In many ways, Barack Obama's election eight years ago as America's first black president broke the mold. But in other ways it has not. Both at home and abroad, there are certain codes and behaviors and best practices that the preternaturally moderate Obama has abided by for the past eight years to ensure a kind of business-as-usual guidance in a complicated world.
Take as the latest example his criticism yesterday of Congress' override of the presidential veto of a bill to give 9/11 victims' families the right to sue the Saudi government. Obama told CNN that "if we eliminate this notion of sovereign immunity, then our men and women in uniform around the world could potentially start seeing ourselves subject to reciprocal laws." It is a precedent that could essentially threaten the longstanding application of international relations and diplomacy that Obama believes keep a dangerous world from slipping toward ever greater dangers.
On the other side of the globe, instead, we now have a case of an unconventional leader who is clearly prepared to break more than just the mold. Since taking office in the Philippines in June, President Rodrigo Duterte is wreaking havoc left and right. He has signaled to Filipino law enforcement and vigilantes that it is OK to kill suspected drug dealers. Meanwhile, a visit today to Vietnam highlights his renegade approach to foreign policy. Not only have his recent harsh words for the U.S. overturned decades of a tight Washington-Manila alliance, but it has unsettled Asian neighbors such as Vietnam that are looking to work with the U.S. to stave off a rising China. Pose these realities to Duterte, and he tends to shrug it off as, well, business as usual.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S., in the high-stakes race for the White House, one could pose the voters' choice this way: the Obama mold or the Duterte hammer.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR TODAY
- Tropical storm warning for the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, St. Lucia, Dominica, St. Vincent, and the Grenadine Islands.
- It's Galactic Tick Day. Calm down. It's got nothing to do with small arachnids from space.
- Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi turns 80. Tanti auguri!