It’s been the most depressing two weeks of the Obama presidency. The child border crisis, the new Gaza war, the Russian separatists shooting down that plane—these aren’t just infuriating political squabbles of the sort we follow every week but profound political crises with enormous human tolls. Any of the three on its own would have been dreadful enough. All three of them in succession, the incomprehensible suffering and death of innocent victims of calculation and avarice, are almost more tragic than the mind can bear.
The tragedy in each case is deepened by American impotence. It’s not that we couldn’t prevent these things that’s upsetting. The border crisis, despite what they say on the black-helicopter right, was not fomented by President Obama in an attempt to force Congress to act on immigration. It’s a function ofnightmarish conditions in Central America from which destitute, desperate people are fleeing, and of a network of completely immoral hustlers at the border who exploit them. Israel makes an incursion into Gaza every few years, and we always have little choice but to let it play out. And Russian separatists, with a nudge from Vladimir Putin, are going to do what they’re going to do.
What’s maddening and emotionally exhausting is that we can’t seem to do anything about them. You can blame all this on Obama if you want to. He deserves some blame. He was slow to respond to the border crisis, and for a host of reasons, Putin and Bibi Netanyahu pretty clearly don’t even listen to him (wouldn’t matter in Bibi’s case if he did, since the U.S. position is largely defensive of Israel’s actions). Maybe different leadership in the White House would make some kind of huge difference.
I suspect not a lot, though. We don’t live in a country that can speak with one voice at a time of crisis. I don’t want to get carried away saying that there was a golden age of unity in American global crisis management. There never was any such thing. Politics never stopped entirely at the water’s edge, and in many cases that was a damn good thing. I for one am quite glad that there were ferocious critics of U.S. Vietnam policy, and I wish the Democrats had been considerably less craven when Bush and Cheney were leading us into Iraq atop that landfill of lies and false promises. So I do no Broderesque pining for a golden era that didn’t exist.
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