There was no there, there.
At a time when tensions in the Middle East are rising, it is perhaps a time to once again review President Barack Obama’s qualifications for office. To be sure his qualifications were fabricated, or at least oversold.
This wasn’t just the doing of the Obama campaign. Campaigns are supposed to do present their candidates in the best possible light. The problem was that America’s supposedly independent media boosted the first terms senator’s prospects with little or no skepticism.
This was certainly the case in reporting where most reporters bought into the historical aspect of Obama’s candidacy as well was the rebuke to Republicans for the failings of the Bush presidency. (If not the failings, then the aspects that the liberal media disagreed with.)
For the purpose of this exercise let’s look at parts of The Washington Post‘s 2008 endorsement of Obama. I am using the Post as an example of what we saw so frequetly because even though the Post is a liberal paper, its editorial position regarding foreign policy is generally responsible. However in the Post’s enthusiasm for Obama, all caution was disregarded and they promoted a man who did not really exist.
In its 2008 endorsement of Obama the Post described him as “a man of supple intelligence, with a nuanced grasp of complex issues and evident skill at conciliation and consensus-building.” In fact we have seen over the course of the past seven years a man, who may be brilliant, but stubbornly insists on doing things his way regardless of the results. There has been little or no conciliation or consensus building during Obama’s term in office. Obamacare, which is collapsing under the weight of its internal contradictions, was passed with only Democratic support. And the president’s biggest foreign policy “achievement,” the nuclear deal with Iran, was passed despite bipartisan opposition because Obama chose the path of an executive agreement to bypass BOTH parties in Congress.
And in describing the paper’s expectations of Obama’s foreign policy, the editors wrote:
But Mr. Obama, as anyone who reads his books can tell, also has a sophisticated understanding of the world and America’s place in it. He, too, is committed to maintaining U.S. leadership and sticking up for democratic values, as his recent defense of tiny Georgia makes clear. We hope he would navigate between the amoral realism of some in his party and the counterproductive cocksureness of the current administration, especially in its first term. On most policies, such as the need to go after al-Qaeda, check Iran’s nuclear ambitions and fight HIV/AIDS abroad, he differs little from Mr. Bush or Mr. McCain. But he promises defter diplomacy and greater commitment to allies. His team overstates the likelihood that either of those can produce dramatically better results, but both are certainly worth trying.
I do not see a single thing here that has been proven correct. (The Post later expressed concern over Obama’s intent to withdraw troops from Iraq. He did that in defiance of their concerns, but they still endorsed him for a second term.) In particular it is hard to see that Obama’s diplomacy has been defter or that his commitment to allies has been better that demonstrated by President Bush.
For a comprehensive look at what the president has done wrong in foreign policy read Abe Greenwald’s On His Watch in the January issue of Commentary. This is a devastating critique of the multiple mistakes the president has made contributing to even wider spread instability over the past seven year. Greenwald correctly identifies how Obama viewed and views himself.
Obama’s inconsistencies have helped him evade traditional ideological labels. So perhaps it suffices to say he is foremost an anti-Bushist. His conception of America’s role in the world is most easily discerned in its opposition to that of his predecessor. He ran for president on a promise to end the war in Iraq—and when, as president, he told a Saudi Arabian news station, “all too often the United States starts by dictating,” he was talking about George W. Bush’s perceived “cowboy diplomacy.” When he told an audience in France that “America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive,” he was referring to Bush’s willingness to wage war without the support of the United Nations. And when in London he said, “With my election and the early decisions that we’ve made…you’re starting to see some restoration of America’s standing in the world,” he was touting his departure from Bush-era policy.
And this has led to many of the problems with Obama’s foreign policy.
What Bush wrought he would undo. And he has undone much.
As conditions in the Middle East have deteriorated, the United States has progressively lost opportunities to act. The rush of events has now mooted many of the ideas Obama rejected. The actions that could have been taken to ensure that a functioning Iraq didn’t fall back into the hands of terrorists no longer apply now that ISIS controls massive sections of the country. The actions that could have contained the damage from a secular Syrian rebellion no longer have bearing on what has become an international war zone. And the actions that could have stopped a few hundred jihadists who crossed Iraq’s western border into Syria no longer matter, now that their number has grown to a few hundred thousand who have founded a state. Our viable options for defeating ISIS today are far more hazardous than the options we had only a few years ago, when we could have preempted its ascendance. But Obama has held fast—and in his effort to keep America out of the Middle East muck, he may well be ensuring an American reentry into a Middle East inferno.
At the time Greenwald wrote, relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran hadn’t yet reached a boiling point. However that growing hostility between Saudi Arabia and Iran gives lie to the Post’s idea that Obama is a “deft” diplomat or that he shows commitment to long-term allies.
In her post on Tuesday on this topic, Prof. Elman wrote, “Put simply, the disastrous Iran Deal has deepened the rift between Sunnis and Shi’ites in the region.”
This is similar to a point made Monday by Walter Russell Mead at The American Interest. Mead pointed out that we could expect to see “a world stumbling down a slippery slope to become less secure, less stable, and less free” during the coming year due to President Obamna’s foreign policy. Mead observed that reports in The New York Times “not the place to look for bad news for the Obama administration” showed how bad things were getting:
The lead story, on Saudi Arabia’s decision to break diplomatic relations with Iran over the destruction of the Saudi embassy in Tehran, read like an epitaph for the Obama administration’s Middle East policy. In 2015, the central conviction of President Obama’s policy in the Middle East, the only element of his original, ambitious agenda (reconciliation with the Sunni world, promotion of moderate Islamist democracy, solving the Israel-Palestine issue) still standing, was that he could stabilize the Middle East by pursuing a nuclear deal with Iran. The President has his nuclear deal, but so far it isn’t making him, or anybody else, happy. The perceived U.S. tilt toward Iran has inflamed Sunni jihadis, contributed to the meltdown in Syria, and has made regional sectarian conflict hotter and more dangerous than ever. What’s more, the U.S. has lost leverage over Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, and Israel—without gaining leverage over Iran. As a result, the U.S. is both less able to persuade the Sunni powers to refrain from steps that could inflame regional conflict and is completely unable to persuade the Iranians to moderate their behavior in the interest of regional peace.
Everything in this paragraph contradicts the expectations laid out in the Post’s endorsement. In essence Mead is writing that Obama bet the house on the nuclear deal with Iran and lost. Along the way he alienated at least four major allies and got nothing in return from Iran.
Whether you look at Greenwald’s comprehensive or Mead’s abbreviated critique of Obama’s foreign policy, the conclusion is the same. Obama has failed in foreign policy, spectacularly.
This failure wouldn’t have been possible without a complicit media, creating a myth instead of a candidate. Will the editors of The Washington Post take a critical look at their 2008 endorsement and learn from their mistake before 2016? I wouldn’t count on it.
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