Ed Driscoll

Hitting the Ejector Seat on the Clown Car Presidency

“A consensus assessment of the past week’s events could easily form around Oliver Hardy’s famous lament to the compulsive bumbler Stan Laurel: ‘Here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten us into!'”, Daniel Henninger writes in the Wall Street Journal on “The Laurel and Hardy Presidency.” Though that’s an unfortunate shot at a pair of venerated performers from Hollywood’s golden era,  professional comedians who worked extremely hard to be deliberately funny. Humor, both of the slip-on-a-banana-peel and gallows variety, is merely the unintentional byproduct of Mr. Obama and his hapless administration:

The past week was a perfect storm of American malfunction. Colliding at the center of a serious foreign-policy crisis was Barack Obama’s manifest skills deficit, conservative animosity toward Mr. Obama, Republican distrust of his leadership, and the reflexive opportunism of politicians from Washington to Moscow.

It is Barack Obama’s impulse to make himself and whatever is in his head the center of attention. By now, we are used to it. But this week he turned himself, the presidency and the United States into a spectacle. We were alternately shocked and agog at these events. Now the sobering-up has to begin.

The world has effectively lost its nominal leader, the U.S. president. Is this going to be the new normal? If so—and it will be so if serious people don’t step up—we are looking at a weakened U.S president who has a very, very long three years left on his term.

The belief by some that we can ride this out till a Reagan-like rescue comes in the 2016 election is wrong. Jimmy Carter’s Iranian hostage crisis began on Nov. 4, 1979. One quick year later, the American people turned to Ronald Reagan. There will be no such chance next year or the year after that—not till November 2016.

Henninger adds that “The libertarian lurch on foreign policy among some Republicans is a dead end. Libertarians understand markets. But left alone, the global market in aggression won’t clear. Like a malign, untreated tumor, it will grow. You can’t program it to kill only non-Americans. The world’s worst impulses run by their own logic. What’s going to stop them now?”

But perhaps the libertarian lurch on foreign policy among some Republicans is caused by a very different kind of dead end. In his review of Lewis Sorley’s 1999 book, A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and the Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam, Orrin Judd wrote:

In 1972, with the Viet Cong essentially eliminated as an effective fighting force, the North Vietnamese mounted a massive Easter offensive, but this too was decisively defeated.

Having failed to achieve their aims militarily, the North Vietnamese turned their attention to the Paris Peace Talks.  They were extraordinarily fortunate to be dealing with Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon, two opportunists of the worst sort, who were willing to negotiate a deal which left the North with troops in South Vietnam.  When President Thieu balked at this and threatened to scuttle the talks, the North backed off of the whole deal and Nixon ordered the 1972 Christmas bombings of Hanoi.  For eleven days, waves of B-52’s, each carrying 108 500-pound and 750-pound bombs, pummeled the North.  For perhaps the only time during the entire War, the North was subjected to total war, and they were forced to return to the negotiating table.  Sorley cites Sir Robert Thompson’s assessment that :

“In my view, on December 30, 1972, after eleven days of those B-52 attacks on the Hanoi area, you had won the war.  It was over.”

At that point, the Viet Cong had been destroyed, we had definitely won the insurgency phase of the War.  Additionally, the North had been defeated in the initial phase of conventional warfare, and had finally had the War brought home to them in a significant way.  Though the overall War was certainly not over, it was sitting there, just waiting to be won.

So what happened ?

Here’s how the Democrat Congress eviscerated South Vietnam immediately afterwards, because, you know, Nixon, maaaan: 

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In 2009 shortly before Barack Obama took office, William McGurn, a former chief speechwriter for Bush #43, wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Bush’s Real Sin Was Winning in Iraq,” adding that “perhaps the most important reason for this unpopularity is the one least commented on. Here’s a hint: It’s not because of his failures. To the contrary, Mr. Bush’s disfavor in Washington owes more to his greatest success. Simply put, there are those who will never forgive Mr. Bush for not losing a war they had all declared unwinnable.”

Naturally, President Bush’s successor could not allow that to stand.

As Michael Graham recently wrote in the Boston Herald, “In Iraq, where we toppled Saddam just a decade ago and oversaw three national elections, there isn’t a single American combat soldier left. A fact President Obama has repeatedly celebrated.” Because, you know, Bush, maaaan:

Now imagine the world today — the exploding Egypt, sarin-gas Syria, bombs-in-Benghazi world — if Obama had treated Iraq the way America treated Germany, Japan and Korea. Imagine the Middle East with a fully functioning U.S. military base on the border of Iran and Syria, able to project power right on Bashar Assad and the ayatollahs’ doorsteps.

Alas, we can only imagine …

Syria, as bad as it is, isn’t even close to the greatest foreign policy failure of the Obama administration. It’s a symptom of Obama’s abandonment of the region. And the high (low?) point of that policy was Obama’s decision to abandon the moderate, pro-Western citizens of Iraq to the extremists.

Obama’s withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq will be viewed by history as one of the greatest foreign policy blunders of all time.

Please don’t start the tired “Bush Lied, People Died” nonsense. Forget the faulty intelligence on Iraq’s WMD program. Even if you lie in bed at night sticking pins in your “W” voodoo doll, it’s irrational to ignore the pragmatic value of a U.S. military force in a U.S.-leaning Iraq in the heart of the mess that is Obama’s “Arab Spring” Middle East.

Having 10,000 trained, intelligence-gathering troops bolstering the flagging courage of timid (small “d”) democrats and rattling the nerves of despots and terrorists is a good thing — no matter how we got there.

Nation building requires, as Churchill would say, enormous amounts of blood, sweat, and toil. If our betters on the left side of the aisle won’t allow those nations for which we’ve worked so hard to free from tyranny to maintain their freedom, what’s the point? Better to not get involved at all.

Of course, that also applies to those “humanitarian” conflicts the left wishes to engage in as well.  Speaking of which, in Obama’s mercifully brief but tragically ill-conceived* speech on Tuesday he disgustingly said:

And so to my friends on the right, I ask you to reconcile your commitment to America’s military might with the failure to act when a cause is so plainly just.

To my friends on the left, I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain and going still on a cold hospital floor, for sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough.

Noted – and not soon forgotten. Yesterday, libertarian economist and 2008 Obama supporter Megan McArdle responded at Bloomberg.com:

Maybe this convinced some left-wing Democrats, though you wouldn’t know it from my Twitter feed. But only at the expense of backhanding Republicans. His argument was, in essence: Republicans, you may not care about the freedom and dignity of foreigners, or children writhing in pain and going still on a cold hospital floor. But you sure do love war and the military! We’re going to restore dignity, freedom and life to some foreigners by bombing them — couldn’t you overlook the fact that foreigners will benefit, as long as we get to blow some stuff up?

I don’t think that argument is what he meant to make. That’s why it’s so breathtaking. Presumably our tin-eared president, and his blinkered speechwriting staff, didn’t even hear him juxtaposing people who care about freedom, dignity and dead children, on the one hand, and bitter clingers who are committed to military might, on the other. If Obama does need to go to Congress to get authorization, this lead balloon of an appeal will weigh him down every step of the way.

Way to build unity when, as that leftwing cliché goes, the whole world really is watching, champ. Yet another reason to support, at least for now, what Jonah Goldberg memorably described as the “To Hell With Them” foreign policy.

When the driver of the clown car retires from the circus for good, perhaps the nation will respond differently. Or perhaps, like Charlie Brown, it’s seen the football pulled out from under them one too many times.

* Alvy Singer, call your office.