Barack Obama’s savviest public relations move as a candidate was when he told an interviewer, shortly before the election, that the conventional time lapse for measuring an infant presidency — the first 100 days — would be insufficient given the amount of work the new administration would have to do. Instead, Obama said, we had better wait until the first 1,000 days to make a fair assessment. This struck me as very reasonable at the time, and also uncharacteristic of the man who often gloried in raising expectations to celestial impossibility. Nevertheless, we have a fondness for revisiting stale political metrics, and so now that that 100 day mark has arrived, it is worth inquiring how the president has done. Since his greatest perceived weakness as a candidate was foreign policy, it is interesting to note that this is precisely the area in which Obama has impressed many of his former critics. For instance, I doubt very much that the average reader of Commentary would have expected to see, on November 5, an observation like the following being made on the journal’s blog a few months later:
It is, of course, premature to conclude that Obama’s foreign policy is essentially the third term of the Bush administration. There could be big discontinuities later on; they just haven’t appeared yet. That hasn’t been obvious because of Obama’s symbolic moves such as apologizing for alleged American misdeeds and shaking hands with Hugo Chavez. I don’t mean to suggest that symbolism isn’t important. It is. But substance is even more important, and on that score I think Obama deserves a solid passing grade on foreign policy for his first 100 Days.
The emphasis is mine, but the sentiment belongs to Max Boot, an adviser to the man who was supposed to be heir to George Bush’s “third term.” Though Boot is not alone among hawks and interventionists in offering a favorable assessment of the new president. At a March 31 conference on Afghanistan organized and hosted by the new neoconservative think tank the Foreign Policy Initiative, the president, although absent, was the subject of what Robert Kagan called a “love fest.” Praising Obama’s commitment to dispatch 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan as “gutsy and correct” and “one of the most important decisions he makes in his presidency,” the author of The Return of History and the End of Dreams added:
I think that one of the really important aspects of the President’s decision is that it definitely — he is definitely saying “no” to pulling back. If anything, he has clearly deepened and strengthened America’s commitment to a difficult conflict in a far-off part of the world of which the American people know little.
And the president has made this decision, Kagan added, despite calls from within his own administration to act otherwise. Even John McCain, also a participant in the FPI conference, felt compelled to note that his own thinking is more or less the same as his erstwhile rival’s on Afghanistan and that, pace those who think Obama has been too eager to assail his predecessor, many of the challenges facing the current rescue operation of that country are the results of bad planning in the Bush years. (We forget that the shuttering of Guantanamo Bay and the discontinuation of “enhanced interrogation” techniques were executive inevitabilities.)