Sep 30 2014

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The Petulant President

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Whose Policy is it Anyway?

Whose Policy is it Anyway?

 President Obama was on “60 Minutes” on Sunday.

I watched the interview with an almost prurient curiosity. Away from a teleprompter and adoring crowds, how would President Obama answer basic questions about his stewardship of the nation, particularly at a time when it feels as if the world is spinning out of control?

Also, in a larger view I also wanted to get a sense of the man.

The presidency is hardest job in our nation, and one of the most consequential jobs in the world. No person walking into the office leaves unchanged by the realities of the office, no matter the political party. After six tumultuous years, how had the job changed than man from 2008?

Apparently very little.

The President – whom acolytes describe as the smartest man in the history of history – did pull off exquisite intellectual jujitsu worthy of his followers, but sadly confirming his durable faults in the process. During the interview, President Obama managed to reverse himself on multiple, core national security policies that he himself put in place, without once ever admitting that he was wrong.

Arming the Syrian rebels?

POTUS has refused to do this since the beginning of the Syrian revolution/civil war, despite calls from across the political spectrum that the rebels could not win on their own, that Iranian and Russian support was tilting the balance of power in the conflict to the Syrian government, and that the longer the conflict dragged on, the more likely radical jihadist fighters would complicate and destabilize the battlefield and any post-war settlement.

Now, three years later, with a much less favorable political and military terrain, President Obama has finally asked for (and received) permission to arm “moderate” Syrian fighters. A complete about face, but in Obama’s mind, just the next evolution in policy, even if it is too little too late.

The threat posed by ISIS?

No Obama fault here either. It was the intelligence community’s fault for under-estimating ISIS.

POTUS threw the Director for National Intelligence, James Clapper, under the bus on national television. This, despite impressive and persuasive evidence dating back to 2012 – in the form of congressional briefings and hearings and even PBS documentaries – that ISIS was a clear and growing threat. It was the White House and policymakers that refused to accept the new data and adjust US objectives accordingly.

And ISIS’ dramatic move into Iraq, seizing city after city?

That was the fault of the political leadership in Baghdad. No Obama finger prints there. But of course Obama’s finger prints were all ISIS and its expansion, and particularly in Iraq.

ISIS began as a renegade cell that broke away from the Al Qaeda in Iraq – a force that was obliterated by the Bush Surge of troops, in conjunction with the Sunni Awakening in 2007-08. But the failure of the US to support and arm the moderate Syrian opposition provided an opening for radical jihadists that ISIS was only too willing to fill.

In addition, by insisting on pulling all US forces out of Iraq in 2011 – instead of leaving a residual force of soldiers that could continue training Iraqis and provide institutional stability as Iraqi democracy took hold – Obama washed his hands of Iraq and all but doomed the country to the political/sectarian tensions that ensued, and opened the door to ISIS’ invasion this year.

The tragedy of the Middle East right now is not simply the bloodshed and brutality that has engulfed the region – it is that with marginal changes to US policy after 2010, we could have mitigated much of the disaster that has since unfolded.

That is Obama’s legacy alone.

But no policy change, no matter how much of a flip-flop, could be complete for Obama without the Bush “bogeyman.” Like a reflexive tick, Obama seems obsessed with differentiating his policies from those of his predecessor, counter-productively limiting his leverage and options, even as it appears he is closer to embracing Bush policies.

What do we call bombing runs and missile attacks against ISIS targets that cover two, sovereign countries (for now), and that might last for years?  Certainly not a war. Bush does wars.  Obama ends wars. That’s how he got elected. As a result, you get this kind of surreal exchange between POTUS and Steve Kroft.

“Well, I distinguished, Steve, between counterterrorism and the sort of occupying armies that characterized the Iraq and Afghan war. That’s very different from us having 150,000 troops in Iraq on the ground or 60,000 in Afghanistan.

Steve Kroft: Are you saying that this is not really a war?

President Obama: Well, what I’m saying is that we are assisting Iraq in a very real battle that’s taking place on their soil, with their troops. But we are providing air support.  

If Obama would just lead as hard as he argues semantics, the US would be in a better geo-strategic position.

And Bush unilateralism, let’s not forget about that. Even as Obama’s government pre-emptively strikes out at ISIS, heaven forbid that the motivation for such attacks be justified by US national interest.

Said Obama, “This is not America against ISIL. This is America leading the international community to assist a country with whom we have a security partnership with. To make sure that they are able to take care of their business.”

What is so frustrating is that after having taken the steps to correct failed policies, Obama continues to erect artificial walls that limit US options and flexibility in dealing with ISIS.

No boots on the ground.”

POTUS has valueless habit of leading by announcing military actions in conjunction with all the policy limitations.

Afghan surge?  As Obama announced the increase in troops, he announced the departure date.  The Taliban could simply take in the sites in Mecca for a few years, rest up and be ready to return when the US left.

The same holds true now.

No one wants troops on the ground or anything on the order of ground forces that spearheaded the invasion of Iraq in 2003. To say otherwise is false comparison as this is not the choice between no American troops and the presence of the Seventh Army.

But it is simply a fact that US actions in Afghanistan in 2001 – Special Forces embedded with local Afghani militia in conjunction with US airpower, supported by US troops – routed Al Qaeda from Afghanistan in less than six weeks.

By publicly announcing a “no boots on the ground” policy, Obama necessarily hamstrings himself and our military capability in tackling ISIS. Worse, the President will be left to defend an ultimately indefensible policy as the media focuses on the number of US “advisors” in Iraq, argues about their role and how close to the battlefield they are allowed to go. It is only a matter of time before an American advisor is killed. Obama’s policy creates a perverse incentive for ISIS to find and kill Americans on the ground in Iraq, as it holds the potential to create enormous political problems for the President back home.

It’s eerily like Vietnam, circa 1963.

All to ensure that Obama’s actions are somehow different from those of his predecessor. Thoroughly counter-productive.

There was much more in the interview.  Russia, the midterms, the economy.

But the old Obama shined through in each case, relying on straw men, cherry picked statistics, myopic focus and false comparisons, all to ensure that no matter what ill befalls the country, everyone should know that POTUS is not responsible for it.

That is how Obama came into office, and by all measures, it is how he intends to leave in two years.

For the rest of us, the midterms loom as a powerful tool to limit the President’s unilateralist tendencies, with the ultimate goal of creating a coherent platform in the next two years that can decisively persuade the American people that Republicans have a plan to rebuild from the wreckage wrought by the President and his Administration.

As history moves past the President, as his sunset in power comes into view, give him and his supporters the comfort of his excuses. For the rest of us, it is time to dust off, prepare and govern.

1 comment

  1. Bob Lamborn

    While there’s much about Barack Obama that bothers me, my biggest disappointment with him involves something he could have done, should have done, but didn’t. Here’s the President of the United States, a man who’s half Black, half White; a man who’s perfectly situated to bridge the gap between the races. More than anyone he could bring Black and White together, just as Nelson Mandela did in South Africa. And Mandela did it after enduring extreme hardship at the hands of Whites. Obama has suffered no such hardship. Rather than improving the situation he has, by constantly pitting one group against another, made it worse. He could have been America’s Nelson Mandela but he chose not to.
    I see this as his greatest failure.

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