Sunday, January 8, 2017

Obama: Evil, Incompetent, or Impotent?


When Barrack Obama seemed destined to win the Presidency, my take was that his supporters were going to be disappointed. I wasn't taking a political side. That year I voted for Ron Paul in the primary, and Cynthia McKinney in the general. So I wasn't terribly biased. It was easy to be cynical if you weren't caught up in the Obama hype train, because, well the hype was for real, and the man had no sort of qualifying background. He had no executive experience of any type whatesover. His primary accomplishment was a well-regarded speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. Even his election to the US Senate was not a great accomplishment because he basically ran unopposed after someone got ahold of his opponent's lurid divorce proceedings. Chicago politics are dirty.

Obama was promising a lot, he was getting mad hype as the "first black" president, and he had nothing to show but an ability to give appealing speeches when provided with a teleprompter. (He also has great comedic timing). He had a patchy background. Conspiracy theories abounded. There was a lot of reason to question his competence. There was style but was there any substance?


As he ran the country and it became apparent that a lot of the campaign promises weren't happening, I started to ask whether Obama was naive or duplicitous. Did he not understand what he was getting himself into, or did he realize the difficulties but pretend otherwise to get elected? As time has gone I've leaned towards the former. It seemed the he was overwhelmed by the practical difficulties of getting his policies implemented. He often seems frustrated. I hope it was the former, as that is morally more forgivable, yet is certainly no merit to the electorate that they chose a Dunning-Kruger Effect victim, or someone who knows so little about a given domain that they don't even realize how little they know.


As his tenure runs out my analysis shifts again. Presidents should be judged primarily on their foreign policy. Domestic policy is largely set by Congress (and increasingly the activist judicial) and most presidents just hope to get a few pieces of legislation through to make good on campaign promises. But in foreign policy the president is king. Perhaps emperor. While elections focus most on domestic, the president has the greatest impact overseas. Wedding parties getting accidentally droned probably aren't super concerned about the US President's abortion stance.

Using Syria as a case study, I have to ask. Was Obama evil, incompetent, or impotent?


If Syria went as Obama wished, then he is an evil man. He allowed ISIS to rise to counter Assad. He intentionally spared their economic activities during the year-long bombing campaign against them. He stoked civil war in Syria knowing there would be a humanitarian/refugee crisis. He knew Saudi Arabia and Quatar were funding ISIS but didn't pressure them to stop, or to take Arabian refugees. He intentionally violated the ceasefire that had been negotiated between the US, Russia, Syria, and numerous rebel factions.


The following evidence would suggest he wasn't evil but just incompetent.
  • He tried to rally for war after the infamous "red line" incident but couldn't muster enough support, either at home or abroad.
  • He was diplomatically outmaneuvered by Russia who relieved Assad of all chemical weapons.
  • He failed at his primary objected: regime change.
  • Russia was able to sneak into the country and establishment air dominance overnight, in a massive challenge to US regional hegemony.
  • Obama showed great regret for the fall of Aleppo. Clearly he was not able to enact his policy objectives. [That he and the MSM showed open regret after Aleppo was liberated from ISIS is just utterly amazing.]
  • He failed to make adequate in-theater humanitarian accommodations. Some US allies in the region haven't take a single refugee. The refugee crisis has destabilized Europe, is causing the collapse of the EU, and is creating a resurgence in right-wing political parties. (surely not Obama's intention).
  • He has been unable to maintain any illusion as a peace maker, despite being the only Nobel Peace prize recipient in the theater. The US failed to uphold the previous cease fire, and the current one was orchestrated by Russia.


It might be argued that he wasn't so much incompetent as much as impotent. That is, it wasn't just that his policy was a failure, but that he didn't actually have that much control over the policy.

The first argument is that Obama's foreign policy was so different than his campaign rhetoric. While I advised that he would be disappointing, I would have never suspected that the man who was elected and won a Nobel Peace prize for basically saying he wasn't a neocon, ended up extending the Bush Doctrine for 8 years. Did Obama have a major change in heart? Who was influencing him?

Second, Obama's actions are not quite Bush-style neoconservatism. Before Bush, the US has long meddled in the affairs of other nations. We deposed leaders we didn't like in Latin America and other places. We normally did this covertly through entities like the CIA or more shadowy elements of the military, and maintained a level of plausible deniability. Bush basically made the secret policy the public policy, and said we'd use conventional military forces to do so. 

Obama didn't end the neocon policy, but to a large degree reverted to the old ways. Not completely, as air power was used to topple Libya and the policy to intervene was codified in a UN resolution. But no boots were put on the ground. Instead we armed and funded rebels. This is just standard CIA activity. In Syria the same thing happened. The entirety of US involvement there was basically CIA operations: arming and funding rebels, psy-ops to stir dissent, etc. The foreign policy sure looks like it was entirely driven by the CIA, not the antineocon Nobel Peace laureate.

Third, there was visible incohesion in US activities. The CIA and Defense Department had different objectives and supported different factions. At times CIA-backed factions were fighting DoD-backed factions. This was America in a proxy war with herself. At the time I commented that our foreign policy had hit "peak insanity". What was clear is that there is no way Obama had strong control over foreign policy, if different elements were acting in different ways, sometimes directly opposed to one another. It seems to me that the CIA was having their way, and the DoD was resistant.

Fourth was the end of the ceasefire when US forces killed 60 or 70 Syria Army troops. This ceasefire was negotiated at a high-level and broken at a lower level. It's certainly possible that things sort of "organically" got out of control. But I suspect the cease-fire was broken intentionally against Obama's wishes. 


As you ponder the question, whether he was evil, incompetent, or impotent, don't rack yourself with indecision, as the conclusions are not mutually exclusive.

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