Driving along route 30 the other day, my husband saw a bumper sticker that read, “I miss Clinton.” Now, that is not a sentiment with which I ever thought I’d sympathize. But it may just be a worthwhile thought experiment given all the serious challenges, both domestic and foreign, that the current Democratic occupant of the White House is facing.
Iran: The Obama administration has seen its much-touted engagement strategy result in complete failure. A year ago, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to the United Nations to do whatever he could to delay momentum on sanctions. It worked so well that this week he tried the same tactic while accusing the United States of being the world’s true nuclear threat.
In response to Iranian evasions, duplicity and brutality putting down the post-election Green Movement, President Obama has paid lip service to the idea of imposing yet another set of sanctions on the Islamic Republic. He continues to insist that such sanctions will have to go through the United Nations and he is wedded to the notion that the Security Council must unanimously approve them. Indeed, he is so concerned that new U.N. sanctions be unanimous that he is demanding that House and Senate versions of sanctions legislation be watered down enough to allow China and Russia to avoid punishment for evading them.
Now Bill Clinton is no foreign policy hawk and like Obama he also favored engagement with Iran when he was president. But he wasn’t facing an Islamic Republic that was this close to developing a nuclear weapon and he wasn’t facing the Iranians at a time when their leader openly denied the Holocaust and advocated destroying the Jewish state. Clinton also had a different view of the United Nations. He knew when it was useful to use that body to advance U.S. interests and he understood the importance of unilateral action, as he showed when responding to ethnic cleansing in the Balkans.
Health care: President Obama made health care reform central to his presidency and against the polls and a considerable bit of both congressional and citizen-led opposition, he cajoled, threatened and did everything short of going to Capitol Hill and voting himself in order get Obamacare passed through Congress. The details now emerging about how much it’s all going to cost are even uglier than critics predicted, the administration added a new entitlement to the borrowed billions they’ve already spent fighting a stubborn recession, thereby increasing the deficit exponentially and, meanwhile, the polls continue to show that a majority of Americans oppose the legislation.
Bill Clinton on the other hand, tried to get Hillarycare passed and failed. He failed because he couldn’t get Congress to find a compromise that they’d vote for, he failed because he tried to have the legislation written by his wife — behind the backs of not only Americans but of Congress as well — and he failed because he actually listened to the polls. At the time many Americans weren’t happy with the way Hillarycare had been crafted and weren’t convinced of its effectiveness, so what did the president do? He relented, and he moved on.
Israel: There’s just no comparison. Bill Clinton loves Israel and though he pushed hard to “solve” the Arab-Israeli conflict and is entitled to much of the credit/blame for the Oslo accords, he never wavered from his support for the Jewish state.
President Obama simply does not have the same feelings toward Israel. But let’s even remove his lack of affinity for the Jewish homeland from the equation. Mr. Obama has been less than a solid strategic partner, and he currently espouses what has always been an Arab rejectionist canard, namely that Israel is the crux of what’s wrong in the Middle East.
Finally, when it comes to the fight against terrorism, perhaps comparison isn’t fair because Clinton simply wasn’t facing the same world as Obama. Certainly Clinton didn’t help matters by instituting the policy whereby U.S. intelligence agencies were forbidden from sharing information. Clinton also didn’t openly identify the Islamist threat, even as evidence from the bombings of American military targets in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and the embassies in Tanzania and Kenya pointed to a serious problem. And Clinton’s response to terror, namely bombing empty buildings, only served to embolden al-Qaida. But still, Obama is facing a completely different set of circumstances, which makes the only reasonable comparison between him and his predecessor, George W. Bush. The result of such a comparison can be found on a billboard not a bumper sticker. On I-35 near Wyoming, Minn., there’s a picture of a smiling and waving Bush beside a three-word message, “Miss Me Yet?”
(Abby Wisse Schachter, a Pittsburgh-based political columnist, blogs at nypost.com/blogs/capitol and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)