In 2013, Obama may have accomplished his irreversible transformation, at home and abroad.
It was easy to laugh off President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize before he had completed his first year in office. The Nobel Committee commended him for diplomacy that was, “… founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.”
In truth the Nobel Prize was a tribute to hope, not accomplishments.
Also President Obama won Time Magazine’s Person of the year first in 2008 and again last year.
In the first case, Time Magazine wrote, “Barack Obama overcame a lack of experience, a funny name, two candidates who are political institutions and the racial divide to become the 44th President of the United States. In the latter it wrote, “In 2012, he found and forged a new majority, turned weakness into opportunity and sought, amid great adversity, to create a more perfect union.”
In both these cases Time magazine writes of the hope that President Obama engendered. Of course that’s a tougher case to make after he’d completed one term. Even so, I’d argue that both these accolades were premature.
Whatever hope 2013 Person of the Year, Pope Francis represents, he has not changed much. However, 2013 marked the year of Obama’s transformation of America.
It’s true that President Obama passed the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – in 2010, but the implementation of its central mechanism – the healthcare exchanges took place this year. Aside from the problem of the economic impossibilities of implementing Obamacare the software that was supposed to allow Americans to enroll in the exchanges was rolled out badly broken and incomplete even as millions were forced from the healthcare plans that they liked.
But here’s the thing. Obama shepherded through Obamacare as his signal domestic achievement. This was the legislation by which he wished to be known. It didn’t make a difference if he couldn’t get a single liberal Republican senator to support it. He made no effort to make the legislation bipartisan. He was going to pass it consequences (political and economic) be damned. No effort was made to determine if it would work as advertised.
But President Obama determined what was fair and the Affordable Care Act would make that happen.
Of course by now we know what has happened. Low cost health insurance is impossible to find. People did lose their coverage. People who needed to find new coverage can’t because the exchange isn’t working. President Obama who was sure that what we needed was more government control over healthcare pushed through flawed legislation to fulfill his ideological and political aspirations. 2013 was the year America got to find out what really was in it.
In Obama the Oblivious, Charles Krauthammer identifies how the Obamacare debacle isn’t simply a policy failure, but representative of the President’s approach to governing.
The paradox of this presidency is that this most passive bystander president is at the same time the most ideologically ambitious in decades. The sweep and scope of his health-care legislation alone are unprecedented. He’s spent billions of tax money attempting to create, by fiat and ex nihilo, a new green economy. His (failed) cap-and-trade bill would have given him regulatory control of the energy economy. He wants universal preschool and has just announced his unwavering commitment to slaying the dragon of economic inequality, which, like the poor, has always been with us.
Obama’s discovery that government bureaucracies don’t do things very well creates a breathtaking disconnect between his transformative ambitions and his detachment from the job itself. How does his Olympian vision coexist with the lassitude of his actual governance, a passivity that verges on absenteeism?
That “passivity that verges on absenteeism” extends to the President’s foreign policy too.
Two and a half years ago President Obama called for “President Assad to step aside.” But now two of his biggest foreign policy initiatives have worked to cement Assad’s hold on power. The chemical weapons agreement that meant that Assad would not have to fear a military strike from the United States and the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran to “test” Iran’s leadership, when Iran is the foremost protector of Syria, both strengthen Assad’s hand in his effort to stay in power. The disconnect between the President’s rhetoric and actions (or achievements) is just as strong in his foreign policy as it is in his domestic policy.
But aside from this disconnect the President’s foreign policy has had real consequences.
Charles Krauthammer observed in Woe to U.S. allies regarding Obama’s outreach to Iran:
The Gulf Arabs are stunned at their double abandonment. In the nuclear negotiations with Iran, the U.S. has overthrown seven years of Security Council resolutions prohibiting uranium enrichment and effectively recognized Iran as a threshold nuclear state. This follows our near-abandonment of the Syrian revolution and de facto recognition of both the Assad regime and Iran’s “Shiite Crescent” of client states stretching to the Mediterranean.
