Tom Friedman says Reagan had it easy compared to Obama
The rationalizations for Obama’s failures are already beginning, and Tom Friedman employs the laziest of all strategies, tearing down a great man to make a small man look bigger. In his Sunday column in the New York Times, Friedman makes a number of highly dubious points.
These days there is a lot of “if-only-Obama-could-lead-like-Reagan” talk by conservatives. I’ll leave it to historians to figure out years from now who was the better president.
On the question of the domestic economy, there can be little doubt. Reagan inherited far higher unemployment and high inflation, and within a year or so had the nation back on track for high economic growth, which continued basically through the remainder of his two terms. Obama, in contrast, has managed the slowest recover from a recession ever since economic growth has been measured, has shrunk the workforce, and his economy has seen virtually all gains going to the top one percent, while median family income has declined.
Btu Friedman completely ignores this realm, and focuses on foreign affairs, his realm of alleged expertise. Here, he rationalizes away the winning of the Cold War that had lasted 4 decades by saying, in effect, no big deal.
In several critical areas, Reagan had a much easier world to lead in than Obama does now. (snip)
The defining struggle in Reagan’s day was the Cold War, and the defining feature of the Cold War was that it was a war between two different systems of order: Communism versus democratic capitalism. But both systems competed to build order — to reinforce weak states around the world with military and economic aid and win their support in the Cold War. And when either Moscow or Washington telephoned another state around the world, there was almost always someone to answer the phone. They even ensured that their proxy wars — like Vietnam and Afghanistan — were relatively contained.
Obama’s world is different. It is increasingly divided by regions of order and regions of disorder, where there is no one to answer the phone, and the main competition is not between two organized superpowers but between a superpower and many superempowered angry men. On 9/11, we were attacked, and badly hurt, by a person: Osama bin Laden, and his superempowered gang. When superempowered angry men have more open space within which to operate, and more powerful weapons and communication tools, just one needle in a haystack can hurt us.
The Soviets had plenty of needles, too, and an organization that employed them with great skill. And Friedman can’t bring himself to examine how leading from behind helped create the chaos that Obama faces. Unlie Reagan, who faced down the Soviets, Obama has caved to the Iranians on nukes, encouraged the Muslim Brotherhood, enabling it to take over Egypt, and helping oust Gaddafi, and offering vanishing red lines.
Friedman also whines that the Islamists are a much nastier opponent than the Soviets:
Reagan’s chief rival, Gorbachev, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 for doing something he never wanted to do: peacefully letting go of Eastern Europe. Obama’s foes, like the Islamic State, will never win the Nobel Peace Prize. Reagan could comfortably challenge Gorbachev in Berlin to “tear down this wall” because on the other side of that wall was a bad system — Communism — that was suppressing a civilization in Eastern and Central Europe, and part of Russia, that was naturally and historically inclined toward democratic capitalism. And there were leaders there — like Lech Walesa, another Nobel Peace Prize winner — to lead the transition. We just needed to help remove the bad system and step aside.
He should ask the Chechens whose capital Grozny was bombed into rubble, or maybe consult some of the millions of Ukrainians who were starved to death under Stalin about the Nobel Peace Prize nature of the USSR.
The contrast between the foreign policy successes (and clarity) of Reagan could not be a greater contrast with the failure and muddleheadedness of Obama. No amount of spin from the likes of Tom Friedman can disguise that.