A Cool Head for the Hottest Issues

LONDON – Reading Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father, the US president’s beautifully written reflections on his early life and identity, most people are struck by his cool and intellectual approach. This is not to say that he is unemotional. Obama can rage and weep. But he rarely seems to act on the basis of raw sentiment or instinctive prejudice.

Pragmatic and highly intelligent, sooner or later every issue receives the full attention of his forensic curiosity. Recalling Hillary Clinton’s famous Democratic primary television advertisement, Obama, it turns out, is exactly the sort of president that most of us would want to have in the post for that 3 a.m. phone call about an international crisis. He would not be afraid to act, but he would be prepared to think first.

I do not think, therefore, that Obama will be too vexed by some of the criticism he faces at the end of his first year in office, though he will undoubtedly grimace at the defeat of the Democratic candidate in the special election in Massachusetts to fill Ted Kennedy’s old seat. Obama was praised extravagantly a year ago; 12 months on, the criticism is over the top, too.

Obama inherited a terrible legacy – recession, financial meltdown, Iraq, Afghanistan. He has not solved all of these problems. But it is difficult to see any really bad mistakes, except perhaps allowing himself to be pushed around by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and giving China the impression that he was prepared for a bilateral relationship entirely on China’s terms.