America's Recessional: President Obama's Legacy

Candidate Barack Obama went to Berlin in 2008. He addressed an adoring crowd of tens of thousands there and told these Europeans he was “a citizen of the world.” It was an almost unprecedented event.

Dwight Eisenhower was the first presidential candidate to make a foreign trip a key part of his campaign for the White House. As former military chief of NATO, Ike pledged in his 1952 campaign against the hapless Adlai Stevenson: “I will go to Korea.” Once Eisenhower, the five-star General of the Army, made that pledge historians say, the election was effectively over.  But Ike’s Korea promise dealt with a bloody and divisive war Americans desperately wanted to end.

Michigan Gov. George Romney (R) went to South Vietnam in 1965 during another long, bloody, and inconclusive war. He came back expressing complete confidence in American resolve and arguing for a U.S. military victory. Within two years of that statement, however, the elder Romney sought to disengage the U.S. from Vietnam and himself from his previous expressions of support. Trying to explain his turnabout, he claimed the U.S. military in Saigon had “brainwashed him.” Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-FL-Minn.) -- a vocal critic of the war -- puckishly observed that if Romney had been brainwashed, perhaps he had taken too light a load to the laundry.

But neither the supremely confident and commanding Eisenhower nor the flummoxed Romney did what Barack Obama did: No one had ever made his appeal to foreigners a key theme in his campaign for president. Barack Obama did this.

Why Germany, of all places? For half a century, Germany was the fulcrum of the Cold War. But before that, Germany was for a hundred years seen as the proving ground for Marxism. Both Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin viewed Germany as the key to the success of socialism in the world. If “scientific socialism” was to be the world’s future, if socialism was what it meant to be “on the right side of history,” then Germany was the logical place to look for its fruition.

This is why American analysts -- both liberal and conservative -- so often underestimate President Obama. They are viewing him through a domestic lens only.

They do not give him proper credit for what it is he truly seeks to accomplish. Investigative journalist Stanley Kurtz comes closest to unlocking the key to President Obama’s motivation in his important book, Radical-in-Chief. In response to a National Review Online discussion of his book, Stanley Kurtz argues:

[T]he modern Democratic party now favors policies that will drive us toward European-style socialism. Here is where I think biography does in fact add value. Although some knowledgeable conservatives will recognize the socialist implications of policies favored by the contemporary Democratic party, Democrats themselves will generally not avow this. Knowing the socialist background of [Barack Obama]a Democratic president -- and knowing that he has hidden that background -- is an excellent way of educating the public about the true implications of Obamacare, and other Democratic policies as well. Biography may not be the only educational tool, but it is one legitimate tool among others.

All of this explains why President Obama chose Chuck Hagel as his interim Sec. of Defense. Veteran defense expert Thomas Ricks writes that Hagel failed as SecDef because (1) he is lazy, never making the effort even to read the index cards and “sentence fragments” fed him by his (2) inner circle of “bobblehead” advisers. Hagel earned no respect in the Pentagon “E-Ring,” Ricks maintains. Nor, we would add, was he respected in the Pentagon’s D, C, B, or A-rings.

But none of this could have surprised the canny Barack Obama. American withdrawal from the world scene is a necessary precondition for achieving European-style socialism at home.

As a U.S. Senator, Barack Obama was a member of “the world’s most exclusive club.” Surely, he was aware of Hagel’s reputation as a lightweight. Hagel was a leading critic of the war in Iraq, after he voted to fully entangle the U.S. in Iraq’s endless tribal conflicts. As president, Mr. Obama surely knew that Hagel could serve as a kennel-fed “Republican” and a heat shield, presiding over the decline in U.S. military strength and purpose.

If Ronald Reagan’s campaign managers could boast -- with justifiable pride -- that “America is back,” Barack Obama’s team believes America must “lead from behind.” And in order to exercise that Soft Power that so entrances them, America must first get behind and then so soft. Chuck Hagel’s problem was that he was not even competent to manage the decline. That’s why President Obama has summoned Ashton Carter. He can be relied upon to command America’s retreat.

America’s Recessional is being achieved on President Obama’s watch and by his chosen course of action. Now, all he has to do is find a suitable aircraft carrier to land on and raise his banner: “Mission Accomplished.”

Ken Blackwell and Bob Morrison are senior fellows at the Family Research Council, in Washington, D.C.

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