First up, a little cavil at Ross today. The notion that Barack Obama’s foreign policy “stinks of failure” is a rather strange construction. It gets stranger when you see which issues Ross puts front and center: Libya and Syria. I won’t disagree on the idiotic Libya intervention, or its baleful consequences, but in the grand spectrum of policy challenges before the Obama administration from 2009 onward, I wouldn’t exactly put Libya front and center. Syria? Ross declares the policy a failure because Assad has used chlorine gas in recent months. But chlorine gas was never covered by the broader WMD accord brokered by Putin and Obama last fall, and that particular deal remains close to being completed. Given the actual options of enmeshment in a brutal vortex of civil and sectarian warfare, or a deal to impound all of Assad’s most lethal WMDs, I think the latter is a real gain.
On Iraq and Afghanistan, Ross seems to think that maintaining a residual force in both countries would have meant “success” as opposed to “failure.” Count me dubious about that. In fact, count Ross dubious about that – later in the column, he concedes “I sympathized with the decision to slip free of Iraq entirely.” The fact remains that Obama’s overwhelming task was to extricate the US from those quicksands with as little collateral damage as possible – and he did. That he also decimated al Qaeda’s Pakistani leadership and dispatched bin Laden to the depths was gravy. It can be easy to dismiss achievements of withdrawal; but they are often harder and certainly more thankless than the invasions that generally precede them. I think a little respect for those cleaning up the mess is only appropriate.
The Russia reset? Sure, it’s a failure. But so was Bush’s. And it made sense to try and get Russia’s cooperation if we could. Iran? Let’s just say that the alternative to a successful negotiation is what Ross regards as the most devastating foreign policy catastrophe in recent times – another US-initiated war in the Middle East. Does Ross really want the talks to fail? And does he not cede a scintilla of credit to Obama – for the sanctions regime at least – if they succeed? Israel-Palestine? Well, y’all know my view. Yes, it’s generally a hopeless task. But the increasing moral and strategic liability that the one-way Israeli “alliance” imposes on US foreign policy needs to be confronted some day. Obama has done his level best – and it’s not over yet. But, again, I’d rather have a president try and fail on this than never try at all.
So, no, I don’t think Obama’s foreign policy can be summed up with “At least he didn’t invade Iraq.” I think it’s better expressed as “At least he didn’t invade Iran.” And countless other half-assed things John McCain would have done twice before breakfast. It will take time for us to assess Obama’s mark on the world. But I suspect he’ll be seen as a continuation of George HW Bush and Bill Clinton, rather than Reagan and W.
This weekend, we re-published this immortal sentence from a French woman on the question of sex on the first date:
If you don’t have sex first, you build up too much pressure. You start thinking, I have seen this guy for four or five restaurants, or however you do it in the U.S.
Plus: why faking an orgasm can be a good thing. How to tell when a library book has become “mustie” and needs throwing out. The haikus of Yosa Buson, translated by W.S Merwin. And words to live by – by Walt Whitman:
Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God …
I’m taking next week to work on a longform essay, and leave you in the very capable hands of my Dish colleagues.
See you in a bit.
(Photo: Zombie clowns wait for the runners as they take part in the ‘Zombie Run’ on May 18, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. The race sees participants attempt to complete a 5 kilometre cross-country run, overcoming a series of obstacles, including ‘zombies’ attempting to take one of each runners’ three life-line strips . The event is currently touring Germany and is organized by Fox Channel. By Carsten Koall/Getty Images. Thumbnail image: Maria Morri)