Obama: Nous n’avons pas encore de stratégie (Inaction also has its price)
C’est un terrible avantage de n’avoir rien fait, mais il ne faut pas en abuser. Rivarol
The truth of the matter is that it’s a big world out there, and that as indispensable as we are to try to lead it, there’s still going to be tragedies out there, and there are going to be conflicts, and our job is to make sure to project what’s right, what’s just, and, you know, that we’re building coalitions of like-minded countries and partners in order to advance not only our core security interests, but also the interests of the world as a whole.Obama
Il faut que je revienne sur un aspect de la conférence d’hier qui a attiré l’attention. Le président assume pleinement sa décision prise hier… de porter son costume d’été à la conférence de presse.Josh Earnes (porte-parole de la Maison Blanche)
Barack Obama est un amateur L’économie est une catastrophe (…) Les États-Unis ont perdu leur triple A. (…) Il ne sait pas ce que c’est que d’être président. (…) C’est un incompétent. Bill Clinton
Au sénat de l’état d’Illinois, le sénateur Obama a voté 130 fois ‘present’. Ce n’est pas oui , ce n’est pas non. C’est peut-être. (…) Un président ne peut pas voter ‘présent’. Un président ne peut pas choisir les défis qu’il ou elle décidera de relever.Hillary Clinton
Les grandes nations ont besoin de principes directeurs et »ne pas faire de bétises » n’est pas un principe directeur. Hillary Clinton
To announce he had no plan, even if he had a plan, to announce he had no plan does not help the United States of America against ISIS and terrorism throughout the globe. My father . . . didn’t announce what he was going to do. He just, in the middle of the night, sent a couple of planes into Tripoli, took out a couple of the homes real quick and Gadhafi stayed quiet for 20-plus years.Michael Reagan
The real conundrum is why the president seems so compelled to take both sides of every issue, encouraging voters to project whatever they want on him, and hoping they won’t realize which hand is holding the rabbit. That a large section of the country views him as a socialist while many in his own party are concluding that he does not share their values speaks volumes — but not the volumes his advisers are selling: that if you make both the right and left mad, you must be doing something right. As a practicing psychologist with more than 25 years of experience, I will resist the temptation to diagnose at a distance, but as a scientist and strategic consultant I will venture some hypotheses. The most charitable explanation is that he and his advisers have succumbed to a view of electoral success to which many Democrats succumb — that “centrist” voters like “centrist” politicians. Unfortunately, reality is more complicated. Centrist voters prefer honest politicians who help them solve their problems. A second possibility is that he is simply not up to the task by virtue of his lack of experience and a character defect that might not have been so debilitating at some other time in history. Those of us who were bewitched by his eloquence on the campaign trail chose to ignore some disquieting aspects of his biography: that he had accomplished very little before he ran for president, having never run a business or a state; that he had a singularly unremarkable career as a law professor, publishing nothing in 12 years at the University of Chicago other than an autobiography; and that, before joining the United States Senate, he had voted « present » (instead of « yea » or « nay ») 130 times, sometimes dodging difficult issues. Drew Westen (Emory university, Aug. 2011)
Le manque de soutien des Américains aux Français est, en vérité, la marque de fabrique de Barack Obama (…) Le Président américain avait trouvé une stratégie d’évitement pour ne pas intervenir, à condition que le gouvernement syrien renonce à son arsenal chimique : toutes les autres formes d’assassinat de masse restaient donc tolérées par le Président américain. Un million de morts et deux millions de réfugiés plus tard n’empêchent apparemment pas Barack Obama de dormir la nuit : il a d’autres priorités, tel lutter contre un hypothétique déréglement du climat ou faire fonctionner une assurance maladie, moralement juste et pratiquement dysfonctionnelle. On connaît les arguments pour ne pas intervenir en Syrie : il serait difficile de distinguer les bons et les mauvais Syriens, les démocrates authentiques et les islamistes cachés. Mais ce n’est pas l’analyse du sénateur John Mc Cain, plus compétent qu’Obama sur le sujet : lui réclame, en vain, que les États-Unis arment décemment les milices qui se battent sur les deux fronts, hostiles au régime de Assad et aux Islamistes soutenus par l’Iran. Par ailleurs, se laver les mains face au massacre des civils, comme les Occidentaux le firent naguère au Rwanda – et longtemps en Bosnie et au Kosovo – n’est jamais défendable. Il est parfaitement possible, aujourd’hui encore en Syrie, d’interdire le ciel aux avions de Assad qui bombardent les civils, de créer des couloirs humanitaires pour évacuer les civils, d’instaurer des zones de sécurité humanitaire. C’est ce que Obama refuse obstinément à Hollande. Comment expliquer cette obstination et cette indifférence d’Obama : ne regarde-t-il pas la télévision ? Il faut en conclure qu’il s’est installé dans un personnage, celui du Président pacifiste, celui qui aura retiré l’armée américaine d’Irak, bientôt d’Afghanistan et ne l’engagera sur aucun autre terrain d’opérations. Obama ignorerait-il qu’il existe des « guerres justes » ? Des guerres que l’on ne choisit pas et qu’il faut tout de même livrer, parce que le pacifisme, passé un certain seuil, devient meurtrier. « À quoi sert-il d’entretenir une si grande armée, si ce n’est pas pour s’en servir ? », avait demandé Madeleine Albright, Secrétaire d’État de Bill Clinton, au Général Colin Powell, un militaire notoirement frileux. Les États-Unis sont le gendarme du monde, la seule puissance qui compte : les armées russes et chinoises, par comparaison, sont des nains. On posera donc à Obama – si on le pouvait – la même question que celle de Madeleine Albright : « À quoi sert l’armée américaine et à quoi sert le Président Obama ? ». Il est tout de même paradoxal que Hollande, un désastre en politique intérieure, pourrait passer dans l’Histoire comme celui qui aura dit Non à la barbarie et Barack Obama, Prix Nobel de la Paix, pour celui qui se sera couché devant les Barbares.Guy Sorman
Le Président Barack Obama est désormais plus populaire en Europe qu’aux États-Unis. De ce côté-ci de l’Atlantique, nous restons fascinés par l’élégance, le cool et l’aura du premier couple Noir à la Maison Blanche, mais nous n’en subissons pas, pas directement, les retombées politiques. Le désamour des Américains ne s’explique pas que par l’usure du pouvoir – après six ans de mandat – mais par une déception certaine, un écart béant entre la promesse initiale et des résultats insaisissables. (…) Quand le Président n’est pas modeste – et Obama n’est pas modeste, contrairement à Ronald Reagan qui le fut – les Américains et le reste du monde comprennent d’autant plus mal le gouffre entre des annonces tonitruantes et des résultats insignifiants. L’extension de l’assurance maladie obligatoire à tous les Américains qui devait être une révolution sociale, a ainsi accouché d’une souris bureaucratique parce qu’Obama avait promis à tous ce qu’il ne pouvait pas garantir : les Américains à revenus modestes sont un peu moins inégaux face à la maladie, mais ils le restent néanmoins. La sortie de crise, après le krach financier de 2008, était l’autre priorité intérieure de Barack Obama : la croissance est restaurée, le plein emploi l’est quasiment, mais les Américains n’en sont pas