By Eugene Robinson
Friday, August 20, 2010; A23
This is a radical break from journalistic convention, I realize, but today I'd like to give credit where it's due -- specifically, to President Obama. Quiet as it's kept, he's on a genuine winning streak.
It's hard to remember that the inauguration was just 19 months ago. Expectations of the new president were absurdly high. If Obama had done back flips across the Potomac River, when he reached the other side he'd have faced probing questions about why it was taking him so long to cure cancer, solve the Arab-Israeli conflict and usher in an age of universal peace and prosperity.
But look at what he's accomplished in just the past few weeks. Let me highlight four recent headlines.
"Last U.S. combat troops leave Iraq": Obama campaigned as an early and vocal opponent of the Iraq war, calling it a distraction from the more important conflict in Afghanistan. When he took office, there were about 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq on the heels of George W. Bush's combat surge. Obama said he would bring our combat forces home and he did -- ahead of schedule.
Before dawn on Thursday, the last U.S. combat brigade crossed the border into Kuwait, effectively ending the military misadventure that Bush named Operation Iraqi Freedom. About 50,000 American military personnel remain in the country to train Iraqi government forces, protect U.S. installations and conduct special forces operations. We leave behind a messy, uncertain political situation, which the Iraqis will have to sort out. We also will have to deal with the most disturbing geopolitical consequence of Bush's elective war: The theocratic dictatorship in Tehran, its ambitions no longer checked by Saddam Hussein, is much closer to its goal of making Iran a nuclear-armed regional superpower.
But Obama did as well as anyone could have with the situation he inherited. Even his scorched-earth Republican critics, by their silence, are acknowledging that the president has fulfilled his campaign promise to be "just as careful getting out of Iraq as we were reckless getting in."
"General Motors to launch stock offering": One of the many crises Obama faced when he took office was the imminent collapse of an iconic industrial giant. The demise of General Motors would have wiped out hundreds of thousands of jobs in the company and its supply chain, and, it's safe to say, would have been a mighty blow to the nation's psyche.
Obama ended up pouring $50 billion into the company, acquiring a 61 percent ownership stake. Critics complained about the advent of "Government Motors" and raised the specter of bureaucrats in Washington holding public hearings to redesign the Corvette. But now, after making more than $2 billion in profits so far this year, the restructured company is confident enough to sell stock on Wall Street -- and begin repaying the government's investment.
The company was saved, workers kept their jobs, and taxpayers are going to get their money back. That's nice work.
"Gulf oil spill contained": When BP's Deepwater Horizon well went rogue, the Obama administration was criticized for being slow off the mark. Some of the criticism was justified -- the initial response did seem unfocused. But the administration managed to turn things around and quiet any talk of "Obama's Katrina."
Obama persuaded BP to put up $20 billion as a guarantee that the Gulf Coast residents whose livelihoods were damaged or destroyed by the spill would be compensated.
Republican critics who called this a "shakedown" were quickly shushed -- by other Republicans. Meanwhile, the administration ramped up its response operation and found effective ways of keeping oil from reaching the shore.
The administration's claim that three-quarters of the oil was disposed of -- by nature or by human intervention -- before it could despoil the environment looks overly optimistic to some researchers. Moreover, serious questions remain about the long-term effects of the chemical dispersants that were used in unprecedented quantity. But a few months ago, who imagined that the president and his family would so soon be able to enjoy a day on a gulf beach and a meal of gulf seafood?
And finally, "President wades into mosque controversy": Yes, I'm serious. Supporting the mosque in Lower Manhattan didn't score any political points. But Obama saw his duty to uphold the values of our Constitution and make clear that our fight is against the terrorists, not against Islam itself. Instead of doing what was popular, he did what was right.
He still hasn't walked on water, though. What's wrong with the man?