Obama's Last Chance
President Barack Obama is wrapping things up at the White House, and he naturally wants to cram-in last minute achievements, leave his mark, and ensure a policy legacy.
All presidents do that, but President Obama is making some terrible errors in focus and time management, because one cannot rectify eight years of over-reach, under-reach or missed chances in a matter of days or hours.
Mr. Obama has a sharp pen, but he has to be careful not to stick himself -- and the country -- in the rear. That last pen-poke may be the most lasting part of his legacy. That is why it is a huge mistake to try to make major changes in the following areas:
- Re-setting relations with Russia, again, but this time to a kind of Cold War footing, rather than the moderate and flexible posture that in truth he, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry pursued futilely for nearly eight years;
- Trying to re-set the foundations of America’s ties with Israel and the entire international community’s approach to Arab-Israeli peace, rejecting the flexible formula of “defensible borders” and “land-for-peace” of UN Resolution 242 of 1967 and moving to an imposed solution of total Israeli withdrawal in 2017;
- Trying to build-in last-minute edicts to protect hastily conceived environmental edicts and sloppy health-care legislation;
- Releasing or re-settling dangerous terrorists from Guantanamo Base to sites inside the continental US;
- Re-settling hundreds of Syrian “refugees” -- most of them young Muslim males, not children, women or Christian victims -- inside the United States without any careful review of their background.
For once, Mr. Obama needs to be honest with himself. These areas just mentioned are not areas of success.
No amount of spinning will change the fact that Obama failed on Russia, failed on cyber-security, failed to impose total withdrawal on Israel. Obama worked hard to placate Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Everyone heard him promise Putin and his puppet Dimitri Medvedev (over an open microphone) that he would be more “flexible” after the 2012 election. This was Barack Obama, not Donald Trump, not Julian Assange.
There are many witnesses to Obama’s flexibility -- buried in the Ukraine and in Syria, where Obama let Putin do what he wanted. Now, in the final hours of his presidency, Obama wants everyone to import refugees, instability and potential terror from Syria.
Obama thought he was the smartest guy in the world when it came to dealing with Muslims and the Middle East. He invited the Muslim Brotherhood, hugged Turkey’s Islamist autocrat Recep Erdogan, befriended Iran’s ayatollahs and the corrupt PLO.
They all became more extreme. The PLO will not even talk to Israel without having preconditions met -- a reversal of 20 years of talks, and there are now more journalists in jail in Turkey than ever before (more jailed journalists than anywhere else in the world).
Obama’s removal of Iran sanctions, his passivity to Iranian provocations, and his attacks on Israel, encouraged the Iranians to persecute Iranian dissidents, to kidnap more Americans, to harass US ships in the Persian Gulf area.
When the real US-Iran deal was revealed -- including paying Iran almost two billion in un-marked bills -- Obama tried to change the story line. It was a fantastic deal, he said. The Israeli Prime Minister was blind, extreme. The ayatollahs were moderate realists.
So, after so many failed lies, so many treacherous talking points, will another Obama speech tour or late diplomatic flurry change the real results of eight years at this hour?
Ultimately, what defeated Obama-Clinton was not any Republican. It was Obama’s own arrogance -- not the audacity of hope but the audacity of hype. It was Obama’s hubris, his chutzpah and the same inattention to details that made him a bad student at Columbia who spent his whole time failing but somehow graduating to the next level.
Obama-Clinton Kerry did not do the homework, and Obama cannot hide his grades this time because the work -- for better or worse -- is either done or not done.
So what can Obama realistically do with his last hours in office -- something that will leave a nice shine on his years?
Let’s revisit January 2009. Barack Obama’s promise -- in words and potential -- was being a young “man of color” bringing “hope and change.” He was meant to be a symbol for a post-racial society, a post-partisan society, but it was Obama’s biggest broken promise.
Obama’s years will be seen as the time partisanship grew and racial tensions rose again.
But there is a last-minute chance to use Obama’s symbolic presidency to do something good and noble.
A few days ago a group of African-American youths in Chicago attacked and tortured a young, mentally crippled white man for several hours. They broadcast their actions.
Chicago is Obama’s home town, and the African-American community there is his turf. That is where he began as a community organizer.
This is Obama’s chance to step up and to condemn anti-White as well as anti-Black actions and rhetoric -- to show that all men are created equal, that all lives matter.
President Obama should find the assaulted young white man, visit him or bring him to the White House in one of his final acts. Then, Mr. Obama, embrace him, please.
America will have a fonder memory of you.
Michael Widlanski is the author of “Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat.”