Elia Kazan’s classic A Face in the Crowdis a good primer on Barack Obama’s rise and fall. Lonesome Rhodes arises out of nowhere in the 1957 film, romancing the nation as a phony populist who serially spins yarns in the most folksy ways — confident that he should never be held to account. Kazan’s point (in the film Rhodes is a patsy for conservative business interests) is that the “folks” are fickle and prefer to be charmed rather than informed and told the truth. Rhodes’s new first name, Lonesome, resonates in the film in a way that Barack does now. Finally, an open mic captures Rhodes’s true disdain for the people he champions, and his career crashes.
So what is collapsing the presidency of the once mellifluous Obama? It is not the IRS, AP, VA, or NSA scandals. Nor did the nation especially fault him for Benghazi or the complete collapse of U.S. foreign policy, from failed reset to a Middle East afire. In each case, he either blamed Bush or denied there was a smidgeon of wrongdoing on his part.
Certainly, the stampede at the border, as disastrous as it was, did not ipso facto sink Obama’s ratings. Ditto the embarrassing Bergdahl deal, in which we traded a likely deserter for five Islamist kingpins. Was it the ISIS ascendance that is leading to genocide and a nascent caliphate? Not in and of itself.
The Obama administration often either denies any responsibility for the current global chaos or claims that it erupted spontaneously. Yet most of the mess was caused by, or made worse by, growing U.S. indifference and paralysis.
Over the last five and a half years, America has had lots of clear choices, but the administration usually took the path of least short-term trouble, which has ensured long-term hardship.
There was no need to “reset” the relatively mild punishments that the George W. Bush administration had accorded Vladimir Putin’s Russia for invading Georgia in 2008. By unilaterally normalizing relations with Russia and trashing Bush, Barack Obama and then–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton only green-lighted further Russian aggression, which has since spread to Crimea and Ukraine.
The summer of 2014 will go down in history as the season when America fell apart. Let’s take a tour of the disasters.
Germany in 2008 enthusiastically hosted candidate Barack Obama for his so-called Victory Column speech. Now, Germans suddenly sound as if they are near-enemies of the U.S. Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly was furious that her cell phone was tapped by American intelligence agents. She just kicked the top CIA official out of Germany, further enraged that the U.S. had recruited at least one German official to provide intelligence on the German government. Polls show that Germans find Vladimir Putin’s Russian tyranny to be almost as popular as Barack Obama’s America.
Japan is becoming similarly frustrated with the U.S. It is rearming like crazy to confront an aggressive China. Both Asian powers apparently assumethat Obama won’t guarantee the security of the Japanese as America has in the past.
The Middle East is dissolving. Taking U.S. peacekeepers out of Iraq proved a disaster. The radical jihadists of ISIS are overrunning Syria and Iraq, as they extend their destruction even to the mute stones of religious sanctuaries.
Surely reports that President Obama is going down to Texas at the height of the Katrina-like border debacle to raise money at the home of the popular but often polarizing filmmaker and Quentin Tarantino–collaborator Robert Rodriguez are the stuff of right-wing mythology?
No one could be so politically dense as to head south in the direction of this catastrophe only to pull up short to huckster campaign funds — while under a lingering cloud that such special-interest money solicitation in the past typically has taken precedence over national security (cf. the need to retire early on the night of Benghazi in order to prep for an important fundraiser the next day in Las Vegas, where the selfish go to blow their kids’ tuition money).
Often, crazy things seem normal for a time because logical catastrophes do not immediately follow.A deeply suspicious Richard Nixon systematically and without pushback for years undermined and politicized almost every institution of the federal government, from the CIA and the FBI to the IRS and the attorney general’s office. Nixon seemed to get away with it — until his second term. Once the public woke up, however, the eventual accounting proved devastating: resignation of a sitting president, prison sentences for his top aides, collapse of the Republican party, government stasis, a ruined economy, the destruction of the Vietnam peace accords that had led to a viable South Vietnam, the end of Henry Kissinger’s diplomatic breakthroughs, and a generation of abject cynicism about government. Did Nixon ever grasp that such destruction was the natural wage of his own paranoia?
