Last week, I had some uncomplimentary things to say about President Barack Obama's foreign policy record. To avoid being drawn and quartered by my frenemies (a neologism I once despised but am beginning to find rather useful), I promised to devote this week's column to Saying Nice Things about President Obama, and Critical Things about Mitt Romney's foreign policy proposals.
Let's get the nice things out of the way first. Obama is smart, good-looking, and, goddammit, people like him. He did a super job in the third debate: he was on top of his facts, both the true facts and the slightly less true facts. (Have you ever played the game "Three Truths and a Lie," in which everyone is required to say three true things about themselves and one false thing, and the other players must try to identify the falsehood? Political debates operate according to similar rules, but the truth-to-lie ratio must be lower, and partial truths are permitted in addition to truths and lies. This makes the game more challenging and enjoyable for all.)
Right, okay. So: Obama was on top of the facts, the factoids, and the purely factitious. He appeared relaxed without being somnolent. He got in a couple of funny lines, though the quip about the bayonets and horses was somewhat unkind to equines. (They also serve who only stand and neigh!) Clearly he took a calculated risk on that one, but since horses don't vote, it should work out okay.
During Monday night's debate, Obama also rightly took credit for some real accomplishments: he ended the Iraq War without undue fuss and bother, he killed Osama bin Laden with his bare hands, and he helped the Libyans get rid of Qaddafi (who was done in with a bayonet, it turns out!). On the diplomatic front, he managed to get a bunch of leaders who were very annoyed at the United States to be substantially less annoyed, he got the Russians to sign the New START treaty (he even managed to get the Senate to ratify it), and he refrained from involving the nation in any new ground wars.
The Obama administration has had other significant foreign policy accomplishments, too -- ones that went unmentioned during the debate because, well, no one cares. Except me! I care. So I'm very glad that the president's early executive orders prohibited torture, extraordinary rendition, and the use of CIA "black sites" for holding terror suspects, and I'm glad that his administration has at least made an effort to ensure that U.S. actions can be justified under international law. The administration has thawed out once ice cold relations with the International Criminal Court and rejoined the U.N. Human Rights Council, recognizing that most of the time engagement -- even with imperfect institutions -- is more effective than isolation.
True, Syria's a tragedy, Pakistan continues to simmer, Afghanistan does not appear destined for "beacon of democracy" status, and we don't know what to do about Iran or China. And true, there's not much evidence of strategic vision in Obama's foreign policy. But overall, Obama has had some genuine successes in the foreign policy domain and has managed to steer clear of any major catastrophes. After eight years of George W. Bush, I'll take what I can get.
That's enough niceness for now. Let's turn to Mitt Romney.
Last week, I was eagerly looking forward to the final debate, which I figured would give me plenty of opportunities to be critical of Romney. But that guy's too smart for me. Just when I thought it was safe to accuse him of neo-conservative recklessness, he did the old Romney switcheroo.