trop reconnaissants au Président. De fait, le mérite en revient aux entrepreneurs innovants, à la politique monétaire de la Banque fédérale (peut-être) mais Obama a plutôt retardé la reprise par des augmentations d’impôts, par des réglementations nouvelles (pour protéger la Nature), par ses tergiversations sur l’exploitation des ressources énergétiques, du gaz de schiste en particulier. Peu versé en économie, Barack Obama est certainement le plus anti-capitaliste de tous les présidents américains dans une société dont le capitalisme reste le moteur incontesté sauf par quelques universitaires socialistes et marginaux. Il reste la politique étrangère où le Président dispose, au contraire de l’économie et des affaires sociales (qui sont plutôt de compétence locale), d’une grande latitude. Élu, il le rappelle incessamment, pour terminer deux guerres et ramener les troupes « à la maison », il a tenu parole. Il a également reflété le sentiment qui régnait au début de son mandat, d’une lassitude des Américains envers les aventures extérieures. Mais en six ans, les circonstances ont profondément changé, en Mer de Chine, au Proche-Orient, en Ukraine, Obama n’en a tenu aucun compte, comme prisonnier de son image pacifiste, et décidé à le rester alors même que son pacifisme est interprété par tous les ennemis de la démocratie comme un aveu de pusillanimité. Du pacifisme, Obama aura basculé dans l’irréalisme, dénoncé par Hillary Clinton : l’incapacité idéologique d’Obama de reconnaître que l’armée américaine, nolens volens, est le policier du monde. Le policier peut s’avérer maladroit – George Bush le fut – habile comme l’avait démontré Ronald Reagan, médiocre comme le fut Bill Clinton, mais il ne peut pas s’abstenir. S’il renonce, à la Obama, le Djihad conquiert, la Russie annexe, la Chine menace. La majorité des Américains, les déçus de l’Obamania ont aujourd’hui compris que le pacifiste avait les mains blanches mais qu’il n’avait pas de mains. (…) Obama, au total, n’est peut-être qu’une image virtuelle : il a été élu sur une photo retouchée, la sienne, sur un slogan (Yes we can), sur un mythe (la réconciliation des peuples, des civilisations), sur une absence de doctrine caractéristique de sa génération pour qui tout est l’équivalent de rien, et grâce à l’influence décisive des réseaux sociaux. Barack Obama est de notre temps, un reflet de l’époque : ce qui le condamne à l’insuffisance. Guy Sorman
With Obama, there was always more than a whiff of the overconfident dilettante, so sure of his powers that he could remain supremely comfortable with his own ignorance. His express-elevator ascent from Illinois state senator to U.S. president in the space of just four years didn’t allow much time for maturation or reflection, either. Obama really is, as Bill Clinton is supposed to have said of him, “an amateur.” When it comes to the execution of policy, it shows. And yet this view also sells Obama short. It should be obvious, but bears repeating, that it is no mean feat to be elected, and reelected, president, whatever other advantages Obama might have enjoyed in his races. In interviews and press conferences, Obama is often verbose and generally self-serving, but he’s also, for the most part, conversant with the issues. (…) The myth of Obama’s brilliance paradoxically obscures the fact that he’s no fool. The point is especially important to note because the failure of Obama’s foreign policy is not, ultimately, a reflection of his character or IQ. It is the consequence of an ideology. That ideology is what now goes by the name of progressivism, which has effectively been the dominant (if often disavowed) view of the Democratic Party since George McGovern ran on a “Come Home, America” platform in 1972—and got 37.5 percent of the popular vote. Progressivism believes that the United States must lead internationally by example (especially when it comes to nuclear-arms control); that the U.S. is as much the sinner as it is the sinned against when it comes to our adversaries (remember Mosaddegh?); and that the American interest is best served when it is merged with, or subsumed by, the global interest (ideally in the form of a UN resolution). (…) Above all, progressivism believes that the United States is a country that, in nearly every respect, treads too heavily on the Earth: environmentally, ideologically, militarily, and geopolitically. The goal, therefore, is to reduce America’s footprint; to “retrench,” as the administration would like to think of it, or to retreat, as it might more accurately be called. (…) Little wonder that leaders in Tehran, Beijing, and Moscow quickly understood that, with Obama in the White House, they had a rare opportunity to reshape and revise regional arrangements in a manner more to their liking. Iran is doing so today in southern Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria. Beijing is extending its reach in the South and East China Sea. Russia is intervening in Ukraine. It’s no accident that, while acting independently from one another, they are all acting now. The next American president might not be so cavalier about challenges to the global status quo, or about enforcing his (or her) own red lines. Better to move while they can. (…) In a prescient 2004 essay in Foreign Policy, the historian Niall Ferguson warned that “the alternative to [American] unipolarity” would not be some kind of reasonably tolerable world order. It would, he said, “be apolarity—a global vacuum of power.” “If the United States retreats from global hegemony—its fragile self-image dented by minor setbacks on the imperial frontier—its critics at home and abroad must not pretend that they are ushering in a new era of multipolar harmony, or even a return to the good old balance of power. Be careful what you wish for.” (…) Two years ago, Obama was considered a foreign-policy success story. Not many people entertain that illusion now; the tide of public opinion, until recently so dull and vociferous in its opposition to “neocons,” is beginning to shift as Americans understand that a policy of inaction also has its price.Bret Stephens
Attention: une incompétence peut en cacher une autre !
Alors que, des deux côtés de l’Atlantique et chacun à sa manière, ceux qui nous servent de gouvernants semblent rivaliser de vacuité …
Ou un président américain dont l’économie semble contre tous ses efforts finalement repartie mais qui, face à la menace djihadiste et après six ans au pouvoir, reconnait qu’il n’a « pas encore de stratégie » …
Comment ne pas repenser à l’incroyable décalage avec les espoirssoulevés par leurs élections après des prédécesseurs tant honnis et critiqués mais dont ils ont fini par reprendre la plupart des mesures ?
Alors que, comme le rappelle l’éditorialiste Bret Stephens pour le cas américain, on a là le résultat le plus pur d’une idéologie …
A savoir, face à un monde qui a plus que jamais besoin de souplesse au niveau économique mais de fermeté au niveau international, l’idéologie progressiste de l’interventionnisme forcené en politique intérieure et du retrait et des bons sentiments en politique extérieure …
In July, after Germany trounced Brazil 7–1 in the semifinal match of the World Cup—including a first-half stretch in which the Brazilian soccer squad gave up an astonishing five goals in 19 minutes—a sports commentator wrote: “This was not a team losing. It was a dream dying.” These words could equally describe what has become of Barack Obama’s foreign policy since his second inauguration. The president, according to the infatuated view of his political aides and media flatterers, was supposed to be playing o jogo bonito, the beautiful game—ending wars, pressing resets, pursuing pivots, and restoring America’s good name abroad.
Instead, he crumbled.
