The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

A Seven Year Assessment

Now that we approach the last year of the Obama era, it's reasonable to assess the results of this presidency. Sure, Barack Obama still has slightly over a year to serve, but his record is now well-established, and an evaluation his presidency over the past seven years might be worthwhile.

In fairness, domestic and international events overtake every president. It's the president who gets the credit when events go well, even if he had relatively little to do with the end result. In addition, it's the president who takes the blame when things go south, even if events are largely beyond his control. Given this reality, it's far more important to look at how executive decisions shaped events and/or how action or inaction responded to those events. When the president's fingerprints are on an event (via decisions, policies, appointments, or even rhetoric) it's completely appropriate to assess the end result. And it's the result, not the rhetoric or the intention that matters.

In this 3,400 word post (apologies for its length), I'll assess the Obama administration's record on domestic and foreign policy—the legislation that was sponsored by this president, his decisions, policies, and appointments, and the rhetoric he often used to push his programs. I'll then provide an overall summary and assessment.

An Assessment of Domestic Policy

Over the past seven years we've watched as Barack Obama battled with the Congress but it's important to remember that during his first two years as president, Barack Obama had overwhelming Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate.

Although he had the congressional majority, he did not reform immigration nor did he implement "common sense" measures for gun control. With large Democrat majorities in both houses of Congress, he did not reform our tax system, did not address "income inequality," did not implement fixes for social security and medicare, did not pass climate change legislation, nor did he reform Wall Street. He repeatedly blamed GOP "obstructionists," but even though he had significant majorities in both houses of Congress, he accomplished relatively little in the legislative arena—with one exception.

His signature "achievement, the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare), was passed without a single GOP vote (absolutely unprecedented for major legislation that affected tens of millions of citizens). Obamacare required unseemly political deals (recall the "Cornhusker kickback") to get even enough Democrat votes for passage. Once enacted, this president unilaterally decided to postpone certain unpleasant aspects of the law he championed, afraid that implementing those aspects would create public backlash and political ruin. Legislation that he promised would save money and reduce medical costs, did neither. Promises he made (the infamous, "you can keep your doctor ...") turned out to be lies.

As the voters responded to Obama's serial failures and gave congress strong GOP majorities in 2010. He did win re-election in 2012, but again in 2014, his party was beaten badly in congressional voting. In effect, Obama lived under the fantasy that the American public had not rejected his governance and his party in 2014 and continued using the word "obstructionist" as an excuse for its inability to craft legislation and programs that would be acceptable to a bi-partisan majority.  The role of the president is to negotiate and compromise. That is clearly not part of Barack Obama's make-up.

Let's examine domestic policy over the past seven years. We'll explore legislation that was sponsored by this president, his decisions and policies, and the  rhetoric he often used to push his programs. Obama's domestic policy can is exemplified by:
Under Barack Obama, big intrusive government (BIG) has flourished. Some believe that is an achievement, and undoubtedly, the political class has been enriched by BIG's growth. Yet, the European model that BIG advocates want to emulate has demonstrated that BIG is unsustainable over the long term. It has resulting is tepid economic growth, intrusive actions by government agencies, and damage to the middle and lower classes that may very well be irreparable.

Democrat candidates for president in 2016 uniformly argue that the middle class is suffering, that income inequality is soaring, that not enough jobs have been created, that crony capitalists are benefiting. It's interesting that they seem incapable of laying any of this at the feet of a Democrat president who has run this government for seven full years.

