Obama Fails the Test of Office

Over the past few weeks, we've been treated to a precise and detailed preview of what the rest of the Obama presidency will be like: a sky black with chickens coming home to roost and blaming George W. Bush.

Not even midway into the Obama presidency, we've been hit with two major crises and a scandal. Constituting the first serious challenges to confront this administration, they arrive quite belated, occurring eighteen months into Obama's first term. Obama has had plenty of time to prepare (recall that Bush was thrust into his moment of truth less than nine months after taking office). So how has he done?

The crises are, of course, the Deepwater Horizon blowout and the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan. (The Israeli maritime strike against Hamas has not yet blown up to crisis level, though the administration is doing its best to accomplish that.) The scandal is the Sestak affair, now promoted to the Sestak-Romanoff affair.       

George W. Bush was condemned by everybody from the man in the street to Heaven's mighty seraphim due to the fact that federal aid did not arrive in New Orleans for three whole days after Hurricane Katrina struck. (This was -- and remains -- standard operating procedure for federal disaster assistance. It's hard to see how it could be otherwise -- but we'll skip that.) It has been six weeks since the Deepwater Horizon blowout. And what has the Obama administration accomplished in a time period fourteen times longer than that granted to Bush?

Well, we've seen Obama frowning. Obama sticking his fingers into the sand. Obama saying he's frustrated. Obama telling us a heartwarming story about his daughter. He even, according to spokesman Robert Gibbs, said "damn" at one point. (Though this has not yet been independently verified by a third party.)

That's it. That's the sum total of accomplishment by Barack Obama, his administration, his party, and his bureaucracy, in facing his first major domestic crisis.

The hardware and ancillary equipment necessary to deal with a seabed blowout is well understood. (This information has been nicely presented elsewhere, here in particular, but we'll repeat it because the exercise is so fulfilling to the soul.) Floating booms trap the oil and keep it from dispersing. Burn booms isolate floating oil and set it ablaze. Tankers can be equipped to sweep the oil off the ocean surface. Not a single one of these items was available to any of the parties responsible for responding to a potential disaster in the Gulf. Not BP, not the Interior Department, not the federal government as a whole. The feds tried to borrow a fire boom from a private party. To what purpose is difficult to surmise -- a single boom would be about as useful as a plastic bucket in a disaster of this magnitude. Much of the past month and a half has been spent playing catchup on the equipment front, and we have not yet seen the end of it.

(For a sense of perspective, in those three days when Bush was doing "nothing," the U.S. Army was moving entire units into Louisiana from as far away as Kentucky, the Coast Guard was rescuing from twenty to thirty thousand trapped flood victims, and FEMA was launching the mammoth logistical effort to move the materials necessary for recovery. So what did Bush do wrong again? Looked out a plane window, you say?)

It's actually far worse than it seems, since Obama's failures extend to well before the blowout ever occurred. His appointee to Interior, Ken Salazar, supposedly a new order of Green crusader, failed to provide any meaningful oversight to the agencies under his control, or even give them so much as a quick examination, as far as anyone has been able to tell. But this is easily topped by the pure idiocy of announcing a new effort on offshore drilling without close consultation with industry experts, which might have revealed that at least one company was cutting corners. So the big blowout is not only a failure, but it's a multidimensional failure occurring over a lengthy duration.

We came at last to the Jindal plan, the sole attempt on record by any government official to do anything at all to halt the encroaching oil slicks. Bobby Jindal wanted to build a series of berms along the Louisiana coast. He needed federal backing for this, since the plan was a big-ticket item, with some estimates reaching $360 million. So how did the administration of President Trillion-Dollar Deficit respond? Not at all, you'll be shocked to hear. The governor heard nothing from the feds for weeks as oil began to saturate the coastal wetlands. Then, far to the north, Sarah the Huntress raised her fearsome fingers to tweet a message south: Gov.Jindal: to avoid ravished coast, build the berms. Ask forgiveness later;Feds are slow to act, local leadership&action can do more for coast.

Only then did the administration at last break its silence to order British Petroleum to pay for five berms. Why this could not have happened a month ago is anybody's guess, as is the question as to why they did not agree to the sixteen berms that Jindal says are necessary.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster is a twofer: the worst environmental disaster on record matched with most incompetent response. And all on the watch of America's greenest president. Who'd have ever guessed?

But let's cut O a little slack. After all, as his supporters say, it's not as if nothing else was happening. There's no end of urgent matters to occupy the presidential time. What about Korea?

Okay, what about it? North Korea, the most rogue of rogue regimes, torpedoes a warship, the corvette Cheonan, at the cost of 46 lives, in the most blatant act of aggression since the armistice was signed in July 1953. And Obama's response was...

Nothing. It's as if nobody was sitting in the Oval Office. As far as anyone has been able to discern, there has been no consultation with Japan; no attempt to nudge China, the sole ally North Korea has; no gesture toward U.N. involvement, for what that would be worth; no realignment or reinforcement of military forces to pressure the North. The entire administration response is encompassed in a single remark from Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs: "We certainly don't want a conflict."          

