Former Newsweek Reporter: Obama's Panned West Point Speech a Reasonable Response to Bush's 'Decade of Disaster'

June 1st, 2014 8:22 AM

President Obama's West Point speech was panned by consensus as hard to follow, which was even acknowledged in media-elite salons like Washington Week on PBS. But on Wednesday's edition of The Diane Rehm Show on NPR, some journalists were trashing Bush instead.

After Katrina Vanden Heuvel of The Nation credited Obama for "always looking out for a younger generation" that's more peaceful, former Newsweek correspondent Michael Hirsh (now with National Journal) said the public isn't war-weary, but reasonable to support Obama after a "decade of disaster" under George W. Bush:

HIRSH: Yeah, again, this is an entirely rational response by the public and the president who is, I think, channeling the public's views to a decade of disaster really, the longest war in American history. A war that did not need to be fought and that diverted from the necessary war against al-Qaida and Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is now, you know, being extended to 2016. This is an entirely sensible response to mistakes that were made.

And I think it's -- in addition to which you have had this terrible economic disaster dating from 2008. So I don't see that as world weariness. I see that as, you know, as reasonableness.

In case a listener missed it, Hirsh repeated himself near the end of the hour:

HIRSH: I think like it or not Barack Obama's two terms as president, he and history are going to go down as the presidency that ended crises. Rather than created anything that new, except for perhaps Obamacare. I mean he inherited two wars. He inherited a historic economic crisis, nothing like it since the Great Depression. Almost all of his energy has been focused on, you know, withdrawing from those wars and ending them, despite, you know, the surge in Afghanistan that temporarily extended that.

And getting the nation's economy back, you know, on its feet. And I think that that, again, is really what reflects a lot of the weariness that Americans have toward engagement in the world.

The Rehm show producers did invite a Bush defender to the discussion -- Robert Kagan -- and he was able to make the point that the public may be war-weary, but Obama's approval rating on foreign policy is terrible, and it's hard to blame the media for it:

REHM: We've got many emails, many tweets. From Joshua, "Why are politicians so critical of Obama's restrained and diplomatic stance when the American people clearly want peace?" Katrina?

VANDEN HEUVEL:  because I think you have a media and political class which, you know, has pursued a kind of -- its own policy, if one might, of egging on the administration in, I would argue, ration destructive foreign policy in the debate. When we have a debate, by the way. Too often, for example, around Ukraine -- which, again, I argue is not in the U.S.'s national interest and many Americans, according to polls, believe that.
But we don't often have a debate because things clamp down inside the beltway. But I think, you know, there's room for criticism of the president, just as there's room for the elite debate of the media and the political class.

REHM: Robert Kagan?

KAGAN: Let me just start with an interesting fact into this, though. What's ironic is that I do believe that the president is doing what the American people want. However, his approval ratings on foreign policy are terrible. They are lower than healthcare. They are lower than his overall approval rating. They are in the 30s. And I find…

REHM: So where is this disconnect coming from?

KAGAN: Well, that's what's interesting. I mean, unless, you know, the American people must be duped by this evil media, I can only assume.