As I write, the foreign policy of the United States is in a state of unprecedented disarray. In some cases, failed policy has given way to an absence of policy. So it is in Libya, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and, at least until recently, Ukraine. In other cases the president has doubled down on failed policy—extending nuclear negotiations with Iran; announcing the full withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
Sometimes the administration has been the victim of events, such as Edward Snowden’s espionage, it made worse through bureaucratic fumbling and feckless administrative fixes. At other times the wounds have been self-inflicted: the espionage scandal in Germany (when it was learned that the United States had continued to spy on our ally despite prior revelations of the NSA’s eavesdropping on Chancellor Angela Merkel); the repeated declaration that “core al-Qaeda” was “on a path to defeat”; the prisoner swap with the Taliban that obtained Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl’s release.
Often the damage has been vivid, as in the collapse of the Israel–Palestinian talks in April followed by the war in Gaza. More frequently it can be heard in the whispered remarks of our allies. “The Polish-American alliance is worthless, even harmful, as it gives Poland a false sense of security,” Radek Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister and once one of its most reliably pro-American politicians, was overheard saying in June. “It’s bullshit.”
This is far from an exhaustive list. But it’s one that, at last, people have begun to notice. Foreign policy, considered a political strength of the president in his first term, has become a liability. In June, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that Americans disapproved of his handling of foreign affairs by a 57-to-37 percent ratio. Overseas, dismay with Obama mounts. Among Germans, who greeted the future president as a near-messiah when he spoke in Berlin in the summer of 2008, his approval rating fell to 43 percent in late 2013, from 88 percent in 2010. In Egypt, another country the president went out of his way to woo, he has accomplished the unlikely feat of making himself more unpopular than George W. Bush. In Israel, political leaders and commentators from across the political spectrum are united in their disdain for the administration. “The Obama administration proved once again that it is the best friend of its enemies, and the biggest enemy of its friends,” the center-left Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit noted in late July. It’s an observation being echoed by policymakers from Tokyo to Taipei to Tallinn.
But perhaps the most telling indicator is the collapsing confidence in the president among the Democratic-leaning foreign-policy elite in the United States. “Under Obama, the United States has suffered some real reputational damage,” admitted Washington Post columnist David Ignatius in May, adding: “I say this as someone who sympathizes with many of Obama’s foreign-policy goals.” Hillary Clinton, the president’s once loyal secretary of state, offered in early August that “great nations need organizing principles, and ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.” Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s national-security adviser, warned in July that “we are losing control of our ability at the highest levels of dealing with challenges that, increasingly, many of us recognize as fundamental to our well-being.” The United States, he added, was “increasingly devoid of strategic will and a sense of direction.”
And there was this: “What kind of figure will Obama cut at Omaha?” Roger Cohen, the reliably liberal New York Times columnist, wondered on the eve of the 70th D-Day commemoration at Omaha Beach in June. “I wish I could say he will cut a convincing figure.” But, he continued:
Obama at bloody Omaha, in the sixth year of his presidency, falls short at a time when his aides have been defining the cornerstone of his foreign policy as: “Don’t do stupid stuff.”… He falls short at a time when Syria bleeds more than three years into the uprising… Obama falls short at a time when Vladimir Putin, emboldened by that Syrian retreat and the perception of American weakness, has annexed Crimea… Obama falls short as Putin’s Russian surrogates in eastern Ukraine wreak havoc… He falls short, also, when the Egyptian dreams of liberty and pluralism that arose in Tahrir square have given way to the landslide victory of a former general in an “election” only a little less grotesque than Assad’s in Syria.
Are we all neoconservatives again? Not quite—or at least not yet. Even as the evidence of the failure of Obama’s foreign policy abounds, the causes of that failure remain in dispute. Has the world simply become an impossibly complex place, beyond the reach of any American president to shape or master? Is the problem the president himself, a man who seems to have lost interest in the responsibilities (though not yet the perquisites) of his office? Or are we witnessing the consequences of foreign-policy progressivism, the worldview Obama brought with him to the White House and that he has, for the most part, consistently and even conscientiously championed?
Not surprisingly, many of the president’s supporters are attracted to the first explanation.
In this reading, the U.S. no longer enjoys its previous geopolitical advantages over militarily dependent and diplomatically pliant allies, or against inherently weaker and relatively predictable adversaries. On the contrary, our economic supremacy is fading and we may be in long-term decline. Our adversaries are increasingly able to confront us asymmetrically, imposing high costs on us without incurring significant costs for themselves. Limited budgetary resources require us to make “hard choices” about the balance between international and domestic priorities. What’s more, the sour experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan—another bad Bush legacy—limit Obama’s options, because Americans have made it plain that they are in no mood to intervene in places such as Syria or over conflicts such as the one in Ukraine. As the president told an interviewer in 2013,“I am more mindful probably than most of not only our incredible strengths and capabilities but also our limitations.”
It would be wrong to dismiss this argument out of hand. Can Obama fairly be blamed for the quarter-century of misgovernance in Kiev that created conditions in which Russian separatists in Crimea and Donetsk would flourish? Was there anything he could realistically have done to prevent Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, or to steer Egyptian politics in the tumultuous years that followed? Is it his fault that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pursued vendettas against Iraq’s Sunni leaders, creating the political conditions for al-Qaeda’s resurgence, or that Hamid Karzai has proved to be such a disappointing leader for Afghanistan? If the price of better relations with Pakistan was ending the program of drone strikes, was that a price worth paying?
Then again, every president confronts his share of apparently intractable dilemmas. The test of a successful presidency is whether it can avoid being trapped and defined by them. Did Obama inherit anything worse than what Franklin Roosevelt got from Herbert Hoover (the Great Depression) or Richard Nixon from Lyndon Johnson (the war in Vietnam and the social meltdown of the late ’60s) or Ronald Reagan from Jimmy Carter (stagflation, the ayatollahs, the Soviet Union on the march)?
If anything, the international situation Obama faced when he assumed the presidency was, in many respects, relatively auspicious. Despite the financial crisis and the recession that followed, never since John F. Kennedy has an American president assumed high office with so much global goodwill. The war in Iraq, which had done so much to bedevil Bush’s presidency, had been won thanks to a military strategy Obama had, as a senator, flatly opposed. For the war in Afghanistan, there was broad bipartisan support for large troop increases. Not even six months into his presidency, Obama was handed a potential strategic game changer when a stolen election in Iran led to a massive popular uprising that, had it succeeded, could have simultaneously ended the Islamic Republic and resolved the nuclear crisis. He was handed another would-be game changer in early 2011, when the initially peaceful uprising in Syria offered an opportunity, at relatively little cost to the U.S., to depose an anti-American dictator and sever the main link between Iran and its terrorist proxies in Lebanon and Gaza.
Incredibly, Obama squandered every single one of these opportunities. An early and telling turning point came in 2009, when, as part of the Russian reset, the administration abruptly cancelled plans—laboriously negotiated by the Bush administration, and agreed to at considerable political risk by governments in Warsaw and Prague—to deploy ballistic-missile defenses to Poland and the Czech Republic. “We heard through the media,” was how Witold Waszczykowski, the deputy head of Poland’s national-security team, described the administration’s consultation process. Adding unwitting insult to gratuitous injury, the announcement came on the 70th anniversary of the Nazi-Soviet pact, a stark reminder that Poland could never entrust its security to the guarantees of great powers.
