Obama: ‘It’s important to keep perspective’

The world is particularly turbulent these days, but President Obama wants people to “keep perspective” about, for example, the conflict with Russia over Ukraine and the U.S. role as a superpower amid the troubles. He spoke in an interview with the Economist published online this weekend. Here are some highlights:

Don’t worry about America’s superpower status: “The U.S. security presence is always a source of ambivalence everywhere in the world,” Obama said. “If we’re not there, people think we’re neglecting them. If we’re there, then they think we’re militarizing a region. Right now I think we got it about right.”

China is not a threat: “I think it’s important for the United States and Europe to continue to welcome China as a full partner in these international norms,” Obama said. “It’s important for us to recognize that there are going to be times where there are tensions and conflicts. But I think those are manageable.”

China is not a threat — even in Africa: “When I was in Africa, the question of China often came up, and my attitude was every country that sees investment opportunities and is willing to partner with African countries should be welcomed,” Obama said. “The caution is to make sure that African governments negotiate a good deal with whoever they’re partnering with. And that is true whether it’s the United States; that’s true whether it’s China.”

Because China is better than the United States at some things: “And I do think that China has certain capacity, for example, to build infrastructure in Africa that’s critical,” Obama said. “They’ve got a lot of capital and they may be less constrained than the United States is fiscally in helping roads get built and bridges and ports. On the other hand, China obviously has a need for natural resources that colors their investments in a way that’s less true for the United States.”

In other words: “The more the merrier.”

Putin’s bad, but history is on our side: “Putin represents a deep strain in Russia that is probably harmful to Russia over the long term, but in the short term can be politically popular at home and very troublesome abroad,” Obama said. “But I do think it’s important to keep perspective.”

Why Russia won’t win: “Russia doesn’t make anything,” Obama said. “Immigrants aren’t rushing to Moscow in search of opportunity. The life expectancy of the Russian male is around 60 years old. The population is shrinking. And so we have to respond with resolve in what are effectively regional challenges that Russia presents. We have to make sure that they don’t escalate where suddenly nuclear weapons are back in the discussion of foreign policy. And as long as we do that, then I think history is on our side.”

Even though big business complains: “They always complain about regulation,” Obama said. “That’s their job.”

And big business actually wants immigration reform: “On an issue like immigration reform, for example, companies did step up,” Obama said. “And what they’re discovering is the problem is not the regulatory zealotry of the Obama administration; what they’re discovering is the dysfunction of a Republican Party that knows we need immigration reform, knows that it would actually be good for its long-term prospects, but is captive to the nativist elements in its party.”

And doesn’t object to action on climate change: “There aren’t any corporate CEOs that you talk to at least outside of maybe — no, I will include CEOs of the fossil-fuel industries — who are still denying that climate change is a factor,” Obama said. “What they want is some certainty around the regulations so that they can start planning. Given the capital investments that they have to make, they’re looking at 20-, 30-year investments. They’ve got to know now are we pricing carbon? Are we serious about this? But none of them are engaging in some of the nonsense that you’re hearing out of the climate-change denialists.”

Meanwhile, Obamacare is fine: “Could we have designed a far more elegant health-care law? Of course,” Obama said. But: “As messy as the whole process has been, here’s what I know — that we have millions of people [insured] who didn’t have insurance before, and health-care inflation is the lowest it’s been in 50 years, for four consecutive years, corresponding to when we passed the law.”

And, by the way, thanks for the interview: “That was a good conversation,” Obama said. “I enjoyed it.”

Justin Moyer is a reporter for The Washington Post's Morning Mix. Follow him on Twitter: @justinwmmoyer.
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