An Assessment of Foreign Policy

Some presidents have struggled with domestic policy but have had significant achievements in the foreign policy realm. Barack Obama is not one of those presidents. Barack Obama's foreign policy is exemplified by:
  • A vague, inconsistent strategy that has been demonstrably ineffective and incoherent. The strategy, when one can be discerned, is often driven by what the Obama administration doesn't want to do (e.g., use ground troops in the Middle East) rather than what it wants to accomplish in a particular region of the world.
  • A president who is "unable to grasp" the inherent danger of Islamist groups around the world, insulting those who demand a more cogent assessment and withdrawing into a cocoon of 'belief' (ISIS is "contained") that has no basis in fact or reality.
  • The abandonment of long-time allies and the embrace of virulent enemies. Relations with long time Middle East allies (e.g., Israel and moderate Arab countries) have never been more strained while efforts to appease our adversaries (e.g., Iran) have jettisoned common sense and often conflict with the best interests of the United States.
  • Self-imposed red-lines that were crossed by adversaries with no response, resulting in Islamist barbarians who have been allowed to conduct their barbarity without significant intervention.
  • The failure of the Russian "reset" and the Asian "pivot" with escalating aggressiveness on the part of both Russia and China.
  • Increased tension with both China and Russia as each country acts in ways that challenges us and destabilizes regions of the world (e.g., the Ukraine, the South China sea).
  • The Russian annexation of the Crimea with no meaningful response form this president.
  • Sponsorship of an attack on and destabilization of Libya that ultimately led to Libya as a failed state and home for Islamic terrorists of all types.
  • The Russian-Iranian armed takeover of Syria with the explicit intent of controlling the country and projecting increasing influence in the Middle East. The entry of Cuban military into the mix.
  • Chaos in the Ukraine with no meaningful response from this president. 
  • A gun-running scandal, called "Fast and Furious," in which the Obama's Department of Justice facilitated the transport of automatic weapons to Mexican drug cartel members in a harebrained scheme to trace their usage. The weapons were used to murder many, including a U.S. border patrol agent. The Obama administration stonewalled the investigation.
  • A naive embrace of the "Arab Spring," followed by the advocacy of an overthrow of Egypt's Hosni Mubarek, to be replaced by  the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, a virulent Islamist group that Barack Obama characterized as "moderate."
  • Establishment of an Iranian nuclear "deal" that does not provide for meaningful verification but does provide the world's greatest sponsor of terror (Iran) with a clear path to a nuclear weapon and $150 billion to support its terror activities; a blunder that is so bad it may very well become an enabler for nuclear war.
  • Iran's blatant violations of Obama's "deal" (everything from banned travel to the launch of new medium range missiles) that began within 90 days of the deal's enactment. 
  • Tension with our Arab gulf allies over the Iran deal with the strong likelihood that the deal will precipitate a nuclear arms race in the most unstable region of the world.
  • The acquiescence to a failed state in Yemen after claiming the country was an example of Obama's success in dealing with Islamic terror.
  • The destabilization of Iraq caused by a half-hearted effort to achieve a status of forces agreement, thereby abandoning the country to Iran and Islamist terror groups.
  • The abandonment of Afghanistan to the Taliban.
  • The growth of Iran as a regional hegemon in the Middle East.
  • The spread of Islamism and related terror groups in North and Sub-Saharan Africa 
  • Tension with Egypt, because this president championed the virulently Islamist Muslim Brotherhood to control the country
  • The absolute refusal to name Islamists as the primary driver for worldwide terror. In fact, an absolute refusal to connect Islam and terror in any meaningful way.
  • A consistent attempt to minimize the strategic impact of acts of Islamic terror. Even some Democrats now suggest  that “at times he [Obama] was patronizing, at other times he seemed annoyed and almost dismissive” when asked about the subject.
  • A growing intelligence scandal (now under investigation) in which CIA and DIA reports on Islamic terrorism and ISIS were softened to make the threat look less severe, with a clear implication that such softening was done at the behest of political operatives within the administration.
  • The continuing and grossly dishonest effort to conflate "homegrown" extremist groups (e.g., neo-Nazis or the KKK) with worldwide Islamic terror groups like al Qaeda or ISIS.
  • The swap of a known army deserter, Bowe Bergdahl, for five imprisoned senior Taliban operatives while allowing four U.S nationals to be unjustly imprisoned in Iran with no tangible progress in getting them released, and no attempt to tie their release to the Iran nuclear deal.
  • The purposeful demonization of Israel, our only democratic ally in the Middle East, through subtle innuendo and even worse, borderline anti-Semitic rhetoric from Obama and his spokespeople. 
  • The continuing (albeit futile) coersion of Israel to acquiesce to a "two State solution" when one side (the palestinians) demands the destruction of the other (Israel).
  • The rise of the "JV team"—ISIS, and as a consequence, insight into this president's complete lack of understanding of the threat of Islamist groups in the region and outside it.
  • The utter lack of any effective strategy against the Islamic State (ISIS) including the tacit acquiescense to murder, beheadings, stoning, and other barbaric acts.
  • The minimization of the Islamic terrorist threat (e.g., ISIS is "contained" or al Qaeda is "on the run") followed almost immediately by terrorist acts (e.g., the Paris attacks or the Benghazi attacks) that belie such dishonest, politically motivated claims.
  • The greatest flow of Muslim "migrants" from war-torn Middle Eastern countries into the EU in history, occurring as a consequence of the instability in the Middle East (in no small part due to the poor decisions by this president). Elements in this migration may very well be a quiet strategy to seed Europe with even more Islamists who pose as immigrants.
It is true that some failures noted above would have happened even if Barack Obama were not president. But it is equally true that this president has made decisions that have exacerbated many of the events noted and/or has responded to each of these events weakly, ineffectively, or both. As a consequence of his feckless foreign policy overall, the United States projects weakness that opens the door to worrisome actions by Russia, China, Iran, radical Islamist groups, and other adversaries.

