For visitors who are unaware, The Guardian is the UK equivalent of The New York Times.
What the hell is Barack Obama’s presidency for?
What the hell is Barack Obama’s presidency for?
His ascent to power had meaning, but now his interventions are too rare and too piecemeal to constitute a narrative
…Barack Obama has now been in power for longer than [LB]Johnson was, and the question remains: “What the hell’s his presidency for?” His second term has been characterised by a profound sense of drift in principle and policy. While posing as the ally of the immigrant he is deporting people at a faster clip than any of his predecessors; while claiming to be a supporter of labour he’s championing trade deals that will undercut American jobs and wages. In December, even as he pursued one whistleblower, Edward Snowden and kept another, Chelsea Manning, incarcerated, he told the crowd at Nelson Mandela’s “
funeral: ” There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people.
If there was a plot, he’s lost it. If there was a point, few can remember it. If he had a big idea, he shrank it. If there’s a moral compass powerful enough to guide such contradictions to more consistent waters, it is in urgent need of being reset.
Given the barriers to democratic engagement and progressive change in America – gerrymandering, big money and Senate vetoes – we should always be wary of expecting too much from a system designed to deliver precious little to the poor. We should also challenge the illusion that any individual can single-handedly produce progressive change in the absence of a mass movement that can both drive and sustain it.
Nonetheless, it was Obama who set himself the task of becoming a transformational political figure in the mould of Ronald Reagan or JFK. “I think we are in one of those fundamentally different times right now where people think that things, the way they are going, just aren’t working,” he said. It was he who donned the mantles of “hope” and “change”.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the question about the potential of his presidency is rapidly shifting from a matter of opinion to one of time. He’s had six years. Notwithstanding events, whatever he was going to do he’s done already. Claims that he is dealing with the mess of his predecessor or being obstructed by unreasonable Republicans now sound weak, even when they’re true. History will judge him by his achievements, not his obstacles. His campaign slogan was “Yes we can”; those who defend him by blaming others carve a presidential epitaph that reads: “At least he tried.” After the midterms, when the entire House of Representatives and a third of the Senate are up for grabs, it won’t just be his performance that’s in question but his relevance.
A pattern of failure
Resignations, mistakes, scandals grew from Obama’s bad choices
A pattern of failure
Saturday October 4, 2014 4:49 AM
Leadership failures can happen under any president, and resignations under pressure such as that of Secret Service Director Julia Pierson this week can’t all be blamed on the chief executive.
Unless they are part of a pattern.
As things continue to unravel both domestically and worldwide under President Barack Obama, it’s clear that his “leading from behind” strategy reflects a failure of leadership.
It is a more dangerous world as a result of Obama ignoring expert advice and prematurely claiming a Middle East victory, and his administration is beset by an unending series of scandals at home, often ignited by officials chosen based on politics rather than competence.
Pierson was widely seen as a symbolic hire as the first female director of the agency, appointed in the wake of a scandal involving Secret Service members and prostitutes and talk of the agency’s “male-dominated culture.” It took just 18 months for her to resign after Obama praised her as “eminently qualified to lead the agency.”
It took longer for Health and Human Services Director Kathleen Sebelius, another highly praised Obama hire, to resign under a cloud. She did so six months after the disastrous rollout of the biggest project she was charged with: the HealthCare.gov exchange. She is gone, but the exchange’s problems with security and verification continue. The administration has told more than 300,000 people who got coverage through the site that they must provide additional verification of their income or risk losing their subsidies. Hundreds of thousands more are said to have “documentation issues,” and could be asked to repay their subsidies.
The Internal Revenue Service, meanwhile, has been turned into a politicized and weaponized arm of the administration. Under openly partisan officials such as Lois Lerner, it targeted conservative groups. Even those sympathetic to the administration have found the IRS’s stories of repeated “accidental” destruction of records sought in investigations unbelievable.