And this was just the beginning. Relations would soon sour with France, as then-President Nicolas Sarkozy openly mocked Obama’s fantasies of nuclear disarmament. “Est-il faible?”—“Is he weak?”—the French president was reported to have wondered aloud after witnessing Obama’s performance at his first G20 summit in April 2009. Then relations would sour with Germany: A biography of Angela Merkel by Stefan Kornelius quotes her as telling then-British Prime Minister Gordon Brown that she found Obama “so peculiar, so unapproachable, so lacking in warmth.” Next was Saudi Arabia: U.S. policy toward Syria, the Kingdom’s Prince Turki al-Faisal would tell an audience in London, “would be funny if it were not so blatantly perfidious, and designed not only to give Mr. Obama an opportunity to back down, but also to help Assad butcher his people.” Canada—Canada!—would be disappointed. “We can’t continue in this state of limbo,” complained foreign minister John Baird about the administration’s endless delays and prevarications over approving the Keystone XL pipeline.
And there was Israel: “We thought it would be the United States that would lead the campaign against Iran,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon noted in March in a speech at Tel Aviv University. Instead, Obama was “showing weakness,” he added. “Therefore, on this matter, we have to behave as though we have nobody to look out for us but ourselves.”
This was quite a list of falling-outs. Still, most such differences can usually be finessed or patched up with a bit of diplomacy. Not so Obama’s failures when it came to consolidating America’s hard-won gains in Iraq, or advocating America’s democratic values in Iran, or pursuing his own oft-stated goal in Afghanistan—“the war that has to be won,” as he was fond of saying when he was running for the presidency in 2008. As for Syria, perhaps the most devastating assessment was offered by Robert Ford, who had been Obama’s man in Damascus in the days when Bashar al-Assad was dining with John Kerry and being touted by Hillary Clinton as a “reformer.”
“I was no longer in a position where I felt I could defend the American policy,” Ford told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in June, explaining his decision to resign from government. “There really is nothing we can point to that’s been very successful in our policy except the removal of about 93 percent of some of Assad’s chemical materials. But now he’s using chlorine gas against his opponents.”
None of these fiascos— for brevity’s sake, I’m deliberately setting to one side the illusory pivot to Asia, the misbegotten Russian Reset, the mishandled Palestinian–Israeli talks, the stillborn Geneva conferences on Syria, the catastrophic interim agreement with Iran, the de facto death of the U.S. free-trade agenda, the overhyped opening to Burma, the orphaned victory in Libya, the poisoned relationship with Egypt, and the disastrous cuts to the Defense budget—can be explained away as a matter of tough geopolitical luck. Where, then, does the source of failure lie?
For those disposed to be ideologically sympathetic to the administration, it comes down to the personality of the president. He is, they say, too distant, not enough of a schmoozer, doesn’t forge the close personal relationships of the kind that Bush had with Tony Blair, or Clinton with Helmut Kohl, or Reagan with Margaret Thatcher. Also, he’s too professorial, too rational, too prudent: He thinks that foreign-policy success is a matter of hitting “singles and doubles,” as he put it on a recent visit to Asia, when what Americans want is for the president to hit home runs (or at least point toward the lights).
Alternatively, perhaps he’s too political: “The president had a truly disturbing habit of funneling major foreign-policy decisions through a small cabal of relatively inexperienced White House advisers whose turf was strictly politics,” recalled Vali Nasr, the academic who served as a State Department aide early in Obama’s first term. “Their primary concern was how any action in Afghanistan or the Middle East would play out on the nightly news.”
Another theory: The president is simply disconnected from events, indifferent to the details of governance, incompetent in the execution of policy. Last fall, following the disastrous rollout of the ObamaCare website, it emerged that the president had not had a single private meeting with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for more than three years—an indicator, given that this was his highest political priority, of the quality of attention he was giving lesser issues. It also turned out that the president had gone for nearly five years without knowing that the National Security Agency was bugging the phones of foreign leaders. In a revealing portrait from October 2013 in the New York Times, the president was described as “impatient and disengaged” during White House debates about Syria, “sometimes scrolling through messages on his BlackBerry or slouching and chewing gum.” The president is also known to have complained to aides about what he called “decision fatigue,” demanding memos where he can check “agree,” “disagree,” or “let’s discuss.”
The most devastating testimony of all came from Obama himself. Prepping for an interview on 60 Minutes after a late-night dinner in Italy, Politico reported, the president complained about his hard lot: “Just last night I was talking about life and art, big interesting things, and now we’re back to the minuscule things on politics”—those “minuscule things” being the crisis in Ukraine and his own health-care plan. Then there was this detail, about a presidential excursion in March as the crisis in Crimea was unfolding:
At a leisurely dinner with friends on that Saturday night, Obama expressed no regrets about the mini-vacation at the lush Ocean Reef Club resort or the publicity surrounding the trip, which reportedly required planes, five helicopters, more than 50 Secret Service agents and airspace restrictions over South Florida. After a difficult few weeks dealing with an international crisis, he relished the break, which included two rounds of golf.
Even allowing that presidents can get work done on the fairway and make executive decisions between fundraising events (Obama did 321 of them in his first term, according to the Washington Post, as compared with 173 for George W. Bush’s first four years and 80 for Reagan’s), there is still the reality that the American presidency remains a full-time job that requires something more than glancing attention. Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, Germany’s former defense minister, described Obama as “probably the most detached President [in] decades.” William Galston, my (liberal) fellow columnist at the Wall Street Journal and a former aide to Bill Clinton, has noted that “this president doesn’t seem to be as curious about the processes of government—whether the legislative process or the implementation process or the administrative or bureaucratic process.”
Even the ordinarily sympathetic Washington press corps has cottoned to the truth about Obama’s style of management. “Former Obama administration officials,” the Washington Post’s Scott Wilson reported last year, “said the president’s inattention to detail has been a frequent source of frustration, leading in some cases to reversals of diplomatic initiatives and other efforts that had been underway for months.”
Should any of this have come as a surprise? Probably not: With Obama, there was always more than a whiff of the overconfident dilettante, so sure of his powers that he could remain supremely comfortable with his own ignorance. His express-elevator ascent from Illinois state senator to U.S. president in the space of just four years didn’t allow much time for maturation or reflection, either. Obama really is, as Bill Clinton is supposed to have said of him, “an amateur.” When it comes to the execution of policy, it shows.
And yet this view also sells Obama short. It should be obvious, but bears repeating, that it is no mean feat to be elected, and reelected, president, whatever other advantages Obama might have enjoyed in his races. In interviews and press conferences, Obama is often verbose and generally self-serving, but he’s also, for the most part, conversant with the issues. He may not be the second coming of Lincoln that groupies like historians Michael Beschloss (who called Obama “probably the smartest guy ever to become president”) or Robert Dallek (who said Obama’s “political mastery is on par with FDR and LBJ”) made him out to be. But neither is he a Sarah Palin, mouthing artless banalities about this great nation of ours, or a Rick Perry, trying, like Otto from A Fish Called Wanda, to remember the middle part. The myth of Obama’s brilliance paradoxically obscures the fact that he’s no fool. The point is especially important to note because the failure of Obama’s foreign policy is not, ultimately, a reflection of his character or IQ. It is the consequence of an ideology.
