Now, if you think it’s unfair to hold Donald Trump to the same standard as they afforded Barack Obama, I confess that Trump is much, much worse.
Obama could have been more forceful in defense of human rights, but his administration never suggested a brutal put-down of peaceful Hong Kong protesters would be an internal matter in China. He never flattered Kim Jong Un, or imagined that the brutal dictator “liked him.” (If that had happened, Republicans would have proclaimed Obama to be a traitor.) Obama didn’t reach a denuclearization deal with North Korea, but at least he didn’t give Kim three PR coups and call a halt to U.S. military exercises with South Korea without getting anything tangible from Pyongyang in return.
Obama didn’t have the example of a what happens when you stage a precipitous pullout from Iraq, but Trump has Obama’s example. (One which required years of fighting to rectify.) Obama was far too passive and hesitant to act in Syria, but he never suggested that Russia take care of matters and never announced a troop withdrawal by tweet.
Obama initially thought he might negotiate a better relationship with Russia, but he never repeated Russian propaganda that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 was a defense action, nor did Obama ever take Russian President Vladimir Putin’s word over that of the U.S. intelligence community. He never raised doubts about Russian responsibility for assassinations after our and our allies’ intelligence services found Russia responsible. He surely never bad-mouthed NATO, nor suggested we extort ransom from allies to “pay for” forward- positioning of troops overseas.
Republicans found plenty to criticize in then-Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s performance, but in comparison to the parade of yes-men, sycophants and the merely unqualified national security officials that Trump has appointed, Kerry, Susan E. Rice and the rest during the Obama years looked like diplomatic geniuses. (And they managed to fill the political posts at Foggy Bottom!) Obama’s secretaries of state never tried to mislead Congress about the assassination of an U.S.-based journalist.
Obama didn’t skip out on war memorials, suggest he could destroy Afghanistan if he really wanted, or get into public fights with Canada, Australia and Germany. He never asked to buy Greenland. He was not off his rocker, in other words.
NeverTrumpers who blasted Obama’s foreign policy missteps and saw excessive reticence in leading the West are somewhat stumped now. Why aren’t identical or worse actions undertaken by Trump and the contempt he shows for American values grounds for Republicans to blast away and ultimately to break with him? Gosh, I can remember the good old days when Mitt Romney’s identification of Russia as the most important geopolitical threat required a resolute defense.
There are a couple possibilities. Either Obama needs to be recognized as the best foreign policy president — next to Trump — or Trump is a nightmare who underscores all the criticisms that the GOP once directed at Obama. Either way, Republicans who fancy themselves as serious on national security have a whole lot of explaining to do. Alternatively, they could simply admit they are partisan hacks for whom hypocrisy is second-nature.