In October 2008, the Washington Post endorsed Senator Barack Obama to be the 44th president of the United States. The endorsement was unusual. The endorsement differed with Obama on a number of substantive issues, and you could cherry-pick enough information to build a reasonable case for Obama’s rival, Senator John McCain. The endorsement seemed to be based more on mythic qualities the Post’s editors ascribed to the candidate — “supple intelligence,” “sophisticated understanding of the world,” “nimbleness and steadfastness,” and “preternaturally confident,” for example — rather than any actual qualities or accomplishments.
Still, the editors didn’t want to get to carried away and allowed:
Mr. Obama has the potential to become a great president. Given the enormous problems he would confront from his first day in office, and the damage wrought over the past eight years, we would settle for very good.
With President Obama’s term now three-quarters over, how has he fared by the Washington Post’s standards? In the area of foreign policy, a strong case could be made from the Post’s editorials that President Obama has not even reached the bar of “very good.”
Chief among the endorsement’s concerns about candidate Obama was that he would insist “… on withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Iraq on a fixed timeline.” This past December, a Washington Post editor — with the piece “In Iraq, a return to old enmities” — criticized the president for failing to listen to his military chiefs in this regard. In September 2009, another editorial titled “Bob Woodward’s book portrays a great divide over Afghanistan” faulted the president for being too eager to withdraw from Afghanistan. While the endorsement only mentioned Iraq, the mindset it criticized was evident in the president’s dealings with Afghanistan, too.
President Obama’s zeal for withdrawing troops is not the only source of concern for the editors of the Washington Post. Two years ago, in “The U.S. quarrel with Israel,” they observed:
President Obama’s Middle East diplomacy failed in his first year in part because he chose to engage in an unnecessary and unwinnable public confrontation with Israel over Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
The piece also expressed wonder as to why the president chose to confront Israel over the announcement to build new apartments in Ramat Shlomo. Given the importance the president attached to advancing the peace process, the Post’s rebuke is significant.
This March, a number of editorials criticized different aspects of Obama’s foreign policy. On March 2 and again on March 7, editorials demanded that the administration take action against the Syrian government. Subsequently, one editorial faulted the president for his naivete in dealing with North Korea, and another criticized him for sticking to a deadline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan regardless of the consequences.