That ideology is what now goes by the name of progressivism, which has effectively been the dominant (if often disavowed) view of the Democratic Party since George McGovern ran on a “Come Home, America” platform in 1972—and got 37.5 percent of the popular vote. Progressivism believes that the United States must lead internationally by example (especially when it comes to nuclear-arms control); that the U.S. is as much the sinner as it is the sinned against when it comes to our adversaries (remember Mosaddegh?); and that the American interest is best served when it is merged with, or subsumed by, the global interest (ideally in the form of a UN resolution).
“The truth of the matter is that it’s a big world out there, and that as indispensable as we are to try to lead it, there’s still going to be tragedies out there, and there are going to be conflicts, and our job is to make sure to project what’s right, what’s just, and, you know, that we’re building coalitions of like-minded countries and partners in order to advance not only our core security interests, but also the interests of the world as a whole.” Thus did Obama describe his global outlook in an August 2014 press conference.
Above all, progressivism believes that the United States is a country that, in nearly every respect, treads too heavily on the Earth: environmentally, ideologically, militarily, and geopolitically. The goal, therefore, is to reduce America’s footprint; to “retrench,” as the administration would like to think of it, or to retreat, as it might more accurately be called.
To what end? “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America,” Obama said on the eve of his election in 2008. If Obama-Care is anything to go by, that fundamental transformation involves a vast expansion of the entitlement state; the growth of federal administrative power at the expense of Congress and the states; the further subordination of private enterprise to government regulation—and, crucially, the end of Pax Americana in favor of some new global dispensation, perhaps UN-led, in which America would cease to be the natural leader and would become instead the largest net contributor. The phrase “nation-building at home” captures the totality of the progressive ambition. Not only does it mean an end to nation-building exercises abroad, but it suggests that an exercise typically attempted on failed states must be put to use on what progressives sometimes see as the biggest failed state of all: the United States.
That, at any rate, is the theory. Practice has proved to be a different story. If the United States were to go into retreat, to turn inward for the sake of building some new social democracy, just what would take the place of Pax Americana abroad? On this point, Obama has struggled to give an answer. “People are anxious,” he acknowledged at a fundraiser in Seattle in July:
Now, some of that has to do with some big challenges overseas…Part of people’s concern is just the sense that around the world the old order isn’t holding and we’re not quite yet to where we need to be in terms of a new order that’s based on a different set of principles, that’s based on a sense of common humanity, that’s based on economies that work for all people.
A new order that’s based on a different set of principles: Just what could that new order be? In the absence of a single dominant power, capable and willing to protect its friends and deter its foes, there are three conceivable models of global organization. First, a traditional balance-of-power system of the kind that briefly flourished in Europe in the 19th century. Second, “collective security” under the supervision of an organization like the League of Nations or the United Nations. Third, the liberal-democratic peace advocated, or predicted, by the likes of Immanuel Kant, Norman Angell, and Francis Fukuyama.
Yet, with the qualified exception of the liberal-democratic model, each of these systems wound up collapsing of its own weight—precisely the reason Dean Acheson, Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, and the other postwar statesmen “present at the creation” understood the necessity of the Truman Doctrine, the Atlantic Alliance, containment, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and all the rest of the institutional and ideological architecture of America’s post–World War II leadership. These were men who knew that isolationism, global-disarmament pledges, international law, or any other principle based on “common humanity” could provide no lasting security against ambitious dictatorships and conniving upstarts. The only check against disorder and anarchy was order and power. The only hope that order and power would be put to the right use was to make sure that a preponderance of power lay in safe, benign, and confident hands.
In 1945 the only hands that fit that description were American. It remains true today—even more so, given the slow-motion economic and strategic collapse of Europe. Yet here was Obama, blithely proposing to substitute Pax Americana with an as-yet-unnamed and undefined formula for the maintenance of global order. Little wonder that leaders in Tehran, Beijing, and Moscow quickly understood that, with Obama in the White House, they had a rare opportunity to reshape and revise regional arrangements in a manner more to their liking. Iran is doing so today in southern Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria. Beijing is extending its reach in the South and East China Sea. Russia is intervening in Ukraine. It’s no accident that, while acting independently from one another, they are all acting now. The next American president might not be so cavalier about challenges to the global status quo, or about enforcing his (or her) own red lines. Better to move while they can.
Then again, the next American president might not have options of the sort that Obama enjoyed when he took office in 2009. By 2017, the U.S. military will be an increasingly hollow force, with the Army as small as it was in 1940, before conscription; a Navy the size it was in 1917, before our entry into World War I; an Air Force flying the oldest—and smallest—fleet of planes in its history; and a nuclear arsenal no larger than it was during the Truman administration.
By 2017, too, the Middle East is likely to have been remade, though exactly how is difficult to say. As I write, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which had seized eastern Syria and most of Anbar Province in Iraq in June, is now encroaching simultaneously into Lebanon and Iraq’s Kurdish regions. It is too soon to tell what kind of nuclear deal the West will strike with Iran—assuming it strikes any deal at all. But after years of prevarication on one side and self-deceit on the other, the likeliest outcomes are that a) Iran will get a bomb; b) Iran will be allowed to remain within a screw’s twist of a bomb; or c) Israel will be forced, at great risk to itself, to go to war to prevent a) or b) because the United States would not do the job. As for Asia and our supposed pivot, a comment this spring by Assistant Secretary of Defense Katrina McFarland could not have been lost on Chinese—or, for that matter, Japanese—ears. “Right now,” she said, “the ‘pivot’ is being looked at again because candidly it can’t happen.” There just aren’t enough ships.
And these are just the predictable consequences of the path we’ve been taking under Obama. What happens if there’s more bad news in store? If Vladimir Putin were to invade one, or all, of the Baltic states tomorrow, there is little short of nuclear war that NATO could do to stop him, and the alliance would stand exposed as the shell it has already become. Or, to take another no-longer-implausible scenario, is it inconceivable that Saudi Arabia, unhappy as it is over the Obama administration’s outreach toward Tehran, might choose to pursue its own nuclear options? The Saudis are already widely believed to own a piece of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal; why not test one of the weapons somewhere in the Saudi desert as a warning shot to Tehran, and perhaps to Washington also?
Or how about this: What if inflation in the United States prompts the Federal Reserve finally to raise interest rates in a major way? What effect would that have on commodity-dependent emerging markets? And what if the crisis in the Eurozone isn’t over at all, and a second deep recession brings a neo-fascist such as Marine Le Pen to power in France? The depressions of the 1920s and ’30s were caused, not least, by America’s original retreat from the world after it soured on international politics and the promise of global democracy. Now Obama is sounding the same retreat, for many of the same reasons, and probably with the same consequences.
