By Roger Cohen, New York Times Opinion Pages, November 1, 2010
Obama is confronting an international conviction that he’s hesitant. The agonizing review that led to the Afghan surge left an impression of uncertainty. In the end we got what some have called the Groucho Marx Hello, I Must be Going! plan, a brief reinforcement to be reversed in time for the 2012 campaign. In the Middle East, too, domestic politics have trumped change, with resulting equivocation and familiar paralysis.
Boldness characterized Obama’s campaign; only that will get him re-elected in 2012. He needs to invigorate his team with doers rather than thinkers. He needs to become serious about balancing the budget. He needs a foreign policy that reflects a changed world not a churlish Congress.
And he must admit to himself that perhaps the disappointed are not misguided but rational, even scientific — words he likes.
Boldness, "man-up," clear signs of decisiveness....these are all necessary qualities in a political leader, especially one from the acknowledged leader in geopolitics. Pandering to a "churlish congress" will help no country, least of all the U.S. And there is not doubt that Obama faces a churlish congress, not to mention a churlish electorate in his own country.
However, as Mr. Cohen knows well, there is a significant difference between campaigning, without restraint to inhibit saying what one knows the audience wants to hear and passing real bills through both houses of the congress.
It is true that the "left" wing of the Democractic party is disappointed in the Health Reform Act that was passed without a public option.
It is also true that the "left" is disappointed that Obama raised the ante by providing 30,000 addtional troops for Afghanistan.
It is also true that the Democrats would have passed more helpful legislation to assist the unemployed, but for the Republican "obstructionism."
Nevertheless, taking a long view, the last two years will be seen as rather successful, dramatically altering the trajectory of the American social economic policy debate and the implications for the people. Although it will not take full effect until 2014, the Health Reform Act makes it unlawful for insurance companies to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, and mandates all children for coverage immediately.
The consumer protection legislation, while it did not go far enough to satisfy some "left" supporters of the president, did go a long way to reign in the Wall Street grizzlies, linked to the new agency charged with implementation of the legislation.
Did Obama want to do more? Yes.
Would Obama have done more with a more compliant or pliable Republican party? Yes.
Will the recent election inhibit the president even more? The jury is still out. We can only hope it wont.
On the foreign policy front will Obama be able to resurrect the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks? He has the right people on his team, and if anyone can, they certainly can!
Did he end the combat mission in Iraq as he promised? Yes.
Will he end the combat mission in Afghanistan in 2011? The draw-down will begin...and who knows what will happen after that.
Does "bold" for Mr. Cohen include a readiness to attack Iran should that country refuse to stop its nuclear weapons program? I cannot read his mind; however, Obama will find himself in another of the many tight boxes he has faced, should he face that option in real time, with the Israeli's breathing down his neck ready to attack Iran, should he falter.