Then there is Eric Holder, who has announced he is stepping down as attorney general. As a loyal partisan who mirrored Obama in selectively enforcing laws, Holder was able to withstand a number of incidents including being held in contempt of Congress related to the Fast and Furious “gun-walking” scandal. But instead of being fired or resigning in disgrace, Holder is rumored to be a future Supreme Court nominee.
Obama’s record internationally has been equally woeful. He chose Hillary Clinton as secretary of state and the 2012 attack on American diplomats in Benghazi, Libya, came on her watch, the first time an American ambassador had been killed by militants in more than three decades. The reaction was just as bad: the administration fabricated the claim that the attack was incited by an anti-Islam video.
When Obama does appoint an experienced, competent leader, that person occasionally will stand up and tell the truth. This happened recently with Leon Panetta, who headed the Central Intelligence Agency and then the Defense Department for several years under Obama; he stated in an interview last month that the White House made mistakes and ignored advice in its Iraq strategy.
But Obama, who spent his entire first term blaming George W. Bush for every failure, never seems to run out of scapegoats for his own incompetence.
STEPHEN CUNNINGHAM (SEMPERFI)
Whom ever wrote this really watches way to much FOX! Listens way to much of Rush Limbaugh! Benghazi, Libya was a CIA outpost where the Ambassador went there to make sure the CIA was not “Torturing”. This has been Investigated 3 Times and now going for a 4th time! (WASTE of MONEY!), There is more WASTE by GOP Elected Congress!! Has Pres. Obama Lied yet that has cost 4,500 plus Lives?!, The Biggest Problem we Face everyday is FOX News!! I get my News from NPR!! Not a Leftwing News!!
MARK DILLON (MRSMD1HUSBAND)
No one has debunked anything in the editorial yet. You have the usual left wing it’s Bush’s fault, the Koch Brothers, Fox News, evil Republicans, blah, blah, blah but nothing that disputes anything in the editorial. The Benghazi attack was incited by an anti-Islam video? Do you STILL believe that David Scott? The guys in the compounds in Benghazi who were there that night, when asked about the video, didn’t know anything about it until they got to Germany and heard it on the news. Even the Obama administration, who have the most scandals since New York City’s old Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall, aren’t pushing that storyline any more now that it’s obvious that it wasn’t true. Stephen Cunningham, National Public Radio IS left wing news. As much was admitted by Bob Garfield, host of NPR’s “On the Media” show, when he admitted “If you were to somehow poll the political orientation of everybody in the NPR news organization and all of the member stations, you would find an overwhelmingly progressive, liberal crowd”.
President Obama’s foreign policy is based on fantasy
By Editorial Board, Published: March 2
FOR FIVE YEARS, President Obama has led a foreign policy based more on how he thinks the world should operate than on reality. It was a world in which “the tide of war is receding” and the United States could, without much risk, radically reduce the size of its armed forces. Other leaders, in this vision, would behave rationally and in the interest of their people and the world. Invasions, brute force, great-power games and shifting alliances — these were things of the past. Secretary of State John F. Kerry displayed this mindset on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday when he said, of Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine, “It’s a 19th century act in the 21st century.”
That’s a nice thought, and we all know what he means. A country’s standing is no longer measured in throw-weight or battalions. The world is too interconnected to break into blocs. A small country that plugs into cyberspace can deliver more prosperity to its people (think Singapore or Estonia) than a giant with natural resources and standing armies.
Unfortunately, Russian President Vladimir Putin has not received the memo on 21st-century behavior. Neither has China’s president , who is engaging in gunboat diplomacy against Japan and the weaker nations of Southeast Asia. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is waging a very 20th-century war against his own people, sending helicopters to drop exploding barrels full of screws, nails and other shrapnel onto apartment buildings where families cower in basements. These men will not be deterred by the disapproval of their peers, the weight of world opinion or even disinvestment by Silicon Valley companies. They are concerned primarily with maintaining their holds on power.