In a prescient 2004 essay in Foreign Policy, the historian Niall Ferguson warned that “the alternative to [American] unipolarity” would not be some kind of reasonably tolerable world order. It would, he said, “be apolarity—a global vacuum of power.” “If the United States retreats from global hegemony—its fragile self-image dented by minor setbacks on the imperial frontier—its critics at home and abroad must not pretend that they are ushering in a new era of multipolar harmony, or even a return to the good old balance of power. Be careful what you wish for.”
For nearly 250 years it has been America’s great fortune to have always found just the right leadership in the nick of time. Or perhaps that’s not quite accurate: It has, rather, been our way first to sleepwalk toward crisis and catastrophe, then to rouse ourselves when it is almost too late. As things stand now, by 2017 it will be nearly too late. Who sees a Lincoln, or a Truman, or a Reagan on the horizon?
Still, we should not lose hope. We may be foolish, but our enemies, however aggressive and ill-intended, are objectively weak. We may be a nation in deliberate retreat, but at least we are not—at least not yet—in inexorable decline. Two years ago, Obama was considered a foreign-policy success story. Not many people entertain that illusion now; the tide of public opinion, until recently so dull and vociferous in its opposition to “neocons,” is beginning to shift as Americans understand that a policy of inaction also has its price. Americans are once again prepared to hear the case against retreat. What’s needed are the spokesmen, and spokeswomen, who will make it.
Since I am writing these words on the centenary of the First World War, it seems appropriate to close with a line from the era. At the battle of the Marne, with Germany advancing on Paris, General Ferdinand Foch sent the message that would rally the French army to hold its ground. “My center is yielding. My right is retreating. Situation excellent. I am attacking.” Words to remember and live by in this new era of headlong American retreat.
About the Author
Bret Stephensis the foreign-affairs columnist and deputy editorial-page editor of the Wall Street Journal. In 2013 he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. His first book, America in Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder will be published by Sentinel in November.
Obama’s Endless Vacation
In the 1990s, America had a holiday from history. Today, it has a president on holiday
August 23, 2014
The headline was brutal. “Bam’s Golf War: Prez tees off as Foley’s parents grieve,” read the cover of Thursday’s New York Daily News. Obama’s gaffe was this: He had denounced the beheading of James Foley from a vacation spot in Martha’s Vineyard, then went to the golf course. Seems like he had a great time. Such a great time that he returned to the Farm Neck Golf Club — sorry, membership is full — the next day.
Technically, Obama’s vacation began on August 9. It is scheduled to end on Sunday, August 24. With the exception of a two-day interlude in D.C., it has been two weeks of golf, jazz, biking, beach going, dining out, celebrating, and sniping from critics, not all of them conservative, who are unnerved by the president’s taking time off at a moment of peril.
Attacking the president for vacation is usually the job of the out party. But these days it is the job of all parties. Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, the Islamic State, Ebola, child migrants on the border, racial strife in Ferguson, an American murdered by the caliphate — critics say the president who danced to every song at Ann Jordan’s birthday partyseems remote and aloof from, and even mildly annoyed by, such concerns.
I disagree. Not with the judgment that Obama is detached, dialing it in, contemptuous of events that interfere with his plans. I disagree with the idea that this August has been different, in any meaningful way, from the rest of Obama’s second term. For this president, the distinction between “time off” and “time on” is meaningless. For this president, every day is a vacation. And has been for some time. He is like Cosmo Kramer of Seinfeld. “His whole life is a fantasy camp,” George Costanza says of his friend. “People should plunk down $2,000 to live like him for a week.” Imagine what they would pay to live like Obama.
Uncomfortable with all of the golf on Martha’s Vineyard? It is but a fraction of Obama’s habit. Since 2009, the president has played more than 185 rounds, typically with Wall Street cronies such as Robert Wolf and sports celebrities such as Alonzo Mourning, Tony Kornheiser, and Michael Wilbon. So devoted to golf is Obama that he wears Game Golf, which tracks how well a golfer shoots. Game Golf is not something you wear as a lark. You use it to study and hone your game. The hours on the course are just the start; there are also the hours spent analyzing results at home. Obama is not golfing like an amateur. He’s golfing like a man who wants to join the PGA tour.
While on vacation, the Obamas dined at Atria, where the cioppino costs $42 and sides include olive-oil-whipped potatoes and truffle parmesan fries. But fine dining is not something the Obamas limit to the beach. They are foodies, patronizing the best restaurants in Chicago, D.C., Old Town, New York, Key Largo, and Los Angeles. I have been to some of these restaurants; the president has great taste. Recently, as part of his “bear is loose” shtick, he has visited sandwich places, bars, and coffee shops. He meets the public, he becomes associated with a fashionable locale, and he spends a few dollars on small businesses. It’s a good thing. Here, at last, is an Obama initiative that does not harm the economy.
Good food is not a luxury for Obama. It is a staple. Before the president departed for Martha’s Vineyard, he shared a limo ride with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey. The general explained to the president the situation in Iraq. He warned of horrible consequences for the Yazidis, for Iraq, and for the United States if the jihadists conquered Mount Sinjar and took Erbil. Obama decided to meet with his national-security team. The presidential limo was diverted. Guess where it had been going. “The Italian dinner in Georgetown with Michelle Obama would have to wait,” Politico reported.
Think two weeks in Martha’s Vineyard sends the wrong message? On July 31, Katy Perry performed at the White House. She was there to celebrate the Special Olympics — a worthy cause. But the same standard applies. If cutting loose in Martha’s Vineyard while the Islamic State is rampaging abroad is “bad optics,” so is hosting a teenage dream while, in the words of Chuck Hagel, the “Middle East is blowing up.” “Propriety” is not a word one associates with Katy Perry. The refrain of her latest hit: “So let me get you in your birthday suit / It’s time to bring out the big balloons.” She’s not talking about party favors.
Is Obama Still President?
His cadences soar on, through scandal after fiasco after disaster
Victor Davis Hanson
October 29, 2013
We are currently learning whether the United States really needs a president. Barack Obama has become a mere figurehead, who gives speeches few listen to any more, issues threats that scare fewer, and makes promises that almost no one believes he will keep. Yet America continues on, despite the fact that the foreign and domestic policies of Barack Obama are unraveling, in a manner unusual even for star-crossed presidential second terms.
Abroad, American policy in the Middle East is leaderless and in shambles after the Arab Spring — we’ve had the Syrian fiasco and bloodbath, leading from behind in Libya all the way to Benghazi, and the non-coup, non-junta in Egypt. This administration has managed to unite existential Shiite and Sunni enemies in a shared dislike of the United States. While Iran follows the Putin script from Syria, Israel seems ready to preempt its nuclear program, and Obama still mumbles empty “game changers” and “red line” threats of years past.
