by Gene Lyons
The National Memo – December 24, 2014
President Obama’s strongest detractors have never decided if he’s a tyrant or a weakling. Right up to the 2014 midterm elections, Republicans scorned his fecklessness and inability to lead.
The Ebola virus (remember Ebola?) was going to kill us all; ISIS militants were about to conquer the entire Middle East. Bare-chested Russian strongman Vladimir Putin had swallowed up Crimea and menaced Eastern Ukraine, while sissy Obama maundered about economic sanctions with the equally lame European Union.
Much was made of an April press conference where the president defended what the Washington Post described as his “dogged, incremental” approach to foreign affairs.
He said the big thing was to avoid errors.
“You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run,” Obama said.“But we steadily advance the interests of the American people and our partnership with folks around the world.”
Editorial page writers less savvy than their sports page colleagues generally missed the point of the metaphor. See, in baseball nobody can hit a three-run shot without a couple of singles or doubles hitters first getting on base.
The important thing is not to pop up by chasing pitches out of the strike zone. Obama was talking about patience, not manliness.
As usual, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, memorably dubbed the GOP “foreign policy Tweedledee and Tweedledum” by the LA Times’ David Horsey, called for something more robust without saying exactly what it should be. A good thing, as fighting the Russians in their own backyard has been the downfall of military geniuses for centuries.
Needless to say, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) concurred. But hold that thought.
GOP celebrities competed to express their admiration for the Russian strongman. Rudy Giuliani thought it was really cool that Putin needn’t trouble himself overmuch with democratic debate:
“Putin decides what he wants to do, and he does it in half a day. Right? He decided he had to go to their parliament, he went to their parliament, he got permission in fifteen minutes,” Guiliani told Fox News. “That’s what you call a leader.”
No, that’s what you call a dictator.
Meanwhile, the inimitable Sarah Palin could apparently see Putin’s firm pectoral muscles from her front porch. She sexualized the whole thing, pretty much all she’s got.
“Obama, the perception of him and his ‘potency’ across the world is one of such weakness,” Palin said. “People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates.”
Never mind that the United States has become the world’s number-one oil producer on Obama’s watch.
Maybe you can guess where I’m going. Only eight months later, and Russia’s economy is on the point of collapse — due partly to sanctions imposed by the Obama administration and the feckless Europeans. The decisive Russian strongman let his bare chest write a check that his virile posterior suddenly can’t cash.
Putin himself blames Western sanctions for only 25 percent of Russia’s economic woes, attributing the rest to the worldwide fall in oil prices caused partly by vastly increased U.S. production. In his recent press conference, Putin wasn’t exactly singing “Kumbaya,” but neither was he expressing belligerence.
“Russia has toned down its talk on the Ukraine crisis in the past month,” reports the New York Times,“and some of its most incendiary language, like ‘junta’ and ‘Novorossiya,’ a blanket term used for the separatist territories, is no longer used on state-run television news.”
Now may be the time for the guy in the “mom jeans” to let Putin know quietly that the U.S. has no wish to impinge upon Russia militarily, and that mutually beneficial understandings are possible. Because while it’s amusing to mock the GOP’s unrequited romance with Putin, a Russia in chaos isn’t in our best interest or anybody else’s.
Meanwhile, President Obama has switched sports metaphors. “My presidency is entering the fourth quarter,” he said last week. “Interesting things happen in the fourth quarter.”
Judging by the weeks since the midterms, could end up qualifying as the political understatement of the year. Recognizing Cuba was merely the most dramatic in a series of decisive actions by the White House. Could Obama end up actually deserving that Nobel Peace Prize the Norwegians foolishly awarded him in 2009?
Regarding Cuba, the Cold War ended in 1991, and with it any need to treat the island nation as a mortal enemy. Listening to Cuban-American politicians like Sen. Marco Rubio complain reminded me of hearing my grandfather venting endlessly about British mistreatment of Ireland — a country he’d never visited.
In sum: Ebola never happened, ISIS is in retreat, the cost of gasoline’s way down, and the U.S. economy grew by a remarkable 5 percent last quarter.
Entering the fourth quarter, Obama’s at the top of his game.