Mr. Obama is not responsible for their misbehavior. But he does, or could, play a leading role in structuring the costs and benefits they must consider before acting. The model for Mr. Putin’s occupation of Crimea was his incursion into Georgia in 2008, when George W. Bush was president. Mr. Putin paid no price for that action; in fact, with parts of Georgia still under Russia’s control, he was permitted to host a Winter Olympics just around the corner. China has bullied the Philippines and unilaterally staked claims to wide swaths of international air space and sea lanes as it continues a rapid and technologically impressive military buildup. Arguably, it has paid a price in the nervousness of its neighbors, who are desperate for the United States to play a balancing role in the region. But none of those neighbors feel confident that the United States can be counted on. Since the Syrian dictator crossed Mr. Obama’s red line with a chemical weapons attack that killed 1,400 civilians, the dictator’s military and diplomatic position has steadily strengthened.
The urge to pull back — to concentrate on what Mr. Obama calls “nation-building at home” — is nothing new, as former ambassador Stephen Sestanovich recounts in his illuminating history of U.S. foreign policy, “Maximalist.” There were similar retrenchments after the Korea and Vietnam wars and when the Soviet Union crumbled. But the United States discovered each time that the world became a more dangerous place without its leadership and that disorder in the world could threaten U.S. prosperity. Each period of retrenchment was followed by more active (though not always wiser) policy. Today Mr. Obama has plenty of company in his impulse, within both parties and as reflected by public opinion. But he’s also in part responsible for the national mood: If a president doesn’t make the case for global engagement, no one else effectively can.
The White House often responds by accusing critics of being warmongers who want American “boots on the ground” all over the world and have yet to learn the lessons of Iraq. So let’s stipulate: We don’t want U.S. troops in Syria, and we don’t want U.S. troops in Crimea. A great power can become overextended, and if its economy falters, so will its ability to lead. None of this is simple.
But it’s also true that, as long as some leaders play by what Mr. Kerry dismisses as 19th-century rules, the United States can’t pretend that the only game is in another arena altogether. Military strength, trustworthiness as an ally, staying power in difficult corners of the world such as Afghanistan — these still matter, much as we might wish they did not. While the United States has been retrenching, the tide of democracy in the world, which once seemed inexorable, has been receding. In the long run, that’s harmful to U.S. national security, too.
As Mr. Putin ponders whether to advance further — into eastern Ukraine, say — he will measure the seriousness of U.S. and allied actions, not their statements. China, pondering its next steps in the East China Sea, will do the same. Sadly, that’s the nature of the century we’re living in.
Susan Rice ought to stay off “Meet the Press.” The last time she was on, she misrepresented what led to the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya. On Sunday she was back, this time misrepresenting critics of the Obama administration’s Syria policy. Last time her misrepresentation was unintentional. This time it wasn’t. I prefer it, though, when she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.
Ukraine crisis: Vladimir Putin has marched into the void left by Barack Obama
The end of US ‘domination’ of world geopolitics has brought a free-for-all for rogue states, lunatic extremists and long-dead imperial powers
Protesters battling to retake Independence Square in Kiev. If Ukraine eventually finds its way to some form of stable democracy, it will have been with precious little help from the West Photo: DAVID ROSE FOR THE TELEGRAPH
By Janet Daley
6:25PM GMT 22 Feb 2014
The end of the Cold War was supposed to bring an era of global peace and understanding so secure that the great nations of the world would be able to beat their arms into ploughshares – or at least into lavish welfare programmes. Remember that? When was the last time you heard the phrase “peace dividend”?
That was going to be the material reward for the collapse of the Soviet Union and the glorious realisation that there would be no Third World War, and thus no endless arms race on which countries would have to spend vast proportions of their GDP. All the money that had gone into missile development, “Star Wars” defence systems and the proliferating technology of counter-intelligence could now be used at home for the benign purpose of improving civilian well-being. Democratic values and free-market economics could simply be allowed to produce their miracles of mass affluence and personal liberty in a climate of universal agreement.
