While his New York Times columnist colleague Maureen Dowd made liberals nervous with some pungent punches at the Clintons (their "opprobrium and well-known taste for vengeance") in her Sunday Review piece, Thomas Friedman's "It's Not Just About Obama" was surely soothing, as he rose in "partial defense" of Obama's passive foreign policy, saying that the enemy is us and our collective failure to raise taxes to save the environment. And of course, President Bush.
There has been a festival of commentary of late bemoaning the pusillanimous foreign policy of President Obama. If only we had a president who rode horses shirtless, wrestled a tiger or took a bite out of a neighboring country, we’d all feel much safer. Your Honor, I rise in -- partial -- defense of Mr. Obama.
Let me start by asking a question I’ve asked about other countries: Is American foreign policy today the way it is because Obama is the way he is (cerebral, cautious, dispassionate) or is Obama the way Obama is on foreign policy because America is the way America is today (burned by two failed wars and weakened by a great recession) and because the world is the way the world is (increasingly full of failed states and enfeebled U.S. allies)?
I’d argue that a lot of what makes America less active in the world today is a product first of all of our own diminished leverage because of actions taken by previous administrations. The decisions by the Bush I and Clinton teams to expand NATO laid the seeds of resentment that helped to create Putin and Putinism. The Bush II team not only presided over two unsuccessful wars, but totally broke with American tradition and cut taxes instead of raising them to pay for those wars, weakening our balance sheet. The planning for both wars was abysmal, their execution worse and too many of our “allies” proved to be corrupt or used our presence to prosecute old feuds.
Friedman's points about America's war exhaustion were drowned in his ridiculous ongoing obsession with raising taxes, specifically in the name of the environment. Friedman has proven his ability to shoehorn a call for a gas-tax hike into any issue under discussion, whether the federal deficit, the threat of global warming, or the uprisings in the Arab world. In an April 2013 column Friedman went beyond parody, sliding from the terror bombings in Boston to a carbon tax in just five paragraphs.
In today's piece Friedman began with Obama's passive foreign policy and made the leap to environmental taxes and energy efficiency.
Our biggest problem, though, is not Europe or Obama. Our biggest problem is us and our own political paralysis. The world takes America seriously when they see us doing big hard things together -- when we lead by example. If we want to do more nation-building abroad, then we have to come together on a plan to do more nation-building at home first -- including infrastructure investment, replacing income and corporate taxes with a carbon tax, a major new push for both energy efficiency and properly extracted natural gas, skill-building and immigration reform and gradual long-term fiscal rebalancing. That’s how we build our muscle and weaken Putin’s.