Favorite

Obama's success 

Every recent survey shows his approval rating above 50 percent, a considerable accomplishment given cult-like opposition from Republican partisans since his 2009 inauguration.

An old friend recently told me about a remarkable conversation she'd had with her mother, aged 95. A white woman resident in the Deep South from birth, she'd shown a lifelong indifference, if not aversion, to politics. Her daughter describes her racial attitudes as characteristic of her generation — never a hater, but also no dissenter from how things used to be.

And yet she found herself in front of the TV watching Barack and Michelle Obama disembarking from Air Force One in Havana last week with tears streaming down her face. He's such a great man, she told her daughter, and he tries so hard to do the right thing for the country.

And Michelle. Has any first lady ever exhibited more grace and class?

Why can't more people see that? She'd asked her somewhat astonished daughter, who said that she personally wished Obama could run for another term — even if the president himself clearly does not.

Actually, polls reflect that people do understand what an extraordinary job President Obama has done under trying circumstances. Every recent survey shows his approval rating above 50 percent, a considerable accomplishment given cult-like opposition from Republican partisans since his 2009 inauguration.

Can anybody doubt that Obama would defeat either leading Republican candidate — the Sideshow Barker and the Snake Charmer alike — in a landslide? Doubtless his increased popularity derives partly from the contrast.

Partly too, it's what Obama's managed to do: unemployment under 5 percent and a record 72 consecutive months of job growth. No, things aren't back to where we'd like them, economically speaking. But they're headed the right way, and confidence is returning.

Equally important, Obama argues in an extraordinary interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in the April 2016 Atlantic, is what he hasn't done in foreign policy. Disregarding what he derisively calls "the Washington playbook" — the bellicose pronouncements of the city's permanent class of think-tank commandos — he has refused to join yet another Middle Eastern civil war in Syria.

What pundits describe as Obama's worst foreign policy debacle he thinks may have been his finest moment: the August 2013 decision not to bomb Syria after drawing a "red line" in the desert forbidding the use of chemical weapons.

Never mind that Russian president Vladimir Putin helped engineer the removal of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons arsenal. Goldberg reports that Hillary Clinton told people, "If you say you're going to strike, you have to strike. There's no choice."

But Obama decided it was foolish to take the nation to war over an ill-advised remark — defying not only the foreign policy establishment but also America's "frustrating, high-maintenance" Middle Eastern allies.

"History," Goldberg writes "may record August 30, 2013, as the day Obama prevented the U.S. from entering yet another disastrous Muslim civil war, and the day he removed the threat of chemical attack on Israel, Turkey or Jordan. Or it could be remembered as the day he let the Middle East slip from America's grasp, into the hands of Russia, Iran, and ISIS."

And good riddance, is Obama's view. With Iran having negotiated away its nuclear weapons-making capacity, what does it matter who referees the region's endless tribal wars?

Obama's most urgent priority is killing ISIS "caliph" Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as he killed Osama bin Laden. Otherwise, he told one senator, "There is no way we should commit to governing the Middle East and North Africa. That would be a basic, fundamental mistake."

Yes, the ongoing catastrophe in Syria is excruciating to watch, and clearly endangers European security. The Turks could crush ISIS at will. As it's definitely in their national interest, maybe it's time they summoned some.

As for Putin, Obama demurs from the commonplace view of the Russian leader as a thug. "The truth is," he says "Putin, in all of our meetings, is scrupulously polite, very frank. Our meetings are very businesslike. ... He's constantly interested in being seen as our peer and as working with us, because he's not completely stupid."

High praise from a president very impressed with his own brainpower. "Now if there is somebody in this town that would claim that we would consider going to war with Russia over Crimea and eastern Ukraine," he continued, "they should speak up and be very clear about it."

Prating about "credibility" doesn't persuade; it's Russia's backyard, not ours.

Obama looks at Syria the same way: How many soldiers, sailors and pilots and for how long? Would a U.S. invasion calm sectarian passions?

Well, when has it ever?

At times, Obama concedes that he's fallen short in the theatrical aspect of the presidency, appearing aloof and cerebral when the public wants passion. But he's also persuaded that surrendering to "the cable news hype fest" leads to dumb decisions.

