Reading thoughtful liberal wrirters assessing the administration of Barack Obama one year in, you hear a note of desperation. Listen to Leslie Gelb, former New York Times columnist and former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, in a piece the Daily Beast headlines as “Obama’s Jimmy Carter problem.”
"Obama can’t afford to wait to make a mid-course correction a year from now. He’s got to make a quarter-course correction in the next months. He needs to prioritize and focus his energies on the economy, teach his opponents to fear him, and change some top personnel. Above all, he’s got to modify his own ways. He puts far too much store on being the smartest guy in the room and not enough on experience. He’d do well to remember that Jimmy Carter also rang all the IQ bells."
Whew! Yet when you look at Gelb’s specific suggestions, they sound very much like Obama’s current policies. Hey, we can stimulate the economy with more infrastructure spending (though let’s not let the unions slow it down, he wisely says) and new green jobs, and we can save a lot of money by cutting defense spending and getting out of civil wars in (unnamed) Afghanistan and Iraq. All it would take is for Obama to be more consistent, to fire some (again unnamed) appointees and put the fear of God in Republican legislative leaders by cutting their favorite pork projects.
You hear less of a tone of anguish in longtime New Republic writer Michael Crowley’s assessment of the Obama foreign policy. But as you read through Crowley’s list of Obama successes and failures, it becomes clear that the latter heavily outnumber and outweigh the former, for Crowley qualifies almost all of successes he identifies. Here’s my tally:
Failures: Israeli-Palestine peace process, promising to close Guantanamo, North Korea, refusal to recognize Armenian genocide, Hillary Clinton’s dismissal of human rights issues in China, getting cooperation from Europe, the performances of Mark Lippert (an Obama Senate staffer no longer at the National Security Council), Richard Holbrooke (denied the India-Pakistan portfolio) and Joe Biden (an Obama Senate colleague no longer directing Afghanistan strategy).
Successes: “demonstrating that Iran is not acting in good faith” (did anyone really doubt that?), resetting with Russia (but “it remains to be seen whether the Russians are simply playing Obama”), the drone campaign in Pakistan, the Nobel Peace prize speech, Iraq (“best luck”), catching Zazi (“best luck II”), the performance of Jim Jones, Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates.
My own sense is that Crowley is struggling somewhat desperately to offset the pretty obvious failures with successes which, as he concedes, were not necessarily that successful. Hope and change doesn’t look so great as it did last year.