Pres. Obama achieved two signal achievements: getting the Assad regime to declare and allow its chemical weapons to be destroyed, and herding the European cats to stand against Putin by squeezing his economy. All without firing a shot or spending treasure. This, by any measure, should win accolades.
But, obviously, the usual sectors of the media are deathly silent on this. Entranced by trivialities, and firmly entrenched in their anti-Obama narratives, they can’t acknowledge that on most issues, Pres. Obama has been correct. He was correct to foster the Arab Spring, in spite of the setbacks. He was right to not threaten to send Germany-based US troops into Ukraine. He was right to pursue nuclear negotiations with Iran. He was right to not give the al-Maliki government a blank check as ISIL rampages over the country. (And on that, al-Maliki has rebuffed US and regional demands that he form a national salvation government.)
But like Wile E. Coyote, no matter how many “meep meep” moments Pres. Obama dishes out, the rut stays firm. “Obama is a failure internationally, has sunk US prestige, and has coddled our enemies.”
What could it be that’s different about this President from all the previous ones? The mind boggles.
In spite of the essay’s title, I don’t think it’s merely because he’s the nation’s first black President, and thus held to a standard no other President has ever been held to. But it does inform the discussion.
Many is the time I’ve heard the refrain from black friends: You have to be twice as good to get half the credit. In the nation’s subconscious, I think that’s what we’re seeing here. Achievements which would provide 70% approval ratings barely merit mention, or if mentioned done so in a derogatory manner. In most people’s book, avoiding a land war with Russia while making it scream via sanctions should be a feather in one’s cap. Squeezing Syria merely by the threat of force to give up its chemical weapons should be reason for another Peace Prize. And internationally, the results are showing; since Pres. Obama’s first inauguration, approval of the US overseas has continued to climb, after the nadir reached in the previous administration.
But, people overseas can see Pres. Obama as he is, not through the scrim of the American experiment’s 400 years of racial politics. No, Mitch McConnell doesn’t walk around with a t-shirt emblazoned with “Put the white back in the White House”. But he and his fellow Republicans do court the votes of those who wear them. And when Pres. Obama is called words like “lazy”, that’s another dog whistle to the base.
It could be said that this was to be expected. Even if the sainted Colin Powell had been the nation’s first African American president, he would have faced many of the same hurdles. But a community organizer? A constitutional law professor? A liberal? It’s dialed up to 11.
Pres. Obama may have no honor in his own time. That’s for the history books. But I for one am thankful he’s taken on this burden. The alternatives should frighten anyone of sound mind.