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Second-Term Reckonings

Obama’s past sermons about transparency, the revolving door, and the abuse of big money in campaign donations are now at odds with his practice. He blasted the waterboarding of three confessed terrorists, and then had nearly 3,000 suspected terrorists vaporized by Predator drones, apparently on the rationale that an OK from former Yale Law Dean Harold Koh and reading Augustine and Aquinas while selecting the hit list made it all liberal and thus correct.

All of the above is mostly unknown to the average voter and ignored by the media. But the untruths and hypocrisy hover in the partisan atmosphere and incrementally and insidiously undermine each new assertion that we hear from the president -- some of them perhaps necessary and logical. Indeed, the more emphatically he adds “make no mistake about it,” “let me be perfectly clear,” “I’m not kidding,” or the ubiquitous “me,” “my,” and “I” to each new assertion, the more a growing number of people will come to know from the past that what follows simply is not true. Does this matter? Yes, because when the reckoning comes, it will be seen as logical rather than aberrant -- and long overdue.


Most Americans are tired of Afghanistan, as they were of Iraq, as they were of Vietnam -- the cost in lives and money, the lack of clear victory, the endlessness of the commitment, the ingratitude of our allies, and the barbarity of our enemies. But as in the case of the withdrawal from Vietnam, with time comes reflection that after a huge investment of blood and treasure Americans had won the peace in Iraq, and could have ensured it with a small watchdog force, and the same might have been true of Afghanistan.

Obama will be credited with ending both wars that George Bush started (though the violence in Iraq was mostly over when Obama assumed power), but the ultimate fate of both countries will be in his hands -- and they may not be pretty when the Taliban starts taking reprisals on female doctors, gays, and any who are seen as Westernized. (Vietnam at least had a coast for the boat people; Afghanistan is landlocked). Expect serial interventions of the sort we now see with the French in Somalia, when Afghanistan returns to an Islamist state that harbors al-Qaeda, hangs women in its soccer stadium, and begins murdering thousands who were tainted by the West.

For now we talk of the hyper-sensitive “Jewish” or “Israeli” lobby that “went after” Chuck Hagel. We are assured that the new distance from Israel is just a neocon talking point. But soon we shall see the multiplying effect of Obama/Kerry/Hagel/Brennan upon our strategic relationship with Israel, and it may well be during a war rather than mere talking points about settlements at a time of peace. The Arab Spring was sold as one thing; but should Syria and Egypt, along with Libya, end up as Sunni versions of Iran, then Americans will begin to ask why and how. (Who “lost” not just North Africa, but the entire Middle East?)

In short, this is the time when a careful Obama should be calling for bipartisan implementation of the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles commission, redoing a Gingrich-Clinton compromise, seeking non-polarizing appointments of the Panetta/Gates sort, and cooling his presidential partisan rhetoric.

Unfortunately, he had done the opposite, and so a reckoning is on the near horizon. Let us pray it does not take us all down with his administration.