These are trying times for President Barack Obama. His approval rating hovers in the low-to-mid-40s. From Ukraine to Syria, foreign policy proves as vexing as ever. The president’s second-term legislative priorities – immigration reform, action to combat climate change, and gun safety – have languished. His party is likely to lose control of the U.S. Senate this year, setting up a final two years in which both chambers of Congress are controlled by an intransigent opposition. It’s enough to make even the happiest of political warriors despair.
But all is not lost! So says neoconservative pundit Bret Stephens in his Wall Street Journal column today. If Obama “means to start salvaging his presidency,” Stephens writes, he should make a habit of ringing up former President George W. Bush.
The inspiration for Stephens’ idea came earlier this month, during a joint appearance by Bush and his predecessor Bill Clinton. Clinton told the assembled crowd at Washington’s Newseum that during Bush’s second term, Bush would call him twice a year “just to talk,” seeking Clinton out “about everything in the right world.”
“Maybe President Obama also calls Mr. Bush every now and then, just to talk,” Stephens reflects, “and one day we'll find out about it. But I suspect not.” After all, he declares, “[n]o president has so completely built his administration with a view toward doing—and being—the opposite of his predecessor.”
Obama’s insistence on being Bush’s opposite will come as news to anyone who’s watched the Obama administration wage new wars in the Middle East, zealously prosecute leakers, preside over the continued expansion of the surveillance state, and extend secretive “free trade” negotiations that began under the Bush administration. But not to quibble!
Stephens thinks Obama could stand to learn a great deal from Bush. For instance:
- “[T]hat the intel is often wrong (and that doesn't make you a ‘liar’).” If only someone – anyone – had alerted us to the false claims wielded to justify the Iraq War!
- “[T]hat the choices in war are never clear or simple.” Touché!
- “[T]hat the allies aren't always with you.” Who else but Bush could teach Obama (B.A., international relations) this truism of foreign policy?
- “[T]hat evil succumbs only to force.” Because the one thing our foreign policy lacks is the messianic impulse to go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.
Stephens proceeds to imagine a hypothetical conservation between the two presidents: “’Tell me about firing Don Rumsfeld,’ Mr. Obama might inquire.” To Stephens, Rumsfeld’s 2006 ouster as Secretary of Defense is instructive: it’s important to sack people when appropriate to “send a useful signal to U.S. allies that the president has the nerve—and self-awareness—to make a change.” So Stephens advises Obama to fire someone just to show his cojones: perhaps CIA director John Brennan? John Kerry, for failing in the Herculean task of overcoming centuries of history and ending, once and for all, the Arab-Israeli conflict? Or maybe Susan Rice, because Benghazi? Also, appoint David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal to more stuff.
While Obama’s at it, he’d might as well consider a few Bush-themed photo ops to help turn things around: atoning for hard diplomatic feelings by giving German Chancellor Angela Merkel a back massage? Showing his firm resolve by donning a crotch-hugging flight suit? Waterboarding White House intruder Omar Gonzalez on the front lawn of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?
Political revival is only a phone call away.