Like the New York Times, the Washington Post is a liberal newspaper. Unlike the New York Times, the Post has a mostly reasonable view of foreign policy. Finally, it appears that to the editors of the Washington Post the reality of President Obama has superseded the fantasy.
A few days ago the Washington Post ran an editorial, President Obama’s foreign policy is based on fantasy. In one paragraph it demolishes the illusions that animate President Obama’s foreign policy:
Unfortunately, Russian President Vladimir Putin has not received the memo on 21st-century behavior. Neither has China’s president, Xi Jinping, who is engaging in gunboat diplomacy against Japan and the weaker nations of Southeast Asia. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is waging a very 20th-century war against his own people, sending helicopters to drop exploding barrels full of screws, nails and other shrapnel onto apartment buildings where families cower in basements. These men will not be deterred by the disapproval of their peers, the weight of world opinion or even disinvestment by Silicon Valley companies. They are concerned primarily with maintaining their holds on power.
In a later paragraph, the Post characterizes President Obama’s mindset.
The urge to pull back — to concentrate on what Mr. Obama calls “nation-building at home” — is nothing new, as former ambassador Stephen Sestanovich recounts in his illuminating history of U.S. foreign policy, “Maximalist.” There were similar retrenchments after the Korea and Vietnam wars and when the Soviet Union crumbled. But the United States discovered each time that the world became a more dangerous place without its leadership and that disorder in the world could threaten U.S. prosperity. Each period of retrenchment was followed by more active (though not always wiser) policy. Today Mr. Obama has plenty of company in his impulse, within both parties and as reflected by public opinion. But he’s also in part responsible for the national mood: If a president doesn’t make the case for global engagement, no one else effectively can.
The editorial is as harsh as it is remarkable, because this is an editorial board that twice endorsed President Obama for President.
The reversal, however, begs a question. What took so long? Even before President Obama ran for office the first time there were indications that this was his worldview.
In their first endorsement of Barack Obama the editors of the Washington Post asserted:
But Mr. Obama, as anyone who reads his books can tell, also has a sophisticated understanding of the world and America’s place in it. He, too, is committed to maintaining U.S. leadership and sticking up for democratic values, as his recent defense of tiny Georgia makes clear. We hope he would navigate between the amoral realism of some in his party and the counterproductive cocksureness of the current administration, especially in its first term. On most policies, such as the need to go after al-Qaeda, check Iran’s nuclear ambitions and fight HIV/AIDS abroad, he differs little from Mr. Bush or Mr. McCain. But he promises defter diplomacy and greater commitment to allies.
They did take a break from their enthusiastic endorsement to issue a caution:
Mr. Obama’s greatest deviation from current policy is also our biggest worry: his insistence on withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Iraq on a fixed timeline. Thanks to the surge that Mr. Obama opposed, it may be feasible to withdraw many troops during his first two years in office. But if it isn’t — and U.S. generals have warned that the hard-won gains of the past 18 months could be lost by a precipitous withdrawal — we can only hope and assume that Mr. Obama would recognize the strategic importance of success in Iraq and adjust his plans.
These same experts who endorsed the first term senator for the highest office in the land also identified his biggest weakness, but treated it as something to take under advisement not as a bright, red flag. In 2012 the same editors endorsed Barack Obama for re-election, though with somewhat less enthusiasm. (In the 2008 endorsement, Washington Post editors praised Obama’s “temperament” as “He is deliberate but not indecisive; eloquent but a master of substance and detail; preternaturally confident but eager to hear opposing points of view.” Four years later, they characterized the administration as coming across as “both arrogant and thin-skinned.”)
In 2012, too, they noticed:
By not securing a presence in Iraq after ending the U.S. military mission, he failed to capitalize on America’s decade-long commitment to that nation, and his ambivalence regarding Afghanistan — sending more troops, but with artificial deadlines and no clear commitment to their success — promises trouble in coming years.
Iraq was important enough to warrant a separate mention in the original endorsement. Obama, as feared, did exactly what the editors warned against, and yet they still endorsed him a second time.
But it wasn’t just about Iraq. Two years ago, I wondered if it was possible that the Post would not endorse Obama a second time. I observed that the editors had criticized the president on a number of substantive foreign policy issues. Realistically, I didn’t expect them to endorse President Obama’s Republican opponent.
Given the Washington Post’s serious criticisms of President Obama’s foreign policy over the years, it is clear that they understood his weaknesses. While I’m happy to see that they now understand how poorly the President is handling foreign policy, it’s disappointing that they waited so long for such a devastating critique.
I suppose, still, better late than never.
Please see related thoughts from Neo-Neocon.
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