Wednesday, July 29, 2015

8 Reasons to Like President Obama

My friends on the Right are fond of dissing President Obama. Sometimes it's taken to ridiculous extremes: he's a traitorous Muslim who wasn't even born in the USA and wants to turn our nation into a Godless, communist state.

I don't much care for Mr. Obama. I think Obamacare is a disaster, I believe he's mismanaged much of our foreign policy, and I think his instincts about the virtues of government are wrong. The Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule recently promulgated by HUD is a travesty.

But for all that he is not the devil incarnate. I do not believe he has single-handedly destroyed the Republic. Indeed, there are some things he's done that I support, and other things for which he has been falsely blamed.

So in the interests of both civility and fairness, here are some of the things I like about President Obama.

1) While there have been political scandals galore, I can't think of any examples where either Mr. Obama himself or any of his closest advisers are implicated in a personal scandal. No major figure in his administration has been caught with his hands in the cookie jar or with his pants down (though a partial exception may apply to Hillary and her e-mail). In this, Mr. Obama is more like the preceding Bush administration, and quite unlike the Clinton administration. Mr. Obama appears to be a man of considerably personal integrity.

2) Though his foreign policy has been incompetently conducted--often grotesquely so--many of his instincts look right.

Walter Russell Mead, for example, has long advised the President to actively support the moderate rebels against Assad, saying back in February, 2013,
President Obama had an opportunity to intervene in Syria before it spiralled so far out of control. Indeed, that was precisely what a number of his top military and political advisors urged the President to do: arm the moderate rebels and work with allies to boot out Assad.
Now it's too late, he'd argue--the moderate rebels have long since been sidelined and our influence has diminished to zero. It surely would've been better if we'd kept those moderates alive and well.

No doubt Mr. Obama's policy of benign neglect has been poorly executed--what drawing red lines and then erasing them. (He should never have drawn them in the first place.) But the strategy itself makes sense. The truth is that America has no dog in that fight. The moderate rebels never were a trustworthy bunch. The only reliable side in the war is the Kurds, and we've been doing what we can to help them out.

3) While I think our precipitous withdrawal from Iraq was a big mistake, given that, our policy is as good as can be expected. Some of my friends on the Right want us to take the fight to ISIS in some big way. That would involve another years-long war in Iraq, with thousands of American casualties, and with no imaginable exit strategy. And for what reason? ISIS is not really engaged against the United States--their enemy is Shi'a Islam. Conflict against us is for propaganda purposes only, involving pinprick, lone wolf attacks like that in Chattanooga. ISIS surely has no interest in provoking us to attack them head-on--they're smarter than that (at least I hope so).

4) And speaking of lone wolves, my Rightist friends want to glamorize them and turn them into Batman-style villains. While I have no doubt that the ISIS crowd warms to their antics, it is unlikely that these atrocities are organized from afar. They really are lone wolf attacks. We need to avoid making those losers look like heroes. The Obama administration is entirely correct in painting them as mentally-ill, cowardly, stupid idiots. The last thing we need is martyrs for a cause.

5) Mr. Obama's instincts on immigration are correct, as I've written before. We do need to find a way to legalize most of the undocumented people now living in the US--there is no other choice. We also need to greatly increase legal immigration while simultaneously restricting the illegal sort. However, I wish he hadn't implemented it as an executive order. Immigration is too important to manage administratively. It has to be worked out through the democratic process, however time-consuming and messy. His failure to do so leads to the rise of politicos like Donald Trump. Similarly, Obama is correct on free trade.

6) The President's policy on Cuba is absolutely the right thing to do. We should have started normalizing relations back in 1991. Though to be fair, our failure to do so is mostly the fault of the Cubans.

7) On the Iran deal I simply don't know enough to judge. If the sanctions regime is stable and can be maintained, then Bibi Netanyahu is correct and the Iran deal is a bummer. On the other hand, sanctions coalitions are intrinsically unstable and will eventually disintegrate (see, e.g., Cuba, where the coalition fell apart decades ago). It may be that sanctions against Iran are already in the process of disintegrating. In that case getting the best deal we can while it's still possible is a good strategy. But I don't know how solid the sanctions really are.

8) Mr. Obama is frequently blamed for making life worse for African-Americans. No doubt their financial and housing circumstances have deteriorated since Obama took office. But I don't think the President is the primary culprit. The problems are much bigger than him, and include structural changes in the economy, including, e.g., the decline in employment at both the post office and the military. While HUD's recent regulations will certainly make things worse for Black people, that hasn't happened yet; that's a landmine for the next president.

This is not an insignificant list, but it pales in comparison to what I dislike about Obama. Needless to say, I didn't vote for him in either 2008 or 2012, nor will I be voting for the Democrats in 2016.

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