Obama says Putin found his frankness in The Atlantic surprising.

"Unlike you, Vladimir," he joked "I don't get to edit the piece before it's published."

Favorite

Comments (19)

Showing 1-19 of 19

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-19 of 19

Add a comment

More by Gene Lyons

  • Putin and Trump

    Here's a thought exercise: What do you suppose would happen if Russian strongman Vladimir Putin decided to clarify remarks he reportedly made about Donald Trump during the election campaign?
    • Jan 19, 2017
  • Hillbillies

    Anybody who can sing the lyrics to David Allan Coe's "You Never Even Called Me by My Name" probably won't find a whole lot in J.D. Vance's hotly debated, bestselling memoir "Hillbilly Elegy" that's real surprising.
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • Lost in Real America

    Following the 2016 election, some readers have accused me of being out of touch with the Real America — that mythic locale inhabited by people who vote like them and watch the same TV shows they do.
    • Jan 5, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Killer's failure

    Has any murdering terrorist ever failed more dramatically than Dylann Storm Roof? Like any punk with a gun, he managed to slaughter nine blameless African-American Christians at an historic church in Charleston, S.C. Intending to start a race war, he succeeded only in shocking the moral conscience of the state and nation.
    • Jun 25, 2015
  • Obama takes long view

    Right now, it's beginning to look as if President Obama will end up deserving the Nobel Peace Prize he was so prematurely awarded in 2009.
    • Jul 23, 2015
  • Trump and political correctness

    So I see where candidate Donald Trump and former Gov. Sarah Palin are complaining about "political correctness," the supposedly liberal sin of being too polite to tell the unvarnished truth. Me too. I've always laughed at the follies of self-styled "radical" left-wing professors.
    • Sep 3, 2015

Most Shared

  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders to be deputy White House press secretary

    Donald Trump announced additional White House staff today, notably including Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy assistant to the president and principal deputy press secretary.
  • Legislation filed for $10 million school voucher program

    The legislation to vastly expand transfer of state tax dollars to private schools came before the school choice day event I mentioned earlier.
  • Pork and more

    Some notes on disparate topics before I take a vacation break.
  • Trumpeting

    When President-elect Trump announced he would, in a few days, force Congress to enact comprehensive health insurance for everyone, poor or rich, that would provide better and cheaper care than they've ever gotten, you had to wonder whether this guy is a miracle worker or a fool.
  • Putin and Trump

    Here's a thought exercise: What do you suppose would happen if Russian strongman Vladimir Putin decided to clarify remarks he reportedly made about Donald Trump during the election campaign?

Latest in Gene Lyons

  • Putin and Trump

    Here's a thought exercise: What do you suppose would happen if Russian strongman Vladimir Putin decided to clarify remarks he reportedly made about Donald Trump during the election campaign?
    • Jan 19, 2017
  • Hillbillies

    Anybody who can sing the lyrics to David Allan Coe's "You Never Even Called Me by My Name" probably won't find a whole lot in J.D. Vance's hotly debated, bestselling memoir "Hillbilly Elegy" that's real surprising.
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • Lost in Real America

    Following the 2016 election, some readers have accused me of being out of touch with the Real America — that mythic locale inhabited by people who vote like them and watch the same TV shows they do.
    • Jan 5, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

Jack Pearadin and Doug Nelsen found a 1.73-carat diamond after nearly a year of searching the park's field.

Event Calendar

« »

January

S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31  

Most Viewed

  • A heart in this house

    Since Election Day, I have been at a loss as to how to direct my energy. I am spinning in circles.
  • Putin and Trump

    Here's a thought exercise: What do you suppose would happen if Russian strongman Vladimir Putin decided to clarify remarks he reportedly made about Donald Trump during the election campaign?

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: A heart in this house

    • The elections woke people up, a good thing and caused some people to feel insecure…

    • on January 20, 2017
  • Re: A heart in this house

    • Arkansas needs You.

    • on January 19, 2017
  • Re: A heart in this house

    • Autumn Tolbert, thank You. I met Rev. Barbour in Selma two years ago. A new…

    • on January 19, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation