Belmont Club

The Fat Lady

President Obama is still received throughout the Western alliance as the “leader of the free world”, a position American presidents have held de facto since the end of the Second World War.  Despite the increasingly strident domestic criticism of the president and falling poll numbers, other leaders find it impolitic — not to mention diplomatically improper — to openly express doubts about Obama’s character or competence.

So they’ve taken a page out of his playbook and decided to do a little backstabbing themselves.  The exact moment when the Benghazi crisis began to clip Obama’s wings will probably be  identified as August 29, 2013. That is the date the British parliament refused to join Barack Obama’s impending strike on Syria after it had crossed his “Red Line”.

Congress couldn’t stop him. The American press couldn’t delay him but the British parliament, by pulling out of the deal, tossed a wrench into the gears.

And now the Germans are doing the same thing.  Though the Washington press try to portray Obama’s inaction against Putin as the result of his generous nature, Obama is hampered by a more basic problem: Germany won’t go along.

NBC news says that while “Obama wants the United States and Europe to stand together and force Russia to rethink its moves in Ukraine.”  But Angela Merkel isn’t taking orders. The German leader was in Washington to discuss how far she is willing to play along.  “She is under intense pressure from business interests at home, plus segments of the German public, not to hit Russia too hard, said Julianne Smith, a former deputy national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden.”

Adding an element of tension, Germany is still furious about National Security Agency eavesdropping, which reportedly extended to Merkel’s own phone.

“It will not be all sweetness and light. She’s coming. That’s important,” said Smith, director of the Strategy and Statecraft Program at the Center for a New American Security, a nonpartisan policy center in Washington.

Most of the heavy lifting in a sanctions regime will be done by Merkel. She’s not in Washington to rubber-stamp orders issued by the Leader of the Free World. If anything president Obama is being told how far he can go, like a child put on an allowance.

Only a comparatively small percentage of the American public may have noticed that despite the happy talk reported in the papers Obama failed to get a trade deal during his trip to Japan. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation writes, “American president Barack Obama has left Japan, having failed to lock in a bilateral trade deal between the two countries.”

Australia signed its own trade agreement with Japan earlier this month that will see tariffs reduced across a number of commodities, although the agriculture sector was largely disappointment with that deal.

The American farm lobby expressed its irritation that Australia was able to secure a deal with Japan where the US has not.

Shinzo Abe is less deferential too. Taken together these actions are suggestive of a kind of low-key circumscription of Obama by key members of the alliance. They are now slow-walking him, fobbing him off or — in the case of the British — outright refusing to go along, almost as if a ‘no confidence’ vote in his leadership had been cast behind his back.

Russia perhaps sensing this, may be trying to further diminish Obama’s stature by ridicule. Recently it retaliated against American sanctions placed on Putin’s inner circle by enacting sanctions of its own. There’s a “‘black list’ of Americans banned from Russia [including] Obama campaign fundraisers tied to the LGBT community and senior Congressmen” according to The Daily Beast.

But the ridicule is probably superfluous plus there probably aren’t many Obama LGBT bundlers who are fixing to vacation in Moscow anyway.  It does in indicate a belief Obama is vulnerable to gibes.

However, whatever Putin may do Obama’s political fate will ultimately be determined domestically, and that may be the biggest danger to the president of all. Glenn Reynolds notes that he is “lawyering up”, hiring W. Neil Eggleston as chief counsel. “Eggleston worked as a White House lawyer under Clinton, handling politically explosive issues like the Whitewater controversy, and later represented the former president during the investigation into the Monica Lewinsky affair.”

Hiring Eggleston mirrors House speaker John Boehner announcement that he intends to create a new select committee to investigate the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi.

“The House committees that have been investigating this attack have done extraordinary work, using their subpoena power, holding dozens of hearings, and conducting hundreds of interviews. Without this work we would not know much that we do today. But it’s clear that questions remain, and the administration still does not respect the authority of Congress to provide proper oversight. This dismissiveness and evasion requires us to elevate the investigation to a new level. I intend for this select committee to have robust authority, and I will expect it to work quickly to get answers for the American people and the families of the victims.

Not always the most daredevil of organizations, a Republican leadership which has been treading water on Benghazi for a year and a half has now nerved itself to strike very nearly at the president.  It can only be because they sense Obama’s vulnerability and like a pack of wolves sensing wounded prey are gingerly advancing. In politics timing is everything and maybe Boehner figures “it’s time”.

His nonstick coating has worn out.

While Obama has not quite lost his position as “Leader of the Free World” he seems to have been consensually demoted. While there is no imminent danger to the president from the Congressional select committee on Benghazi, that could change very quickly if the information cofferdam surrounding the president begins to crumble and damaging secrets begin to emerge.  The policy background surrounding Benghazi involves matters many times more serious than the attempted burglary which toppled Richard Nixon.  The potential for something serious to come out of it is high.

But there’ll be some time yet. There’s a saying that it isn’t over till the Fat Lady sings. She hasn’t quite sung yet, but she is certainly warming up her tonsils.

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