As we watch events in Ukraine, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, and decide whether to laugh or cry over that short-lived daydream, we must come to terms with the fact that a great many powerful countries – including the most powerful one on earth – seem to be behaving as if that momentary fantasy actually came true. Barack Obama began his presidency with a tour of Eastern Europe in which he announced explicitly what America’s intentions were in the wake of the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. The long-range missile shield with which the United States had intended to guard those countries would be abandoned. After all, the threat was gone: Russia was no longer to be regarded a bellicose enemy. So Europe, which had relied so long on American military power, would have to be responsible for its own defences.
In other words, you can spend your own money on armaments from now on. The worldwide ideological battle between the US and the Soviet Union is over, so there’s nothing in this for us. We’re out of here. Bye bye.
And he meant it. While Kiev burned, and Europe scrambled a delegation of foreign ministers in some sort of belated attempt to come to terms with Vladimir Putin’s phenomenally brazen power game, the Obama White House seemed very far away – still wittering about the Ukrainian government “crossing a line” while it deliberated the possibility of selective visa sanctions. Meanwhile, ministers from Germany, France and Poland were trying to talk turkey through the gunfire.
It was clear from the outset that the EU ministers saw the urgency of their mission very much in terms of their own particular national interests. Angela Merkel appeared to be the real driving force behind the attempt to achieve some sort of negotiated settlement. The European Commission and Baroness Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (a title that could be set to music by Gilbert and Sullivan), were largely irrelevant. They say that all politics is local, which may or may or not be true. But it is certainly the case that, when it comes to it, all foreign policy is national.
Ukraine – a large, populous country which forms the critical, hazardous bridge between a neo-imperial Russia and a deluded European Union with fantasies of superpower status – is still in chaos. The biggest player in this game (which, incidentally, is poker, not chess) was Mr Putin, as the US president effectively acknowledged by telephoning him after the negotiated “agreement” with the EU foreign ministers was reached.
This is, in fact, only the latest hand which Putin has played in the new global power struggle. Ever since the Assad regime was allowed to gallop gleefully over Mr Obama’s “red line” by using chemical weapons on its own people – thus showing the world that you could now openly defy America and suffer no consequences – Putin has believed himself (not unjustifiably) to be on a roll.
That this ex-KGB autocrat, presiding over a country with a dying population and an economy entirely dependent on the price of oil, has become the world’s most powerful head of state (and its self-appointed chief peacemaker, of all things) is entirely attributable to the vacuum which has been left by America’s retreat. It is quite true that the US could not militarily intervene in Ukraine (or in Georgia). But it is the void, that deliberate withdrawal from the global stage, which allows the new Imperial Russia to march across it with impunity.
Putin clearly felt confident that he could reclaim those countries which he believes to be within Russia’s own sphere of influence, and justifiably respond with outrage when they got ideas of their own about being modern self-determining European states. There is a vacancy for world domination – and Putin, wearing his most implacable face, has put down his marker. Which raises the interesting question: back in the day, was Soviet aggression always about territory, rather than ideology?
Nor is Russia alone in this new imperial confidence. China is threatening Japan – America’s established ally – over territory, in a way that would have seemed unthinkable a generation ago. And, ironically, it was to Asia that Mr Obama claimed he was shifting the attention of his foreign policy. In the absence of American leadership, it seems that any state looking for an expansionist adventure or a public relations bonanza can take a punt.
And, of course, al-Qaeda has noticed, too. The failure of the West to support the early stages of the Syrian resistance to Assad provided a splendid opportunity for it to stage a takeover of the rebellion with a ready-made case: the West has abandoned you to the regime that murders your children with poison gas. We are the only ones to whom you can turn for defence.
So tell me, those of you who have demanded for years that America and the West should end their “domination” of geopolitics, and their interference in the affairs of far-flung nations: is this what you wanted? A free-for-all for rogue states, lunatic extremists and long-dead imperial powers, in which the lives and freedoms of populations caught up in the murderous power play would count for nothing?
Over Syria, every crackpot and despot in the world saw America dither and shamelessly contradict itself – and in the end, do nothing. Every rebellious dissident in an autocratic country now appreciates that he and his fellow protesters are on their own, with only the feeble attempts of a collective European negotiating machine standing between them and annihilation.
