The difference between foreign and domestic successes

I imagine there will be some voters who are willing to take note of President Obama’s impressive foreign-policy successes, but will also ask, “Why can’t his domestic record be just as good?”

Consider this analysis, run by the Washington Post this morning.

How President Obama helped bring about the end of a long-standing American antagonist in Libya captures in microcosm the vast difference in the way he and his predecessor, George W. Bush, have employed diplomacy and military power against their declared enemies.

Both approaches resulted in the removal of longtime U.S. nemeses who had enjoyed a few years in Washington’s favor. But Bush’s invasion cost nearly $1 trillion and more than 4,400 American lives, while Obama’s more limited intervention highlighted a national security strategy that emphasizes global burden-sharing, and secretive tactics and technologies whose legality has been questioned. The NATO airstrikes on Gaddafi’s convoy Thursday included a missile launched from a U.S. drone aircraft. […]

Obama’s technocratic approach to governing has served him far better in foreign policy, where facts, expert appraisal and intelligence often trump ideology, than it has in domestic politics. [emphasis added]

That’s true, but I think it’s incomplete. President Obama’s record on foreign policy and national security is proving to be rather exceptional, and while voters may be principally concerned with the domestic economy, it matters that the administration’s approach to geopolitics and international affairs is proving to be quite effective.

But why is the president having more success on foreign policy than domestic policy? The Post notes Obama’s technocratic style, guided by facts, expertise, and intelligence. To be sure, these are the cornerstones of any leader showing good judgment — the president generally shows the right instincts when it comes to foreign policy, but his decisions aren’t just guided by his gut. On these issues, Obama can rely on input from an ideologically diverse team, weigh extensive evidence, consult with allies who share his larger goals, and make a decision that no one can block or override. After nearly three years, most of these decisions have proven to be the correct ones.

Domestic policy doesn’t work this way. Decisions over job creation, for example, aren’t made in the Situation Room or the Oval Office. They’re not made by the president alone; they’re dependent on a ridiculous Congress, dominated by fools and charlatans, some of whom seem to want to hold the economy back on purpose. Facts, expertise, and intelligence don’t guide the process; these factors are generally deemed irrelevant, if not worthy of mockery.

Look at last night, for example. Obama saw a problem — the public sector laying off thousands of teachers, cops, and firefighters — and offered a fair solution. Relying on facts, expertise, and intelligence, the White House offered a credible plan that the American public overwhelmingly embraced. But Congress is incapable of acting sensibly on the issue, and Republicans killed the bill and refuse to offer an equally-sound alternative.

In other words, Obama can have far more success on foreign policy, in part because the decisions are his to make, and in part because Congress isn’t in a position to screw it up.