Reality is catching up to the president. He has lived in a world of media adulation and campaign spin ever since he announced his run for the White House. He has not had to face hard decisions and, instead, had the luxury of dismissing them as “false choices.” But now, both on foreign and domestic policy, the real world has intruded and it is not at all clear how — or if — the president will respond.
On foreign policy, he campaigned as if the world’s problems were attributable solely to the cluelessness and arrogance of George W. Bush. Obama told us that Bush had been insufficiently solicitous of other countries and too prone to see the world in terms of “good and evil.” With a sophisticated, multiculturalist like himself at the helm, America would enjoy the adulation of the world and our foes would be lured out of their crouch. (As the Wall Street Journal editors put it, “the American left claimed [Iran and North Korea] were ‘evil’ only because Mr. Bush had declared them so.”) At the very least he could keep the world at bay so he could pursue his domestic agenda without interruption.
But it turns out a speech on non-proliferation didn’t open doors to better relations with North Korea. As missiles flew, a nuclear test was undertaken, two journalists were nabbed, and threats of nuclear war ensued, it became obvious that the problem wasn’t in Washington, D.C., but in Pyongyang. Sterner stuff than U.N. finger-wagging and pleas to return to the failed six-party talks might be in order. And maybe, just maybe, now would not be the time to cut back on missile defense.
And on Iran, a televised greeting on al-Arabiya akin to an eHarmony video didn’t do much. Genuflecting to the Supreme Leader as demonstrators gathered to protest a rigged election wasn’t very effective. And suggesting once the uprising had begun that there wasn’t much difference between the mullahs’ man, Ahmadinejad, and the leader of the protestors, Mousavi, didn’t make the desired impression. It turns out that the despotic regime is, well, despotic. And a regime which brutalizes its own people, declares itself to be a revolutionary Islamic state, and repeatedly calls for Israel’s annihilation might, after all, be evil.
And if that wasn’t enough cold water splashed on Obama’s worldview, it turns out that much of Bush’s national security policy was downright sensible in light of the realities facing us. Obama’s own director of national intelligence fessed up that George W. Bush’s administration got lifesaving information from enhanced interrogation techniques. And there is no viable alternative to Guantanamo which, lo and behold, detains some very dangerous people in very safe and humane conditions. What’s more, the American people aren’t outraged even by interrogation techniques which rise to the level of torture if they save American lives, nor do they want the current administration going back to prosecute the previous one. Not at all the portrait which MoveOn.org and their fellow netroots had painted, and which formed the basis of much of Obama’s campaign rhetoric.