While it cannot be denied that President Obama has been the victim of sharply partisan and often unusually virulent criticism from Republican politicians and right-wing talk show hosts, it is also undeniable that he has failed to get his arms around some of the major problems confronting America.
This is not to say those problems began with him or that others would or could have done a more effective job. But it is to say that by any measure he has simply not successfully addressed them, and in some cases plainly made them worse.
The second Iraq war was certainly not something of President Obama’s making. But horrific death and destruction are rampant in Iraq and it seems a takeover by a savage Sunni insurgency – with the prospect of the country becoming a safe haven for terrorists bent on targeting the U.S. and the West – is imminent.
Perhaps the Shiite-Sunni rift made this state of affairs inevitable. But Mr. Obama didn’t provide any answers. Indeed, he no doubt made matters worse by setting an arbitrary date for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq; the Sunnis reportedly began their war preparations soon after the withdrawal date became public. Nor does the president’s dithering over what to do to stem the Sunni onslaught provide any encouragement.
The arbitrary French and British mapmaking after World War I that resulted in the creation of new Arab states and that established boundaries in most of the Arab world while ignoring all-important national, cultural and religious differences, required dictators to hold warring factions together. The emergence of an Arab Spring was inevitable. Yet under President Obama, the U.S. has played virtually no role in that process. Think Syria. Think Egypt.
It was a foregone conclusion that Iran would seek regional supremacy in the Gulf area, and that its drive for nuclear weapons capability would, if successful, create an existential threat to Israel. Yet the president’s familiar refrain that military action is still on the table is rather hollow given his obsession with continuing negotiations with Iran – negotiations characterized by Iran’s public mocking of the U.S.; Mr. Obama’s softening of sanctions in advance of a deal; and the administration ignoring its own “red lines.” Can anyone honestly say the Iran nuclear weapons issue is any closer to a satisfactory resolution?
Perhaps even more significantly, Mr. Obama seems at a loss on how to address Russia’s not unexpected efforts to reclaim the glory days of the Soviet Union and China’s moves to capitalize on its growing economic and military strength. Does anyone think the president has a formula to deal with Russian and Chinese land grabs? What are we to make of his laughable call for those countries to play by modern rules of fairness and abandon 19th century notions of territorial acquisition through military seizure?
America’s inability to overcome the Chinese in the Korean War and the North Vietnamese in the Vietnam War despite overwhelming military superiority meant the U.S. needed to shift from a strategy based on set battles to one centered around confronting insurgency-like challenges. President Obama has not come up with an effective approach in that regard.
To be fair, neither did any of his predecessors in the Oval Office, but he’s the incumbent and it is on his watch that lack of respect for the U.S. has reached previously unimaginable levels. Does anyone really feel the need to take the U.S. seriously anymore?
Finally, President Obama has squandered any cache the U.S. may have had in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute by picking fights with Prime Minister Netanyahu and convincing the Palestinians he could wrench concessions from Israel. No wonder any talk of Secretary of State Kerry resuming his rambles between Jerusalem and Ramallah is met these days with nothing more than embarrassed silence.