In Obama’s most recent — and embarrassing — public whine, he lashed out at the once-obsequious press. In his now customary first-person I/me/my/mine lament (e.g., “They don’t do anything, except block me and call me names. . . . If they were more interested in growing the economy for you and the issues that you are talking about instead of trying to mess with me, we would be doing a lot better. . . . The critics, the cynics in Washington, they’ve written me off more times than I can count.”), he lambasted the partisan culture of Washington. He lashed out at the Tea Party, the House Republicans, his opponents in general, and all those who would unreasonably oppose his blanket amnesties, his climate-change taxes and regulations, the shutdown of the Keystone-pipeline project, Obamacare, and $9 trillion in new debt.
Apparently someone other than Obama is in charge when the IRS goes rogue, the VA implodes, the Justice Department goes after Associated Press reporters, the consulate in Benghazi is overrun, the NSA taps the phones of allied leaders, Iraq is torn apart, the Middle East melts down, or we trade five terrorist kingpins for an American deserter. Obama’s impromptu adolescent moaning was bizarre and reminds us again why he would be wiser to stay close to his teleprompter.
Amid all the talk of the isolationism that supposedly characterizes the Obama administration’s foreign policy, we forget that since World War II, the global order has largely been determined by U.S. engagement. The historically rare state of prosperity and peace that defined the postwar world were due to past U.S. vigilance and sacrifice.
Germany in the last 150 years has been at the center of three European wars, winning one, losing another, and destroying much of Europe and itself in the third. Yet present-day Germany has the largest economy in Europe and the fourth largest in the world. It is a global leader in high technology and industrial craftsmanship. For seventy years Germany, even after its second historic unification in 1989, has not translated such economic preeminence into military power, much less aggression. In fact, the strategic status quo of postwar Europe—with Britain and France, and their relatively smaller and weaker economies, as the continent’s two sole nuclear powers—remains mostly unquestioned.
When IRS Commissioner John Koskinen arrogantly told Congress that he had no apologies for an agency that has targeted conservative groups for special scrutiny, had a top-ranking bureaucrat take the Fifth Amendment, and destroyed its own correspondence, he meant it. Nor did Lisa Jackson, the former head of the EPA, offer any apologies for concocting a fake persona, replete with false e-mail identity (“Richard Windsor”), to hide her own communications. Kathleen Sebelius was likewise unapologetic after presiding over the ruined initial implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Nor did she pay any consequence for campaigning for Democratic candidates while a cabinet secretary, in violation of the Hatch Act.
Government always grows, sometimes even more rapidly under Republican than under Democratic presidents. But under President Obama we are seeing something a little different — the creation of a partisan, semi-autonomous government that seems to exist for the benefit of its employees and the larger ideological agenda of the present administration.
If the CIA wanted to smuggle guns to Syria or interrogate al-Qaeda suspects in Benghazi, that was its business, not necessarily the administration’s. To the degree Obama was involved in overseeing events in Libya, his involvement was most likely limited to a vague warning that, in the latter part of the nip-and-tuck 2012 campaign, there must not be anything resembling a shoot-’em-up Mogadishu, which a beefed-up security presence in Benghazi might have made more likely by evening the odds. Better to keep a low profile amid increasing security threats and hope for the best. And, if the worst happens — well, things do happen.
When the violence did erupt, a freelance video producer became the perfect villain. Obama and his subordinates, principally Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton, almost immediately damned the hapless filmmaker as having incited global violence by his bigotry. The more Obama told the world that he too condemned Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (and in fact he had Mr. Nakoula jailed on a trumped-up probation violation), the more Benghazi became a sort of revolutionary morality tale: Right-wingers in America keep getting innocent people killed by gratuitously inflaming Muslims — over the objections of sober and judicious progressive and internationalist Americans.