We have gone from reset with Russia to Putin as the playmaker of the Middle East. The Persian Gulf sheikhdoms are now mostly anti-American. The leaders of Germany and the people of France resent having their private communications tapped by Barack Obama — the constitutional lawyer and champion of universal human rights. Angela Merkel long ago grasped that President Obama would rather fly across the Atlantic to lobby for a Chicago Olympic Games — or tap her phone — than sit through a 20th-anniversary commemoration of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are beginning to see that the U.S. is more a neutral than a friend, as Obama negotiates with Putin about reducing the nuclear umbrella that protects America’s key non-nuclear allies. Perhaps they will soon make the necessary adjustments. China, Brazil, and India care little that Barack Obama still insists he is not George W. Bush, or that he seems to be trying to do to America what they seek to undo in their own countries.
The world’s leaders do not any longer seem much impressed by the president’s cat-like walk down the steps of Air Force One, or the soaring cadences that rechannel hope-and=change themes onto the world scene. They acknowledge that their own publics may like the American president, and especially his equivocation about the traditional role of American power in the world. But otherwise, for the next three years, the world is in a holding pattern, wondering whether there is a president of the United States to reckon with or a mere teleprompted functionary. Certainly, the Obama Nobel Peace Prize is now the stuff of comedy.
At home, the signature Affordable Care Act is proving its sternest critics prescient. The mess can best be summed up by Republicans’ being demonized for trying to delay or defund Obamacare — after the president himself chose not to implement elements of his own law — followed immediately by congressional Democrats’ seeking to parrot the Republicans. So are the Democrats followers of Ted Cruz or Barack Obama? Is Obama himself following Ted Cruz?
The problem is not just that all the president’s serial assurances about Obamacare proved untrue — premiums and deductibles will go up, many will lose their coverage and their doctors, new taxes will be needed, care will be curtailed, signups are nearly impossible, and businesses will be less, not more, competitive — but that no one should ever have believed they could possibly be true unless in our daily lives we usually get more and better stuff at lower cost.
More gun control is dead. Comprehensive immigration legislation depends on Republicans’ trusting a president who for two weeks smeared his House opponents as hostage-takers and house-breakers. Moreover, just as no one really read the complete text of the Obamacare legislation, so too no one quite knows what is in the immigration bill. There are few assurances that the border will be first secured under an administration with a record of nullifying “settled law” — or that those who have been convicted of crimes or have been long-time recipients of state or federal assistance will not be eligible for eventual citizenship. If the employer mandate was jettisoned, why would not border security be dropped once a comprehensive immigration bill passed? Or for that matter, if it is not passed, will the president just issue a blanket amnesty anyway?
One of the things you learn watching television as a kid is that the hero wins. No matter how dire things look, the star is going to be okay. MacGyver always defuses the bomb with some saltwater taffy before the timer reaches zero. There was no way Fonzie was going to mess up his water-ski jump and get devoured by sharks.
Life doesn’t actually work like that. That’s one reason HBO’s Game of Thrones is so compelling. Despite being set in an absurd fantasy world of giants, dragons, and ice zombies, it’s more realistic than a lot of dramas set in a more plausible universe in at least one regard. Heroes die. The good guys get beaten by more committed and ruthless bad guys. No one is safe, nothing is guaranteed. There is no iron law of the universe that says good will ultimately triumph.
President Obama often says otherwise.
In his mostly admirable remarks about the beheading of American journalist James Foley by the jihadists of the so-called “Islamic State,” Obama returned to two of his favorite rhetorical themes: 1) the idea that in the end the good guys win simply because they are good, and 2) that world opinion is a wellspring of great moral authority.
Obama invokes the “right side of history” constantly, not only that such a thing exists but that he knows what it is and actually speaks for it as well. Perhaps his favorite quote comes from Martin Luther King Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
As for world opinion, particularly in the form of that global shmoo the “international community,” there’s apparently nothing it can’t do. It is the secret to “leading from behind.” Behind what, you ask? The international community. What is the international community? The thing we’re leading from behind. From Russia to Syria, Iran to North Korea, the president is constantly calling on the international community to do something he is unwilling to do. When Russia was carving Crimea away from Ukraine, Obama vowed that “the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.” After pro-Russian forces shot down a civilian plane over Ukraine, and as Russia lined up troops for a possible invasion, Obama sternly warned that Russia “will only further isolate itself from the international community.”
Taken together, these two ideas — that everything will work out in the long run, and that there’s some entity other than the U.S. that will take care of things — provide a license to do, well, if not nothing, then certainly nothing that might detract from your golf game.
“One thing we can all agree on,” the president said in his statement Wednesday, “is that a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century.” The jihadists will “ultimately fail . . . because the future is won by those who build and not destroy. The world is shaped by people like Jim Foley and the overwhelming majority of humanity who are appalled by those who killed him.”
It’s a very nice thought. But is it actually true? The jihadists are building something. They call it the Caliphate, and in a remarkably short amount of time they’ve made enormous progress. If I had to bet, I’d guess that they will ultimately fail, but it will be because someone actually takes the initiative and destroys — as in kills — those trying to build it. Until that happens, there will be more beheadings, more enslaved girls, more mass graves. Obama has been very slow to learn this lesson.
Perhaps this is because there’s a deep-seated faith within progressivism that holds that the mere passage of time drives moral evolution. As if simply tearing pages from your calendar improves the world. It is as faith-based as saying evil will not stand because God will not let it, and far, far less effective at rallying men of goodwill to fight. No doubt some people will face death to defend an arbitrary date, but not many.
Sometimes lazy TV writers will resort to what is called a deus ex machina, a godlike intervention or stroke of luck that saves the day and ensures a happy ending. But in real life, as in Game of Thrones, that doesn’t happen. The good guys get beheaded while scanning the horizon for a savior more concrete than world opinion and more powerful than a date on the calendar.
Don’t do stupid sh–‘ (stuff)
The West Wing has a preferred distillation of the president’s foreign-policy doctrine.
Forget The New Yorker’s “leading from behind,” and even President Barack Obama’s own “singles … doubles.” The West Wing has a preferred, authorized distillation of the president’s foreign-policy doctrine: “Don’t do stupid shi*t.”
The phrase has appeared in The New York Times three times in the past four days. So, if the White House’s aim was to get the phrase in circulation, mission accomplished!
The phrase – as “Don’t do stupid stuff,” with a demure disclaimer that the actual wording was saltier and spicier than “stuff” — appeared in the Los Angeles Times at the end of Obama’s Asia trip this spring, was reprised in the lead story of Thursday’s New York Times.
But the West Wing hit the jackpot Sunday when it was used twice in The New York Times — once in the news columns, and once in a column by Thomas L. Friedman, who had been part of an off-the-record roundtable with Obama on Tuesday.
