Commentary Magazine


No Good Choices for the White House

The White House is torn these days — focus on the economy (and thereby highlight its own failures) or shift to foreign policy (though its “smart diplomacy” is proving to be anything but)? There is no good choice. If this report is accurate, the Obami appear to have given up on the economy:

This week’s foreign-policy initiatives are of Mr. Obama’s own choosing. But they also show a realization that there is little he can do to boost the economy ahead of the November elections, said William Galston, a domestic-policy adviser to President Bill Clinton. “President Obama for the most part has decided just to be president and do the president’s job for the rest of this year,” Mr. Galston said. “That doesn’t mean he won’t be raising money for candidates, won’t be doing some politicking. … But it seems to me at this point the president is taking a long view, perhaps because he has precious few alternatives.”

But in the foreign policy realm, the vision is anything but “long view.” Obama tends to view foreign policy moves as short term, politically minded gambits. Iraq is a campaign promise kept rather than an achievement or an ongoing commitment. The peace talks are a face-saving gesture so that Obama’s Middle East policy doesn’t go up in flames. But more candid White House aides confess that those talks may very well trigger real flames:

U.S. officials said they worried that a new round of violence in the Palestinian territories could erupt if the freeze isn’t extended. “We might end up preparing for a catastrophe instead of a prolonged peace process,” said one U.S. official engaged in the talks.

Mr. Obama has cited a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace deal as one of his chief foreign-policy aims. He has said that he believed such an agreement could be achieved within a year, and that it would have far wider implications for stability in the Middle East.

That, however, is fantasyland stuff.

It would be delightful if Obama actually took the long view — real entitlement reform, attacking the debt, ensuring that the world is not threatened by a nuclear-armed Iran, sticking with Iraq so it emerges (as South Korea did) as a reliable democratic ally. But Obama shows little sign of that. His tenure has been marked by hyper-partisanship, irresponsible spending, unreasoned and unwise foreign policy maneuvers, and a lack of responsiveness to the voters. This is why there are, nine weeks from Election Day, no good choices. You can’t undo 18 months of damage in 63 days.