In his unfortunate “robot” debate in New Hampshire, Marco Rubio raised the great mystery about the Obama presidency: are the many catastrophes of the past seven years the results of incompetence, or, as Rubio insisted, does the president know “exactly what he’s doing”?
Right now, there is a solid consensus that Obama is out of his depth, a consensus you can easily see in the stock market, in the big votes for “socialism” a la Bernie Sanders, from European allies (notably France), and from enemies like Iran, where the regime reenacted the capture of American sailors, quite literally a dramatic demonstration of Iran’s contempt for the United States.
So is it idiocy or, as Rubio claims, the systematic, perhaps even brilliant, implementation of a well-elaborated world view?
I don’t think we will know the answer for sure until the Obama archives become public. That is, IF they become public. Remember we still do not have his college transcript!
Still, we’ve got the speeches and we’ve got the actions or inactions. We know that Obama has a very negative view of America’s past international actions, and there can be little doubt that he determined to do two basic things: limit American power, and prevent America from meddling in the outside world. That’s ideological, isn’t it? Indeed, Obama was, and is, bound and determined to reverse America’s alliances, dumping or diminishing traditional allies and embracing longstanding enemies. The biggest examples of the former are Israel and Egypt (with a bit of rancor for the Saudis on the side); the big embraces are Cuba and Iran.
So I think Rubio is right to call Obama’s foreign policy “ideological.” Ditto for various domestic campaigns, the funding of “green” businesses, the IRS persecution of conservative foundations and donors, the demonization of police, and his abrupt about-face on gay marriage. Standard-issue leftist causes, the stock and trade of our current educational system. Ideology again.
But that does not save the president from legitimate criticisms of incompetence and even idiocy. The Iran policy is the magnum opus. If Obama was so determined to forge an alliance with the Islamic Republic of Iran, the worst way to do it was the one he chose: running after the Iranians like a lovelorn teenager, offering no end of presents, never saying no to Iranian demands, and not even insisting that the deal be formalized. To this day, neither we nor the Iranians have signed any agreement, which has the effect of maintaining pressure on Obama to keep Khamenei happy, lest the supreme leader walk away from the deal.
Behaving in this way inverted both the logical and strategic balance of power between the two countries. Iran was desperate for money, which we control. Ergo, it should have been fairly easy for us to say to the Iranian negotiators “well, if you don’t agree, we’ll just keep the sanctions on.” Instead we begged them to take the money and catered to all their whims. Indeed, there is very little evidence that we are at all interested in Iranian adherence to the terms of the deal. We just learned, for example, that we do not know where Iran has delivered its enriched uranium. And if we do not know where it is, we do not know if they have disposed of it, do we?
It therefore seems to me that Rubio presented a false alternative in the debate in New Hampshire. As the president has demonstrated, it is quite possible to be both ideological and incompetent at the same time.
All of which brings us back to what I have long considered the great mystery of the Obama presidency. Why is he so passionate about embracing Iran? Cuba, I understand. That is a long-standing dream of the American left (although even here he negotiated badly, and shows no sign of seriousness regarding enforcement).
Iran is a truly hateful regime that slaughters Americans, Syrians, Iraqis, and of course Iranians in big numbers and with palpable delight. Somehow, it does not seem sufficient to me to reject past American policies to warrant an embrace of such a regime. And yet, Obama has been running after the Iranians since the presidential election campaign of 2008, and he is still running after them. I think this must be ideological, above and beyond the criticism of our past policies.
What sort of ideology could account for it? Yes, as some have said, it might be some sort of Islamic conviction, but I don’t think that’s it. I do think he has romantic feelings about Islam, as he has indicated from time to time, and perhaps that is the deeper motivation for his policy.
Time will tell, provided that we do someday get to read the memos, emails, and other records of internal debates. Both in Washington and Tehran.