The Columbian newspaper of Vancouver, Washington, actually had the scoop, when it reported in February that it kept selling out of mugs that are emblazoned: “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff.” http://goo.gl/9oQ8d3
Here is a timeline of the phrase’s propagation in the press:
— Christi Parsons, Kathleen Hennessey and Paul Richter in the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune of April 29: “The president’s aides have scrambled to put things in simpler terms. ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is the polite-company version of a phrase they use to describe the president’s foreign policy.” http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-obama-military-20140429-story.html
— Christi Parsons and Kathleen Hennessey in the L.A. Times and Chicago Tribune on May 25: “Privately, White House officials have described the working label for Obama’s doctrine as ‘Don’t do stupid stuff.’ Within the tight circle of foreign policy aides in the White House, the shorthand captured Obama’s resistance to a rigid catch-all doctrine, as well as his aversion to what he once called the ‘dumb war’ in Iraq.” http://www.latimes.com/world/la-fg-obama-foreign-policy-20140525-story.html
— Mark Landler, in the lead story of Thursday’s New York Times: “In private conversations, the president has used a saltier variation of the phrase, ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ — brushing aside as reckless those who say the United States should consider enforcing a no-fly zone in Syria or supplying arms to Ukrainian troops.” http://goo.gl/WG20of
— Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune editorial board, in Thursday’s paper: “Instead of trying to do great things, he’s settled for a policy that his aides summarize as ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ — though they use a different word than ‘stuff.’” http://goo.gl/bPPaS6
— Mark Landler on page 4 of Sunday’s New York Times, “White House Memo: In Obama’s Speeches, a Shifting Tone on Terror”: “In his second term, a time that presidents typically set about cementing their legacies as statesmen, Mr. Obama has instead settled on a minimalist foreign policy — one that he laid out at West Point and sums up with a saltier version of the phrase, ‘don’t do stupid stuff.’ ‘There is a fundamental and profound distinction between this speech and the earlier speeches,’ said David J. Rothkopf, the publisher of Foreign Policy magazine. ‘The Nobel Prize speech was infused with hope, ambition, and the desire to better the world. This speech is built around the idea of not doing stupid stuff.’” http://goo.gl/ZUbKcM
— Thomas L. Friedman writing from Sulaimaniya, Iraq, in the Sunday Review section of The New York Times, “Obama’s Foreign Policy Book: Here are a few working titles for the president’s consideration”: “When President Obama sits down to write his foreign policy memoir he may be tempted to use as his book title the four words he reportedly uses privately to summarize the Obama doctrine: ‘Don’t Do Stupid Stuff’ (with ‘stuff’ sometimes defined more spicily).” http://goo.gl/GCHKjT
Le Président Barack Obama est désormais plus populaire en Europe qu’aux États-Unis. De ce côté-ci de l’Atlantique, nous restons fascinés par l’élégance, le cool et l’aura du premier couple Noir à la Maison Blanche, mais nous n’en subissons pas, pas directement, les retombées politiques. Le désamour des Américains ne s’explique pas que par l’usure du pouvoir – après six ans de mandat – mais par une déception certaine, un écart béant entre la promesse initiale et des résultats insaisissables. À quelques semaines du renouvellement du Congrès où Barack Obama devrait perdre sa majorité au Sénat après l’avoir perdue, il y a deux ans, à la Chambre des représentants, il est remarquable que les candidats Démocrates ne se réclament surtout pas d’Obama et ne sollicitent pas son soutien. Hillary Clinton, candidate à la succession après six ans de fidélité inconditionnelle, vient de marquer ses distances en dénonçant la vacuité de la diplomatie américaine. Nul doute qu’Obama restera, quoi qu’il fasse, le premier Président noir – mais pas véritablement afro-américain – des États-Unis : il est envisageable qu’il n’en restera pas grand-chose de plus. Ce jugement commun aux États-Unis, est-il injuste ? Probablement oui parce qu’il repose sur une surestimation de ce que peut véritablement tout Président. La Constitution américaine a été délibérément conçue pour ficeler le pouvoir exécutif dans mille liens qui cantonnent sa liberté d’agir. Ce décalage entre l’image de l’homme le plus puissant de la planète et sa faculté d’agir ne peut que frustrer les attentes : exactement ce que souhaitent les pères fondateurs des États-Unis. Quand le Président n’est pas modeste – et Obama n’est pas modeste, contrairement à Ronald Reagan qui le fut – les Américains et le reste du monde comprennent d’autant plus mal le gouffre entre des annonces tonitruantes et des résultats insignifiants. L’extension de l’assurance maladie obligatoire à tous les Américains qui devait être une révolution sociale, a ainsi accouché d’une souris bureaucratique parce qu’Obama avait promis à tous ce qu’il ne pouvait pas garantir : les Américains à revenus modestes sont un peu moins inégaux face à la maladie, mais ils le restent néanmoins.
La sortie de crise, après le krach financier de 2008, était l’autre priorité intérieure de Barack Obama : la croissance est restaurée, le plein emploi l’est quasiment, mais les Américains n’en sont pas trop reconnaissants au Président. De fait, le mérite en revient aux entrepreneurs innovants, à la politique monétaire de la Banque fédérale (peut-être) mais Obama a plutôt retardé la reprise par des augmentations d’impôts, par des réglementations nouvelles (pour protéger la Nature), par ses tergiversations sur l’exploitation des ressources énergétiques, du gaz de schiste en particulier. Peu versé en économie, Barack Obama est certainement le plus anti-capitaliste de tous les présidents américains dans une société dont le capitalisme reste le moteur incontesté sauf par quelques universitaires socialistes et marginaux.
Il reste la politique étrangère où le Président dispose, au contraire de l’économie et des affaires sociales (qui sont plutôt de compétence locale), d’une grande latitude. Élu, il le rappelle incessamment, pour terminer deux guerres et ramener les troupes « à la maison », il a tenu parole. Il a également reflété le sentiment qui régnait au début de son mandat, d’une lassitude des Américains envers les aventures extérieures. Mais en six ans, les circonstances ont profondément changé, en Mer de Chine, au Proche-Orient, en Ukraine, Obama n’en a tenu aucun compte, comme prisonnier de son image pacifiste, et décidé à le rester alors même que son pacifisme est interprété par tous les ennemis de la démocratie comme un aveu de pusillanimité. Du pacifisme, Obama aura basculé dans l’irréalisme, dénoncé par Hillary Clinton : l’incapacité idéologique d’Obama de reconnaître que l’armée américaine, nolens volens, est le policier du monde. Le policier peut s’avérer maladroit – George Bush le fut – habile comme l’avait démontré Ronald Reagan, médiocre comme le fut Bill Clinton, mais il ne peut pas s’abstenir. S’il renonce, à la Obama, le Djihad conquiert, la Russie annexe, la Chine menace. La majorité des Américains, les déçus de l’Obamania ont aujourd’hui compris que le pacifiste avait les mains blanches mais qu’il n’avait pas de mains.
Le Président Truman se moquait des juristes qui le conseillaient en pesant le pour et le contre : « on one hand, on the other hand ». Il était heureux, commentait Truman, que ces juristes n’avaient pas trois mains. Il ne pouvait imaginer qu’Obama aurait cette troisième main, une remarquable capacité d’analyser et une tout aussi remarquable faculté de ne rien décider. Obama, au total, n’est peut-être qu’une image virtuelle : il a été élu sur une photo retouchée, la sienne, sur un slogan (Yes we can), sur un mythe (la réconciliation des peuples, des civilisations), sur une absence de doctrine caractéristique de sa génération pour qui tout est l’équivalent de rien, et grâce à l’influence décisive des réseaux sociaux. Barack Obama est de notre temps, un reflet de l’époque : ce qui le condamne à l’insuffisance.