Equally dumbfounded are the Israelis, now trapped by an agreement designed less to stop the Iranian nuclear program than to prevent the Israeli Air Force from stopping the Iranian nuclear program.
Neither Arab nor Israeli can quite fathom Obama’s naivete in imagining some strategic condominium with a regime that defines its very purpose as overthrowing American power and expelling it from the region.
Better diplomacy than war, say Obama’s apologists, an adolescent response implying that all diplomacy is the same, as if a diplomacy of capitulation is no different from a diplomacy of pressure.
Any way you measure it, 2013 was a good year for al Qaeda. It wasn’t supposed to be. Shortly after the United States killed the group’s charismatic leader, Osama bin Laden, a couple of years ago, Obama administration officials openly proclaimed that his death, coupled with targeted strikes that eliminated other senior jihadist leaders, had just about put al Qaeda out of business. Leon Panetta, then the defense secretary, stated in July 2011 that the United States was “within reach” of “strategically defeating” al Qaeda if it killed or captured 10 to 20 of its remaining leaders.
But as this year ends, the jihadist group’s regional affiliates have dramatically reasserted themselves in multiple countries, carrying out spectacular attacks and inflicting increasing levels of carnage. Though it’s hard to come by reliable estimates of the deaths they caused, the number is certainly in the thousands, and more than half a dozen countries now view these affiliates, or foreigners who have joined their ranks, as their top national security concern. The affiliates’ regeneration became so apparent over the course of this year that President Barack Obama was forced to clarify that his administration’s various claims of al Qaeda’s decimation were limited to the core leadership in Pakistan alone.
Gartenstein-Ross reports on al Qaeda’s recent successes in Yemen, Mali, Syria, the Sinai and Iraq:
As U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq two years ago, American and Iraqi officials expressed concern that al Qaeda was “poised for a deadly resurgence.” Rather than proving alarmist, these warnings likely understated the speed and magnitude of the organization’s rebound in Iraq.
But this was supposed to be a success for President Obama who claimed that his job was:
… I’ve spent four and a half years working to end wars, not to start them. Our troops are out of Iraq. Our troops are coming home from Afghanistan.
There are of course times when, no matter how unpleasant it is necessary to fight. Withdrawing from Iraq as precipitously as President Obama did gave al Qaeda and opportunity that it did not squander.
The laws of economics or international relations do not simply change to accommodate the wishes of any mortal no matter how eloquently they are expressed. Simply declaring that you want everyone to have affordable health care won’t make it happen unless you understand the markets and find ways to make them more efficient. Simply declaring that you want Syria to get rid of its chemical weapons or Iran not to develop nuclear weapons won’t force either regime to comply with you wishes.
Becoming friends with your allies’ enemies will distress your allies. And removing a military deterrent will encourage terrorists.
In his comments at the Saban Forum a few weeks ago President Obama said:
One can envision an ideal world in which Iran said, we’ll destroy every element and facility and you name it, it’s all gone. I can envision a world in which Congress passed every one of my bills that I put forward.
Though President Obama mocked the idea that you could get what you want by simply wishing it; it seems that many of his policies – domestic and foreign – are based on such a conceit. 2013 is the year that the consequences of such policies became clear.
For this reason I believe that President Obama deserves to be 2013’s Person of the year. It is the year that his policies began to bear fruit. God help us all.
I’d like to thank my friend JoshuaPundit for asking the question and including a brief response of mine in the Watchers Council forum a few weeks ago that asked Whom would you name person of the year? The Watchers Council is a group of (mostly) conservative bloggers who vote on the best blog posts of the past week. (The most recent results are here.) I was honored to be a member of the council for six years.
While I’m on the topic of the conservative blogosphere, thanks to Doug Ross for his recognition of Prof Jacobson’s upgrade to Legal Insurrection.
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