I have essential confidence in the domestic policy of this administration. Its economic advisers basically share the values of pragmatic liberalism, which means they aim for more equality rather than less. This comports with Obama's values. But he is smart enough to grasp that, on these matters, feelings do not equate with practical knowledge. So it is the appointees are who making the working decisions on TARP, on loan and mortgage policy, etc. Certainly not the president.
Now, it is true that the biggest and shrewdest banks have gotten away with an enormous heist during the last period. And we will all be paying higher and higher taxes for the financial romps that Bill Clinton and George Bush cheered us through in what Victorian historian J.R. Seeley called, in another context, "a fit of absence of mind." Still, on balance (and more than on balance), the path to recovery will not, at least not deliberately, trash through the middle class. Alas, I cannot make a similar assurance for and to the poor whose numbers in the population are, in any case, likely to rise.
If Obama has taken a back seat on economic matters, that certainly cannot be said about international affairs. The public is not riveted on our international enmeshments. Not even on Afghanistan, where the president has made a politically pragmatic decision that will satisfy no one. I don't believe, despite his sloganeering during the campaign, that he ever believed that Afghanistan was a war of necessity. He was stuck with this war, and the least of it the better. That's about 30,000 troops, not as much as the generals want and much too much for David Obey and the other pacifistic Democrats in Congress. I hope you don't think that Ambassador Eikenberry was speaking for himself when he tried to shut up others.
The president takes the lead on every other foreign issue, and there is not one issue on which his lead has produced some semblance of desired results, not one. He has neutered the real realists on his extended staff, and he has allowed Secretary Clinton to play to her character weaknesses, poor woman, one of which is to suck up to him.
The overriding international problem of the long moment in which we find ourselves is Iran's nuclear ambitions, many of which Tehran has already achieved. This is one of those issues when time is not money. Time is human life. So the question is why, when it comes to the mullahs, President Obama "won't hear 'no' for an answer.
Barry Rubin answers this critical question.