A recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic confirmed that President Barack Obama during his last few months in office has become focused on his legacy as president, considering how he would like to define himself in the widely anticipated monstrous presidential library that soon will be rising in his name at the University of Chicago.
To be sure, Obama’s record as president has been mixed. As a traditional non-GOP non-neocon conservative I have been dismayed by a number of domestic policies, most particularly gender pandering, as well as by the Administration’s tendency to periodically produce the race card for political gain and employ racial tokenism in its senior level appointments while actually doing little to help working people of any color in this country. That the White House should feel it important to further dumb down educational standards to make them more “inclusive” while also mandating what kinds of toilets one is allowed to use in schools or insisting that women should by right have jobs in the military that they are physically incapable of performing is little more than blatant appeals to the proclivities of some perceived constituencies in the Democratic Party in an election year. It has nothing to do with actual constitutional rights and is not what one elects a president to do.
Obamacare is something more serious and, in my mind, disastrous. In my own experience, working for a non-profit foundation, I saw health insurance for our three employees go from less than $1,000 per month to nearly twice that in 2013 the first year Obamacare was introduced then to more than $3,200 per month in 2014 with a warning that it would go up again by at least 25% in 2015. At that point we were compelled to drop the insurance. Now it appears that several large health insurance companies are also refusing to participate in the program because of the losses that they are sustaining.
Obamacare might make sense for that proportion of the population that cannot afford healthcare at all unless it is paid for in full by the government or heavily subsidized, but what about the rest of us? The concept of providing mandatory insurance coverage bothers me somewhat constitutionally speaking but it is the failure to make any attempt to control prices while turning the system over to for profit insurance companies that resulted in a plan that was guaranteed to fail. At what point will healthcare become unaffordable for most people? That point might soon be here.
But the real Obama legacy might well be his foreign policy. He has done two things that I think were admirable. First, against stiff domestic opposition from Congress and the media as well as threats from the Israeli government, he was able to enter into a multilateral agreement with Iran to limit and monitor that country’s nuclear program. Second, he took major steps to normalize relations with Cuba, something that was long overdue. Both of these steps were and still are controversial but both served U.S. national interests. I do not believe that Iran ever posed any serious threat against the United States but an agreement that would limit the country’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon has to be considered good for everyone except the Israelis and their many fans in Washington who want a war.
Likewise, the sanctions and restrictions on travel to Cuba did nothing to liberalize the country or change its government. Cuba as an alleged exporter of terrorism was a product of 1980s fearmongering, most of which was carried out by Cuban exiles and the politicians they were able to buy or coerce, some of whom are named Rubio, Cruz and Ros-Lehtinen. Cuba will change for the better much more quickly now that it does not have an existential enemy just over the horizon that it can point to justify its one-party rule type of government.
But the Obama legacy in foreign policy also has considerable downside. One might argue, and I might even agree, that the president has been averse to heavy handed military intervention in other countries, the hallmark of the preceding George W. Bush Administration. But if Obama has been reluctant to get deeply into conflict zones he has nevertheless extended the range laterally, getting involved in more places more often than Bush did. He and his advisers have embraced the principle that the United States has the right, indeed the duty, to serve as not only the absurd “Leader of the Free World” but also as the arbiter of international standards for nearly everyone else, beliefs that drove the regime change in Libya as well as the attempts to do the same in Damascus. Indeed, Obama, having pointlessly drawn “red lines,” would have greatly escalated his intervention in Syria over the fraudulent claims of regime use of chemical weapons if the intelligence had not been so flawed and the popular reaction against more war had not been so pronounced.
And Obama has also employed new weapons to eliminate suspected terrorists that even the Bushies were reluctant to use, most notably assassination by drone of U.S. citizens without any serious due process based on a White House managed “kill list.” The White House has demonstrated leadership in the use of killer drones globally, with at least nineteen countries now following suit and deploying the armed version. ISIS is also believed to be developing its own drone capabilities. Drones protect the operator, who is often many miles away from the killing field, but they are far from the precision instruments of death that the Pentagon and CIA have claimed them to be. Thousands of civilians have died in strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the two most targeted of the seven countries that have experienced attacks from armed U.S. drones under orders from Obama.
When challenged in court over extrajudicial killing and torture, Obama has not hesitated to invoke state secrets privilege to derail the proceedings, having done so more times than all his predecessors combined and making it impossible for anyone to obtain redress against the government through the judiciary. He has also pursued and punished alleged whistleblowers more aggressively than his predecessors. A president who promised transparency and accountability apparently decided that government secrecy was really much more to his taste.
Obama’s most troubling legacy is, however, something he inherited and expanded on from his predecessor. His successful assertion of an unconstitutional executive right to exercise preemptive and nearly constant intervention everywhere in the world under his own authority has de facto institutionalized the practice. And it has been accomplished without any challenge or hindrance from the judicial and legislative checks and balances built into the Constitution of the United States plus only limited pushback from the media.
Under Obama the United States currently has “boots on the ground” in seven countries, an expansion of the “war on terror” that he inherited from George W. Bush. They are Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and the Philippines. The only countries with multiple thousands of U.S. military on the ground are Afghanistan and Iraq, but the numbers are also rising in every other country where there is a presence. Plus there is considerable offshoring of military intervention, using airpower based at various points in the Middle East as well as carrier based planes and cruise missiles. All the fighting in every country is focused on “militant Islam,” which, not surprisingly, many of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims have noticed.
And there is more. The White House has persisted in dealing with Russia as if it were an enemy rather than just a competitor. It has shifted troops into Eastern Europe close to the Russian border and has installed anti-ballistic missile defenses. It has provided military equipment and advisers to dysfunctional frontline states like Ukraine and Georgia while snubbing outreach by President Vladimir Putin. It was only when Russia pulled America’s chestnuts out of the fire in Syria that the White House reluctantly decided that cooperating with Putin was a lot better than allowing the bloody status quo to continue.
China, which, like Russia, threatens the U.S. only in the feverish fantasies of some neoconservatives, has also been on the receiving end of a pivot to Asia, with America’s armed forces staging demonstration flybys and naval displays of strength to discourage the Yellow Peril. It has also led to the usual disparaging of foreigners being not quite like us, with the White House producing gems like urging support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership because it is better if we determine trade policy rather than China, which doesn’t “share our values.” Never mentioned is the perception that “managed trade” has recently been great for elites and globalists like the Clintons, Bushes and Romneys but terrible for the working and middle classes in most of the countries involved.
So it is ironic that Barack Obama, whose margin of victory in 2008 was clearly due to voters who wanted peace, has become the stealth war president, continuing most of what he inherited while starting two new wars in Syria and Libya. Some have likened his two terms of office as a continuation of George W. Bush, but in reality he is in some ways worse as Bush openly played the “new sheriff in town” while Obama has wrapped his aggression in high minded platitudes and dissimulation. But the most serious damage he has done has been here at home, to the Constitution. His successful assertion of virtually unrestrained executive authority to initiate military action that expanded on the Bush precedent will surely be welcomed by Hillary when she opts to bomb Tehran in January 2017.