Overall Assessment

In the first two sections of this seven year assessment of Barack Obama's presidency, I discussed both domestic and foreign policy. Now it's time to provide a general assessment, taking it all into account.

Most competent people, even those without significant executive experience, learn on the job, adjusting their decisions and behavior going forward based on earlier results and an honest personal appraisal of their decisions and actions. Barack Obama came into office with little executive experience, and it appears, little inclination to learn on the job. He has spent almost 84 months as president, but from an experiential point of view, it appears that he has had one month of experience repeated 84 times.

Obama is a man whose ideology might be acceptable were he a run-of-the-mill activist or a college professor. But the President of the United States must sometimes set aside ideology to do what is in the best interests of the country he leads. Obama has refused to do so, and as a result, he has jettisoned pragmatism, abandoned any attempt to take counsel from or even consider the ideas of his political opposition, and pin-balled from failed policy to failed policy. He has surrounded himself with a Team of 2s, people of like-minded ideology who reinforce, rather than redirect the many, many bad decisions that have emanated from his office.

This administration and the man who leads it have done significant damage to our country. It's too early to determine whether the damage can be undone, but it's safe to say that Barack Obama and his administration have eroded our trust in the honesty, competence, and ethics of those who lead us.

Back in late September, 2015, Noah Rothman wrote:
Obama’s promise was to be a transformative figure, his supporters averred. He would reverse a suspiciously colonialist Bush-era foreign policy, deliver the country into a post-racial period, and restore America’s faith in the power of collectivism and the righteous efficacy of government. As the winter of the Obama presidency approaches, it seems beyond dispute that this presidency has robbed Americans of what remaining faith they had in the value of collective action. The power of massive governmental programs to effect positive change is, at best, dubious. The tragedy of it all is that cynicism has replaced shock when the latest scandalous revelations hit the newsstands. That’s dangerous. The expectation of corruption is a condition that saps a nation’s faith in the virtue of self-governance. It is this kind of contempt for public institutions that leads republics to ruin.
Personally, I have never felt less confident in the federal government. Its incompetence and intrusiveness is bolstered by duplicitous politicians and self-aggrandizing bureaucrats (from both parties) who protect its continual spread with excuses and lies. Barack Obama sits at the tip of the big intrusive government (BIG) pyramid. It has been his goal to grow government. In so doing, he has increased dependency, stifled economic growth, and weakened the United States around the world. Early in his presidency, he promised to make our country respected throughout the world. Instead, he and his Team of 2s have made us a laughingstock.

Barack Obama is the worst president in my lifetime and arguably, the worst president in the history of the United States. A winning smile, an ability to read a teleprompter with natural intonation, and the obvious fact that Obama is the first African American president, do absolutely nothing to change my assessment of the man, his lack of accomplishment, or the potentially irreparable damage he has done.

Is there any good that can come out of Barack Obama's presidency? It's hard to say. Some good can be derived from the Obama era if the American people learn from it. But what, exactly, is there to learn?

Those of us who were on the record opposing Barack Obama in 2008 had a long list of solid reasons for doing so. Caught up in what can only be called mass hysteria, few voters listened. But I suspect that the majority of those who opposed Obama's election never in their wildest dreams believed that a president could do so much damage on both the domestic and foreign policy fronts in the relatively short span of seven years.

Here's what we can learn: Ideologically driven decision making, coupled with lack of executive experience, coupled with no skill in team building (the Team of 2s), coupled with an inability to adapt and change course, coupled with a hyper-partisan world view that rejects meaningful negotiation and demonizes opponents, all coupled with a copious dose of hubris—leads to ruin.

If the voting public learns that lesson as a result of the Obama presidency, some good will come out of it. If they vote accordingly in 2016, more good will come out of it. But if American voters refuse to learn the lessons that this president has inadvertently taught us all, choosing instead to continue Obama's failed domestic and foreign policies under a political party that allowed him to do great damage, our country will reach a point of no recovery and will experience a long and often painful decline.  Time will tell.