The deluge of attacks against President Obama by hawks, neoconservatives and various single-issue hardliners is a sign that the Obama administration is doing something right. Not everything, of course: from progressives, there is—and should be—criticism of Obama’s domestic surveillance program, the drone wars, the too-slow pullout from Afghanistan, the White House’s refusal to challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and the slow-motion effort to surround China with US military alliances in the vaunted “pivot” to Asia. But what’s got the right wing in an uproar is what Obama has done right. He’s close to a workable deal with Iran; he’s avoided war in Syria; he’s handled the Ukraine crisis cautiously and without seeking to provoke President Vladimir Putin; he’s getting out of Afghanistan; and he’s making some significant cuts in the US military budget.
Perhaps Obama gave the hawks an opening when, in speaking in the Philippines, he used a baseball metaphor to describe how he approaches foreign policy. Emphasizing his confrontation-avoiding, incremental approach to foreign affairs, Obama said:
That may not always be sexy. That may not always attract a lot of attention, and it doesn’t make for good argument on Sunday morning shows. But it avoids errors. You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run. But we steadily advance the interests of the American people and our partnership with folks around the world.
Trigger the outrage. It came from every direction, ad infinitum, from those determined to portray Obama as weak, confused and lily-livered, as someone who won’t stand up for America and its “exceptionalism.” It came from Charles Krauthammer, from Commentary, from the Washington Post editorial board, from The Wall Street Journal and the Baltimore Sun, and lots of other outlets. And, of course, it provided further fuel on the fire of the Republican party’s quixotic and misguided effort to investigate, yet again, the non-scandal of Benghazi.
David Ignatius, a more thoughtful foreign policy critic, who says that he “sympathizes with many of Obama’s foreign policy goals,” still manages to complain about Obama’s “measured” view:
It’s painful watching the YouTube video of President Obama in Manila last week, talking about hitting singles and doubles in foreign policy. Everything he says is measured, and most of it is correct. But he acts as if he’s talking to a rational world, as opposed to one inhabited by leaders such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin.