The still­born legacy of Barack Obama

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - Charles Krautham­mer Colum­nist

Only amid the most bizarre, most tawdry, most ad­dic­tive elec­tion cam­paign in mem­ory could the real story of 2016 be so ef­fec­tively oblit­er­ated, namely, that with just four months left in the Obama pres­i­dency, its two central pil­lars are col­laps­ing be­fore our eyes: do­mes­ti­cally, its rad­i­cal re­form of Amer­i­can health care, aka Oba­macare; and abroad, its rad­i­cal re­ori­en­ta­tion of Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy — dis­en­gage­ment marked by diplo­macy and mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism. Oba­macare. On Mon­day, Bill Clin­ton called it “the cra­zi­est thing in the world.” And he was only talk­ing about one crazy as­pect of it — the im­pact on the con­sumer. Clin­ton pointed out that small busi­ness and hard­work­ing em­ploy­ees (“out there bust­ing it, some­times 60 hours a week”) are “get­ting whacked ... their pre­mi­ums dou­bled and their cov­er­age cut in half.”

This, as the pro­gram’s en­tire eco­nomic foun­da­tion is crum­bling. More than half its non­profit “co-ops” have gone bank­rupt. Ma­jor health in­sur­ers like Aetna and Unit­edHealth­care, hav­ing lost mil­lions of dol­lars, are with­draw­ing from the ex­changes. In one-third of the U.S., ex­changes will have only one in­sur­ance provider. Pre­mi­ums and de­ductibles are ex­plod­ing. Even The New York Times blares, “Ail­ing Obama Health Care Act May Have to Change to Sur­vive.”

Young peo­ple, re­fus­ing to pay dis­pro­por­tion­ately to sub­si­dize older and sicker pa­tients, are not sign­ing up. As the risk pool be­comes in­creas­ingly un­bal­anced, the death spi­ral ac­cel­er­ates. And the only way to save the sys­tem is with mas­sive in­fu­sions of tax money.

What to do? The Democrats will even­tu­ally push to junk Oba­macare for a fullfledged, gov­ern­men­trun, sin­gle-payer sys­tem. Repub­li­cans will seek to junk it for a more mar­ket-based pre-Oba­macare-like al­ter­na­tive. Ei­ther way, the sin­gu­lar do­mes­tic achieve­ment of this pres­i­dency dies. The Obama Doc­trine. The pres­i­dent’s vi­sion was to move away from a world where sta­bil­ity and “the suc­cess of lib­erty” (JFK, in­au­gu­ral ad­dress) were an­chored by Amer­i­can power and move to­ward a world ruled by uni­ver­sal norms, mu­tual obli­ga­tion, in­ter­na­tional law and mul­ti­lat­eral in­sti­tu­tions. No more cowboy ad­ven­tures, no more uni­lat­er­al­ism, no more Guan­tanamo. We would as­cend to the higher moral plane of diplo­macy. Clean hands, clear con­science, “smart power.”

This blessed vi­sion has just died a ter­ri­ble death in Aleppo. Its unraveling was pre­dicted and pre­dictable, though it took fully two terms to un­fold. This pol­icy of pris­tine — and preen­ing — dis­en­gage­ment from the grubby im­per­a­tives of re­alpoli­tik yielded Crimea, the South China Sea, the rise of the Is­lamic State, the re­turn of Iran. And now the hor­ror and the shame of Aleppo.

Af­ter end­less con­ces­sions to Rus­sian de­mands meant to protect and pre­serve the geno­ci­dal regime of Bashar As­sad, last month we fi­nally ca­pit­u­lated to a deal in which we es­sen­tially joined Rus­sia in that ob­jec­tive. But such is Vladimir Putin’s con­tempt for our pres­i­dent that he wouldn’t stop there.

He bla­tantly vi­o­lated his own cease-fire with an air cam­paign of such spec­tac­u­lar sav­agery — tar­get­ing hospi­tals, wa­ter pump­ing sta­tions and a hu­man­i­tar­ian aid con­voy — that even Barack Obama and John Kerry could no longer deny that Putin is seek­ing not com­pro­mise but con­quest. And is pre­pared to kill everyone in rebel-held Aleppo to achieve it. Obama, left with no op­tions — and as­ton­ish­ingly, hav­ing pre­pared none — looks on.

At the out­set of the war, we could have bombed As­sad’s air­fields and de­stroyed his air­craft, elim­i­nat­ing the regime’s ma­jor strate­gic ad­van­tage — con­trol of the air.

Five years later, we can’t. Rus­sia is there. Putin has just in­stalled S-300 an­ti­air­craft mis­siles near Tar­tus. Yet, none of the rebels have any air as­sets. This is a warn­ing and de­ter­rent to the only power that could do some­thing — the United States.

Obama did noth­ing be­fore. He will surely do noth­ing now. For Amer­i­cans, the shame is pal­pa­ble. Rus­sia’s an­nex­a­tion of Crimea may be an ab­strac­tion, but that stunned injured lit­tle boy in Aleppo is not.

“What is Aleppo?” fa­mously asked Gary John­son. An­swer: The burial ground of the Obama fan­tasy of be­nign dis­en­gage­ment.

What’s left of the Obama legacy? Even Democrats are run­ning away from Oba­macare. And who will de­fend his for­eign pol­icy of lofty speech and cyn­i­cal ab­di­ca­tion?

In 2014, Obama said, “Make no mis­take: (My) poli­cies are on the bal­lot.” Democrats were crushed in that midterm elec­tion.

This time around, Obama says, “My legacy’s on the bal­lot.” If the 2016 cam­paign hadn’t turned into a ref­er­en­dum on char­ac­ter — a bat­tle fully per­son­al­ized and ad hominem — the col­lapse of the Obama legacy would in­deed be right now on the bal­lot. And his party would be 20 points be­hind.

Charles Krautham­mer is syn­di­cated by the Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group. His email ad­dress is let­ters@ charleskrautham­

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