There is no longer much principled left-wing opposition to unilateral U.S. intervention abroad. Barack Obama “led from behind” in Libya, leaving Tripoli as a Mogadishu on the Mediterranean. There was not much criticism of that disaster, even though the president did not go to the U.S. Congress for permission to bomb Libya — the first time since the Korean War that a president had skipped consulting Congress but instead asked the U.N. for permission to attack a sovereign nation. In Syria, Obama further embarrassed the Left by announcing that he would not consult Congress before bombing Assad, then that he would consult Congress, then that he would abide by its decision only if it approved his proposed intervention — and finally that he would not intervene at all.
Speaking of the United Nations, no president in recent memory has done more to undermine its credibility. Barack Obama won two resolutions, the first authorizing a no-fly-zone protectorate over Libya and the second authorizing humanitarian assistance. Then he exceeded both by bombing in support of insurgent ground operations. The result was that both China and Russia were determined not to be played again by the U.S. and so later wrecked any chance that the United Nations might authorize a limited intervention in Syria.
The U.N., after a great deal of pressure on the part of the U.S., finally authorized stiff sanctions on Iran. Now the Obama administration has been unilaterally seeking to soften those sanctions without international consensus — the foreign-policy counterpart to Obama’s abruptly dropping the employer-mandate portion of Obamacare. The result again is that there will be no credible liberal critique of a conservative unilateralist president in the future, should he likewise sidestep the United Nations to bomb as Obama wished to do in Syria, or simply undermine a U.N. resolution as he has with Iran, or exceeded one as he did in Libya. Will liberals accuse the next president of insufficiently consulting or complying with the U.N.?
During the Bush first term there was a liberal critique of Republican excessive deficit spending. By 2007 Barack Obama had made it an unlikely but effective Democratic issue, and thus Obama himself the next year labeled the president in McCarthyesque terms as “unpatriotic” for his serial deficits. That liberal issue of reckless deficits too has vanished. Barack Obama is on course to have incurred more red ink in eight years than all prior presidents combined.
Obama has left other dilemmas for liberals. He was the largest recipient of Goldman Sachs and BP money in history. His financial team — notably Peter Orszag, who left the administration for Citigroup, and Jack Lew, who came to the administration from Citigroup — are proverbial revolving-door Wall Street fat cats who, in the parlance of Occupy Wall Street and Elizabeth Warren, did not really build their own wealth. It will be hard to take seriously any future liberal critique of a Republican cozying up to Wall Street.
In other areas, hypocrisy gives way to incoherence. Obama seems to oppose fracking and horizontal drilling on public lands, but he cites private development as proof that his administration has done more to promote U.S. fossil-fuel production than any other in history. In terms of the deficit, forced sequestration is damned as reckless and yet becomes the basis for bragging about reductions in the deficit.
The middle class? In terms of disposable income, jobs, and per capita net worth, the two Obama terms are becoming a disaster — though not for the 1 percent and for Wall Streeters generally, who are the beneficiaries of an acceleration in income inequality. Ditto the tragedy of minority employment; under Obama it has nosedived. Obama can, of course, talk of working for the middle class, but his fiscal, energy, and regulation policies are emasculating it.
Barack Obama will survive his debacles in Benghazi and Syria, and his alphabet-soup IRS, AP, NSA, and ACA scandals. But the credibility of his supporters and of the media, which sacrificed principle for Obama’s own expediency, will not.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His latest book is The Savior Generals, published this spring by Bloomsbury Books.