Timing is everything. And President Obama has made a timing mistake that threatens to damage his legacy for many years to come.
This has already been the busiest and most tumultuous transition period in modern American history. Donald Trump has been uncharacteristically active for a President-elect, making deals with individual companies to keep jobs in the U.S., making several highly controversial cabinet choices, and continuing to tweet and speak out with brash regularity.
Of course, President Obama has been uncharacteristically active for an outgoing president too. He's breaking records for the sheer number of pardons and commuted sentences he's ordered, especially for Americans still imprisoned for non-violent drug crimes. He's moving to block oil and other energy exploration in a massive swath of U.S. lands and waters. And now, the White House is announcing new sanctions and booting many Russian diplomats out of the country to retaliate against Moscow's alleged interference in the presidential election. Russia has already promised to respond with measures of its own.
This could get ugly, but each of the above actions are political positives for President Obama. They're all popular with most of the American public. As an added bonus for the Obama team and his fellow Democrats, the Russia story weakens Trump. That was clear even in the case of the usually unfiltered and sharp spoken President-elect Trump.
When asked Wednesday night about the Russian hacking and the impending Obama administration retaliation, Trump uncharacteristically couldn't say anything definitive and he almost mumbled limp responses like, "America should move on," and "Computers have complicated lives." Huh?
But here's the problem for President Obama: None of the above is going to really matter. Because none of these political point-scoring moves will stir up as much media attention, controversy, and brew such new animosity against President Obama and his administration as his decision to punish Israel at the United Nations when it allowed the Security Council to adopt a resolution condemning Israeli settlements. In short, President Obama is blowing a chance to go out of office on a popularity high.