Once upon a time there was a snowflake named Barry. All his life everyone told Barry he was very special.
His mother told him he was very special.
His grandma and grandpa told him he was very special.
His teachers told him he was very special.
One day Barry thought to himself, “I should run for president, because I’m very special.” So he did.
The news media thought he was very special.
Some very powerful Democrats helped him because they thought he was very special.
Some rich people gave him lots and lots of money because they thought he very special.
People all around the world cheered for him because they thought he was very special.
So Barry became president.
Then it started to get warm.
Then it started to get hot.
Then Barry melted just like all the other snowflakes.
Barry wasn’t very special after all.
A group more radical than al-Qaeda, better organized, better financed, commanding the loyalty of thousands of dedicated fanatics including many with Western and even U.S. passports? And this group now controls some of the most strategic territory at the heart of the Middle East?
Welcome to President Obama’s brave new world. After six years in office pursuing strategies he believed would tame the terror threat and doing his best to reassure the American people that the terror situation was under control, with the “remnants” of al-Qaeda skittering into the shadows like roaches when the exterminator arrives, Obama now confronts the most powerful and hostile jihadi movement of modern times, a movement that dances on the graveyard of his hopes.
One wishes we had a Republican President right now if only because when a Republican is in the White House, the media and the chattering classes believe they have a solemn moral duty to categorize and analyze the failures of American strategy and policy. Today that is far from the case; few in the mainstream press seem interested in tracing the full and ugly course of the six years of continual failure that dog the footsteps of the hapless Obama team in a region the White House claimed to understand. Nothing important has gone right for the small and tightly knit team that runs American Middle East policy. Most administrations have one failure in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking; this administration has two, both distinctly more ignominious and damaging than average. The opening to the Middle East, once heralded by this administration as transformative, has long vanished; no one even talks about the President’s speeches in Cairo and Istanbul anymore, unless regional cynics are looking for punch lines for bitter jokes. The support for the “transition to democracy” in Egypt ended on as humiliating a note as the “red line” kerfuffle in Syria. The spectacular example of advancing human rights by leading from behind in Libya led to an unmitigated disaster from which not only Libya but much of north and west Africa still suffers today.
Rarely has an administration so trumpeted its superior wisdom and strategic smarts; rarely has any American administration experienced so much ignominious failure, or had its ignorance and miscalculation so brutally exposed. No one, ever, will call this administration’s Middle East policies to date either competent or wise—though the usual press acolytes will continue to do what they can to spread a forgiving haze over the strategic collapse of everything this White House has attempted, as they talk about George W. Bush at every chance they get. (An honorable exception in the NYT today: Peter Baker has a piece examining the Administration’s failure to end American involvement in Iraq, and making the obvious but important point that the Iraq fiasco is a consequence of Administration failures in Syria. There are more dots still to connect.)
Now, from the ruins of the Obama Administration’s Middle East strategy, the most powerful and dangerous group of religious fanatics in modern history has emerged in the heart of the Middle East. The rise of ISIS is a strategic defeat of the first magnitude for the United States and its allies (as well as countries like Russia and even China). It is a perfect storm of bad policy intersecting with troubled times to create the gravest threat to U.S. and world stability since the end of the Cold War.
So here, alas, is where we now stand six years into the Age of Obama: The President isn’t making America safer at home, he doesn’t have the jihadis on the run, he has no idea how to bring prosperity, democracy, or religious moderation to the Middle East, he can’t pivot away from the region, and he doesn’t know what to do next. He’s the only President this country has got, and one can’t help but wish him well, but if things are going to get any better, he needs to stop digging. He probably needs to bring in some new blood, and he must certainly ask himself some tough questions about why so many of his most cherished ideas keep leading him and his country into such ugly places.
If the Middle East was Obama’s only failure it wouldn’t be so bad. But Obama has failed historically in every aspect of his job. He has failed at foreign policy. He failed at the economy. He failed at health care reform. He failed at reducing the deficit. He failed at immigration reform. He failed at healing the racial divide in this country. He failed at transparency.
Basically, the only thing he has done successfully since he took office was getting reelected. Even his golf game sucks.
At this point my expectations are low. I don’t expect anything to get better anytime soon. I just keep hoping that things don’t get too much worse.
We are so boned.