That's it. The most fraught encounter of the Cold War, a three-year clash costing 60,000 American lives, 650,000+ Chinese, and well over a million Koreans, looks as if it's about to explode once again, and what do we get from the U.S. government? "We don't want no trouble, Mr. Kim. I mean that. Just tell us what you want us to do." (The Pacific president then underlined his negligence by canceling a trip to the region for the second time.)

What do I think? I think that Kim, facing his impending death, is lashing out in the style of Tiberius. ("When I die, let fire the earth consume.") We'll be hearing more from north of the 38th parallel -- and I doubt it will wait until 2012.

Evidently, Joe Sestak doesn't exist, either.

Bill Clinton, that great, close friend of Obama, offered Sestak not a job, but a seat on some kind of intelligence council unknown to even the most experienced Washington media hands. A useless position, without even a salary, and one which, it turns out, Sestak wasn't even eligible for. This as the payoff for backing out of a viable senate campaign in one of the key mid-Atlantic states. That's what Mister I-did-not-have-sex-with-that-woman wants us to believe.

This is obviously a story cooked up to curtail further inquiries while legally covering everyone involved. It follows several months of complete silence apart from the customary runaround from Robert Gibbs. The fact that there must be more to it would not have escaped the attention of a small child, as long as that child was not employed by a major media outlet.  

The story grew legs last week when it was revealed that Colorado senate candidate Andrew Romanoff was offered a choice of three positions by White House apparatchik Jim Messina if he too abandoned his campaign.

So now we have two identical potential felonies connected with the administration. Excitement on our side of the fence has reached a high pitch, with speculation concerning impeachment or a forced resignation. Is there anything to it?

Sad to say, probably not. The classic formulation concerning political scandals is that they work best the less you need to explain them. Watergate scarcely needed any explanation. A burglary of Democratic headquarters by shady operatives on behalf of a paranoid Richard Nixon? The story in all its ramifications told itself with no effort whatsoever. But this? Somebody in the White House -- nobody knows who -- wanted to give a guy a job. There's no resonance to this story; it opens no broad vistas of criminality and corruption. Push it too hard as it stands and it's likely to generate a blowback in favor of Obama as much as anything else. (Besides, it was Big Bill who offered the deal, and he's already been impeached once. It didn't even slow him down.)

All the same, Obama is repeating Nixon's mistake in trying to ignore the scandal out of existence. They called this "stonewalling" back in 1972. It works for a while, but not forever. If something else comes up, it could blow the whole thing wide open. Perhaps Darrell Issa will track down something interesting. We can hope.

There are three markers for dismal in modern American politics: Bush's Katrina effort for natural disasters (unfair, I know, but there it is), Jimmy Carter's inertia during the Iranian hostage crisis for foreign relations, and Richard Nixon's Watergate fiasco for internal scandals. As of this moment, Obama has matched all three, and, it can be argued, exceeded them in the case of Bush and Carter.

As for future crises, all planted, fertilized, watered, and ready to emerge, we have:

  • Israel -- the Hamas flotilla was simply a test to see how far they could go, much the same as the Cheonan sinking. There will be more to come.
  • Iran -- those nukes will be coming off the line soon enough. Praise Allah!
  • Russia -- perpetually on the alert to grab off whatever they can. O handled Georgia just swell, didn't he?
  • Collapse of the Euro -- not so much a possibility as a certainty. But hey, economics is O's major strength. We've got to admit that, haven't we?
  • Terror Strikes -- eventually the jihadis are going to run out of goofs and send somebody who can figure out how to light a fuse. Look out below!
  • The Border -- What border?
  • A Double Dip -- See "Collapse of the Euro," above.

...along with the inevitable unforeseen eventuality that always hits at the precise wrong moment.

Previous presidents have often grown in stature when trouble hits. FDR, Harry Truman, and Bush all manned up when confronted with unexpected and overwhelming crises, which is why we look back at them with affection and respect (yes, even FDR). Can anybody picture O doing the same? Well, Salvador Dalí, maybe, but I'm not him.

Obama got into office under false pretenses, a fact that has now become undeniable. He was omnicompetent, eminently intelligent, the man -- the god, according to some -- with all the answers. Now the lifeguard is at the deep end of the pool, over his head, and floundering, with the bath house on fire and alligators jumping into the children's end. It is our task as citizens (and I include those who voted for him) to assure that he doesn't pull the U.S., not to mention the rest of the world, down with him, while also somehow dealing with all those other challenges. This should keep us busy until 2012.

I take great comfort in Adam Smith's dictum: "Be assured that there is a great deal of ruin in a nation." This holds far more truth for the United States than for many other countries. Even today, with all that we've endured, we still have suffered only a few dents and scratches. The U.S. is tough; whatever comes, we'll get through it all right. In truth, much of our problem lies in the fact that we've become a bit spoiled -- as O's election demonstrates clearly enough. We need some of that kicked out of us by circumstances. When the Interregnum is over, we'll in better shape than we were when it began.

And I'll tell you something else: he'll crack before we do.

J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker.
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