If Ukraine – or Syria for that matter – eventually finds its way to some form of stable democracy, it will have been with precious little help from the West, which seems to be either uninterested (America) or useless (the EU). So I ask again: is this what those who longed for a post-American, post-Western world had in mind?
Is there change President Obama can believe in?
By Fred Hiatt, Published: February 23
It’s a relatively small thing, really, a fix to the calculation of cost-of-living benefits that would have helped save Social Security.
But President Obama’s decision to drop the reform from his proposed budget hints at a big To hear him in 2009, you would have thought that safeguarding Social Security was one such goal. “To preserve our long-term fiscal health, we must also address the growing costs in Medicare and Social Security,” he said.
In 2010 , he was even more determined: “Now, even after paying for what we spent on my watch, we’ll still face the massive deficit we had when I took office. More importantly, the cost of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will continue to skyrocket. … I refuse to pass this problem on to another generation of Americans.”
Now the winds have shifted — his party wants to woo older voters by promising richer benefits, not reform — and Obama has moved on, too. Someone else will have to fix Social Security.
His turnabout on foreign policy has been even more dizzying. Three years ago, he was promising to support democracy movements throughout the Middle East and protect their advocates from government violence.
“Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries,” he said in March 2011. “The United States of America is different.” In Libya, he said, “I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.”
He was lyrical on the moral imperative of U.S. involvement. “I believe that this movement of change cannot be turned back, and that we must stand alongside those who believe in the same core principles that have guided us through many storms. . . . [W]herever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States.”
By fall of last year, Obama had formulated a different doctrine, perhaps to explain why the United States was a bystander to slaughter and mass graves in Syria.
The United States had core interests, he said, including “the free flow of energy from the region to the world.” But “democracy and human rights and open markets” were not among them, though they continued to be things the United States looked upon favorably. Syria, he told the American people in September, was “someone else’s civil war.”
Which of these world views represented the real Obama? Did either of them? Did the president really once believe that the United States could no longer kick the can down the road on entitlement reform?
Defenders would say that his foreign policy is smartly situational, not inconsistent, and that he’s done his bit for entitlement reform with cost-bending measures in Obamacare.
Obama has consistently supported some policies throughout his presidency: higher taxes on the rich; more money for education, infrastructure, research and renewable energy; health insurance for all Americans. These are, for the most part, sensible goals that a Republican leader would not have favored or prioritized.
They are also generic Democratic Party inclinations. Searching beyond those for Obama’s inner core, questioning the connection between his eloquence and his conviction — these are old sports, for right and left. Just as Sarah Palin famously mocked “that hopey, changey stuff,” so a left-leaning political science professor, Adolph Reed Jr., can bemoan Obama’s “triumph of image and identity over content.”
But if, as Reed recently argued in Harper’s Magazine, Obama is “an unexceptional neoliberal Democrat with an exceptional knack for self-presentation,” why do neoliberal Democrats feel disappointed, too?
According to the leftist critique, for example, Obama is carrying on the Clintonian, pro-trade agenda, pursuing ambitious deals with European and Pacific countries. But how much does he care? He recently sent to China, as U.S. ambassador, the pro-trade senator Max Baucus, who might have helped win congressional approval for the deals.
Why? Democrats wanted to appoint a replacement to the seat that Baucus had announced he would give up in 2015, get a head start on the campaign and marginally improve their chances of holding their Senate majority.
Which points to one possible clue: There has always been another election looming. In 2011, Obama cold-shouldered the fiscal commission he himself had appointed; Democrats feared that embracing its recommendations could hurt in 2012. Push trade or Social Security reform now, and Democrats might lose the Senate.
Any politician wants to win the next race. Whatever compromises he has to make, he can tell himself they’re preferable to having no power at all.
But after November, the last election — the last excuse — will be past. You wonder whether Obama will wake up then and try to remember what, exactly, he came here to accomplish.