Tuesday evening, after the announcement that part of his “historic” health-care law had been delayed a year and amid Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s defiance of calls to step down and/or address the opposition’s grievances, I asked via Twitter: Which is in worse shape, Obama’s domestic agenda or his foreign policy? After seeing the reaction I think it is actually a serious matter worth exploring.
Let’s begin on the domestic side. He began the year by getting rid of just a sliver of the Bush tax cuts. In doing so, however, he gave Republicans the argument that this was all the tax-hiking his administration would do. This was followed by sequester hysteria, which never panned out and left the president looking like someone trying to scare the American people through exaggeration. Next came anti-gun legislation, which failed. Meanwhile, talk of a grand bargain or any bargain has essentially fallen by the wayside. And now the employer mandate has been delayed, putting him in the uncomfortable position of granting big employers a break while telling individuals they’ll get fined if they don’t go to the exchanges, where they’ll have to buy insurance they may not want.
Nevertheless, by keeping quiet he was able to watch immigration reform pass in the Senate. He thinks he can get anti-coal regulations through without going to Congress. And the economy continues to limp along while then deficit has gotten smaller because of the GOP House’s stalwart refusal to pass bigger and bigger spending bills and because of implementation of the sequester.
Whatever minimal gains he might make are overshadowed by the plethora of scandals, the most serious of which was at the Internal Revenue Service. Added to the blow-up over the Justice Department’s spying on reporters and a shake-down of health-care firms to help pay for Obamacare, he’s been forced to play defense and has lost support from independents and even some Democrats. His approval rating is tanking.
Then, on the foreign policy side, Syria has become a debacle, revealing the president’s unwillingness to make good on his own red-line warning. There are 100,000 or more dead Syrians, millions of refugees and the precedent that weapons of mass destruction can be used with impunity. Russia and Iran have become the key players there and in the region. Iran moves closer to obtaining nuclear weapons capability, while the president pines for a diplomatic deal. Egypt is about to explode while the president tries to rewrite history and inch away from his grossly foolish embrace of Mohammed Morsi.
The Russian reset has been discredited while China snubs our request to cease cyber-terrorism. In both places, the human rights situation has deteriorated. Both have embarrassed the United States by harboring Edward Snowden. As of this writing, Obama on the “peace process” has not been able to get back to where the Bush administration left things (i.e. direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians) and has not been able to save Salam Fayyad. His world without nukes speech was widely disparaged, and the sequester cuts are doing harm to our defenses. Since his failure to secure a status-of-forces agreement in Iraq, that country has been torn by sectarian violence and gives Iran a juicy target.
On a more positive note, he acknowledged that the Boston bombing was terrorism, no longer fights with the Israeli prime minister in public and reluctantly was forced to defend Bush-era counterterrorism programs, although the latter caused him to shed liberal support.
Which is in worse shape? Well, through acts of omission (no budgets, keeping quiet on immigration), I would argue he is in better shape domestically. On foreign policy, we are living in a world of extraordinary barbarism and dangerous utopianism — from the left and right. Encouraged by the president, the notion is rampant that America can take a holiday from history. In the real world, we and our allies face an upsurge in instability, violence, Islamic extremism and contempt for human rights — which is what one gets when the United States takes the left’s advice and stops being the “world’s policeman.”
Bottom line: The president and, more important, the country, are in much more trouble on foreign policy.