Assess­ing the Obama legacy

Us­ing his own mile­posts, the pres­i­dent has failed

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Vic­tor Davis Han­son

In his 2016 State of the Union ad­dress, Pres­i­dent Obama sum­ma­rized his achieve­ments. That same night, the White House is­sued a press re­lease tout­ing Mr. Obama’s ac­com­plish­ments.

Now that he will be leav­ing, how well did these ini­tia­tives listed in the press re­lease ac­tu­ally work out?

“Se­cur­ing the his­toric Paris cli­mate agree­ment.”

The ac­cord was never sub­mit­ted to Congress as a treaty. It will be ig­nored by Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump. “Achiev­ing the Iran nu­clear deal.” That “deal” was another ef­fort to cir­cum­vent the treaty-rat­i­fy­ing author­ity of Congress. It has green-lighted Ira­nian ag­gres­sion, and it prob­a­bly en­sured nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion. Iran’s vi­o­la­tions will cause the new Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to ei­ther scrap the ac­cord or send it to Congress for cer­tain re­jec­tion. “Se­cur­ing the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship.” Even Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton came out against this failed ini­tia­tive. It has lit­tle sup­port in Congress or among the pub­lic. Op­po­si­tion to the TTP helped fuel the Trump vic­tory. “Reopen­ing Cuba.” The re­cent Mi­ami cel­e­bra­tion of the death of Fidel Cas­tro, and Mr. Trump’s vic­tory in Flor­ida, are tes­ti­monies to the onesided deal’s un­pop­u­lar­ity. The United States got lit­tle in re­turn for the Cas­tro broth­ers’ pro­pa­ganda coup.

“De­stroy­ing ISIL” and “dis­man­tling al Qaeda.”

We are at last mak­ing some progress against some of these “jayvee” teams, as Mr. Obama once de­scribed the Is­lamic State. Nei­ther group has been dis­man­tled or de­stroyed. De­spite the death of Osama bin Laden, the wide­spread reach of rad­i­cal Is­lam into Europe and the United States re­mains largely unchecked.

“End­ing com­bat mis­sions in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

The Afghan war rages on. The pre­cip­i­tous with­drawal of all U.S. peace­keep­ers in 2011 from a quiet Iraq helped sow chaos in the rest of the Mid­dle East. We are now send­ing more troops back into Iraq. “Clos­ing Guan­tanamo Bay.” This was an eight-year bro­ken prom­ise. The de­ten­tion cen­ter still houses dan­ger­ous ter­ror­ists. “Re­bal­anc­ing to the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion.” The ane­mic “Asia Pivot” failed. The Philip­pines is now openly pro-Rus­sian and pro-Chi­nese. Tra­di­tional al­lies such as Ja­pan, Tai­wan and South Korea are ter­ri­fied that the United States is no longer a re­li­able guar­an­tor of their au­ton­omy.

“Sup­port­ing Cen­tral Amer­i­can de­vel­op­ment.”

The once-achiev­able prom­ise of a freemar­ket, demo­cratic Latin America is mori­bund. Dic­ta­tor­ships in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua remain im­pov­er­ished bul­lies. All have been ap­peased by the U.S. “Strength­en­ing cy­ber­se­cu­rity.” Democrats claimed Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the re­cent elec­tion. If true, it is proof that there is no such thing as “cy­ber­se­cu­rity.” The Wik­iLeaks re­leases, the hacked Clin­ton emails and the Ed­ward Snow­den dis­clo­sures con­firm that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion was the least cy­ber­se­cure pres­i­dency in his­tory.

“Grow­ing the Open Gov­ern­ment Part­ner­ship.”

The NSA scan­dal, the hound­ing of As­so­ci­ated Press jour­nal­ists, some of the Wik­iLeaks troves and the cor­rup­tion at the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice all re­veal that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion was one of the least trans­par­ent pres­i­den­cies in mem­ory. “Hon­or­ing our na­tion’s vet­er­ans.” Mr. Obama’s Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs was mired in scan­dal, and some of its night­mar­ish VA hospi­tals were awash in dis­ease and un­nec­es­sary deaths. Sec­re­tary of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Eric Shin­seki was forced to re­sign amid con­tro­versy. For­mer Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Janet Napoli­tano apol­o­gized for is­su­ing an of­fen­sive re­port falsely con­clud­ing that re­turn­ing war vets were li­able to join right-wing ter­ror­ist groups.

“Mak­ing sure our pol­i­tics re­flect America’s best.”

The 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign was among the nas­ti­est on record. Wik­iLeaks re­vealed un­prece­dented col­lu­sion be­tween jour­nal­ists and the Clin­ton cam­paign. Ear­lier, Mr. Obama had been the first pres­i­dent in U.S. his­tory to refuse pub­lic cam­paign money. He was also the largest fundraiser of pri­vate cash and the great­est col­lec­tor of Wall Street money in the his­tory of pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns. “Pro­tect­ing vot­ing rights.” Riots fol­lowed the re­cent pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Democrats, with­out merit, joined failed Green Party can­di­date Jill Stein’s re­count in key swing states they lost. Pro­gres­sives are be­rat­ing the con­sti­tu­tion­ally guar­an­teed Elec­toral Col­lege. State elec­tors are be­ing sub­ject to in­tim­i­da­tion cam­paigns. “Strength­en­ing polic­ing.” Lethal at­tacks on po­lice are soar­ing. “Pro­mot­ing im­mi­grant and refugee in­te­gra­tion and cit­i­zen­ship aware­ness.”

The south­ern U.S. bor­der is largely un­en­forced. Im­mi­gra­tion law is de­lib­er­ately ig­nored. The pres­i­dent’s refugee pol­icy was un­pop­u­lar and proved a dis­as­ter, as il­lus­trated by the Bos­ton Marathon bomb­ings, the San Bernardino at­tack, the Or­lando night­club shoot­ing and the re­cent Ohio State Univer­sity ter­ror­ist vi­o­lence.

Note what Mr. Obama’s staff omit­ted: his dou­bling of the U.S. debt in eight years, the un­work­able and soon-to-bere­pealed Af­ford­able Care Act, seven years of ane­mic eco­nomic growth, record la­bor non­par­tic­i­pa­tion, failed pol­icy re­sets abroad, and a Mid­dle East in ru­ins.

Why, then, has the pres­i­dent’s pre­vi­ously sink­ing pop­u­lar­ity sud­denly re­bounded in 2016?

Mr. Obama dis­ap­peared from our col­lec­tive tele­vi­sion screens, re­placed by un­pop­u­lar can­di­dates Clin­ton and Trump, who slung mud at each other and stole the lime­light.

As a re­sult, Mr. Obama dis­cov­ered that the ab­stract idea of a lame-duck Mr. Obama was more pop­u­lar than the cold re­al­ity of eight-year Pres­i­dent Obama.

He wisely ad­justed by rarely be­ing heard from or seen for much of 2016.

So Mr. Obama now de­parts amid the ruin of the Demo­cratic Party into a lu­cra­tive post-pres­i­dency: de­tached and with­out a legacy. Vic­tor Davis Han­son is a clas­si­cist and his­to­rian with the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion at Stan­ford Univer­sity.


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