Small World: Obama and his critics

Henry Precht

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

What’s not to like about President Obama, especially if you’re of the left of center persuasion — or even [slightly] to the right?

He’s not grumpy or mean-spirited. He’s fair-minded and makes an effort to understand other viewpoints and to reason with their supporters. His language is artfully crafted (if sometimes the handiwork of others) and he supports causes that appeal to most of the public. He’s half African-American, but shows no sign of holding a grudge against whites. He has an attractive wife and two well-behaved children. He can hold his own on the basketball court. Recognizing all this and more, large numbers of Americans have given him their votes.

Why, then, as a friend asked me last week, have the major American media turned against the president? She meant the liberal media. What drives the New York Times, the Washington Post and such to criticize the president at almost every turn?

Cases that back up their assertion of Obama’s betraying liberal principles include:

• The use of drones to take out Al Qaida operatives, four American citizens and unintentionally some innocents as well;

• The legal pursuit of whistle-blowers at a rate not previously seen;

• The NSA collection of massive amounts of private communications data from Americans as well as foreigners;

• The failure of the administration to push through effective regulations of banks and financial firms which brought on the collapse of 2008;

• The first hard, then soft, treatment of Israeli intransigence over illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories and failure to move ahead with peace negotiations;

• The hesitancy over arming rebels in Syria and lack of effectiveness in efforts to bring down the Assad regime;

• The confused, hesitant and inconsistent approach to the turmoil after the Arab Spring uprisings.

You can add your own favorite failings to the list. The disappointment among his natural constituents is real. The question is why does he not meet liberal expectations. Bereft of a psychology degree, but with some Washington experience, let me offer a few suggestions:

• Obama is nice to a fault. He doesn’t want to hurt and he doesn’t want to be hurt. When he sees malice, he tries to turn it around with reasoned argument. There is little toughness or arm-twisting, few humiliations inflicted, fewer threats real or feared. In four years of politics, he should have learned that you don’t get much without a fight, sometimes bitter, often nasty. The obdurate Republicans refuse the hand of cooperation — indeed anything Obama sponsors. He rolls over.

• Obama has been a novice at dealing with the mammoth, entrenched federal bureaucracy — in particular the national security agencies — the military, the CIA and NSA. If he doesn’t give them what they want — more troops, equipment, operations — they could easily turn on him and leak to the press that the president is weak on defending the nation, passive in fighting terrorism, ineffective in managing allies or enemies, sleeps through briefings, whatever charge seems unpatriotic. Every agency has its cadre of supporters in Congress and among the punditry who will immediately provide a loud chorus.

• Obama has (over) learned to fear the wrath of special interests, especially the Israel lobby which owns the votes of most members of Congress and a large chunk of the American public. As Jimmy Carter and George Bush I learned, it can be fatal to take on an Israeli prime minister. With other lobbies — guns or abortion — the president has also learned the dangers of confrontation.

• Obama is cautious. Where will deeper involvement in Syria or elsewhere in the Middle East lead? Don’t get sucked in deeper and deeper as Bush II did. Too many imponderables, unforeseeable turns, betrayals. When Obama has rushed — “Assad must go,” drawing red lines — he soon came to regret it.

Critics may or may not understand these personality failings or tics. They have it easy. Writing from ivory towers, they can easily opt for purity of principle without calculating the costs that might come with some high-minded, if suicidal, good works.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

Please follow and like us: