Discussing the presidency of Barack Obama at this stage is, frankly, not a very rewarding enterprise. The engaged, politics-wonk audience, perhaps especially in Canada, seems basically divided between an oh-thank-God-he’s-not-Bush-and-how-dare-you-question-him majority and a smaller, even more vocal rump who believe he’s destroying the great Bush legacy. (Call the latter group the Cheney Junior Achievers.) It may still be early to suggest the truth lies somewhere in between: that the U.S. president is acting in good faith with considerable skill, but that after all he’s human and sometimes fallible.
Which is the long way around to saying I was relieved to see John Dickerson in Slate had much the same reaction I had to Obama’s far tougher language on Iran today. Come on: the toughening in Obama’s language has been obvious; it has gone in the direction his most vocal critics have urged; and his denials are disingenuous.
“The last thing that I want to do is to have the United States be a foil for those forces inside Iran who would love nothing better than to make this an argument about the United States,” he told CBS on Friday. “We shouldn’t be playing into that.” Yet by today the White House was posting the opening statement from his news conference on the White House website in Persian. Dickerson’s piece, which comes across as gentle chiding instead of the greatly preferred polar havens of breathless hagiography or rote character assassination, pretty much nails, it seems to me, the evolution of Obama’s discourse on the matter.