Commentary Magazine


Obama’s Achievements?

I commented the other day on Jessica Matthews’s defense of Obama’s foreign-policy record, which I found highly unconvincing. I am more impressed by this article by the Financial Timess Washington bureau chief, Ed Luce. Straying from the realm of security policy, he gives Obama credit for helping to stabilize the American economy — indeed, the global economy:

Mr. Obama began his term in the midst of the biggest economic maelstrom in two generations and a climate of panic. He ends his first year on the calm seas of an economy that has returned to moderate growth and a financial system returned to solvency (in the case of bonus pools, too much solvency for most people’s liking).

I think that’s right, and it’s an achievement that should not go underestimated. In this instance, Obama proved a deft crisis manager. But Luce also underscores the lack of substantive achievements from Obama’s stress on “diplomacy” as opposed to the presumed war-mongering of his predecessor. He concedes (as Matthews does not):

Mr. Obama’s trip to China last month looked amateur when it became clear his hosts interpreted his warm “G2” overtures as a sign of weakness. His attempts to revive the Arab-Israeli peace process were sincere but they have been badly handled. And Iran is no closer to coming to the negotiating table.

That’s right too. And the “grudging agreement” reached by participants in the Copenhagen climate-change conference won’t change that judgment substantially. As the New York Times notes: “Even President Obama, a principal force behind the final deal, said the accord would take only a modest step toward healing the Earth’s fragile atmosphere.”