Foreign-Policy Incoherence
President Obama defends himself against straw men.


Conrad Black

After taking refuge in last week’s column in a discussion of the hazards of watching television news, I can no longer conscientiously resist the duty of commenting on President Obama. Last week, when asked about recent American foreign-policy setbacks, prompted by a New York Times front-page article on the subject — a sharp turn from a newspaper that has given the president the benefit of every doubt — he opened a wordy, evasive, and self-pitying reply by attacking Fox News, as if the Times and other components of his media amen corner were still conducting a hallelujah chorus, and then unloaded on all those who urge an instant recourse to force in foreign policy. This had nothing to do with the question, and, while I acknowledged last week that my canvass of the media, for cardiological and digestive reasons, was not complete, I am not aware that anyone is publicly calling for the use of force by the United States anywhere.

This highlights one of the president’s most profoundly irritating and frequently employed techniques: to avoid real issues and try to substitute a masquerade as an aggrieved, put-upon, uncharitably disparaged toiler for the nation, like President Lincoln being caricatured because of his craggy appearance as he fought through the Civil War, or FDR being reviled as a poseur and a class-turncoat for trying to alleviate the Great Depression with ambitious workfare and conservation projects. It is the dutiful and successful president as victim of the snide carpers and whiners among his partisan opponents. All successful and prominent people have to endure some of that, but Mr. Obama has certainly not had an unusual amount of it. This appears to be the successor defense to the hackneyed line that Jimmy Carter and others were recruited to utter, that the president was a victim of unspoken but pervasive racism. Virtually everyone in and near the United States, and everyone in the world who follows American affairs at all and is not a foaming-at-the-mouth Americaphobe, is pleased or relieved that the traditional bar against a non-white’​s being elected president has been discarded. Pigmentation is an utterly absurd and completely uncivilized criterion for casting a vote, and it is a great national as well as personal achievement that Barack Obama smashed that barrier. The great majority of Americans, and all non-Americans who wish the country well, always hope the U.S. president does well, and that was especially true of this president, because of his pioneering achievement as a person of partly African and partly Muslim ancestry. 

President Obama was the first incumbent U.S. president since Martin Van Buren in 1840 to seek reelection without referring to his record. Van Buren was fighting an economic depression largely produced by his mentor and predecessor, Andrew Jackson — whom he had served as vice president and secretary of state — after Jackson’s revocation of the charter of the Bank of the United States. Van Buren could neither pretend the economy was “fundamentally sound” nor attack Jackson, so he conducted an unsuccessful campaign of red herrings and diversions and was defeated by General William H. Harrison with his “cider and log cabin” campaign of boisterous hoopla. Even Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter, who were unsuccessful presidents, gamely ran on their records and argued, that, in the first case, “prosperity was just around the corner” and that, in the other, the incumbent “had taken the hard decisions.” They did their best and had their moments and didn’t run away from their records in office.

In 2012, President Obama obfuscated over the health-care debacle; pretended that the murder of an American ambassador in Libya was not the result of a terrorist incident, because he was claiming to have virtually stamped out terrorism; attacked the Roman Catholic Church; accused the Republicans of conducting a war on women, on all categories of benefit recipients, and on working people of modest incomes; and basically dismissed the GOP as a party of warmongering billionaires, exploiters, and crooks. The economic miracle he produced — minimal economic growth, despite an increase in the accumulated national debt of 233 years of independence by 80 percent in four years, with a third of that increase accomplished by having a subsidiary of the Treasury buy its unsold bonds with specially issued notes, an essentially fraudulent increase of the money supply — was never mentioned. Neither was a series of foreign-policy fiascos such as the failed attempt to improve relations with the loopy theocracy in Iran by declining to encourage the opposition (at least 70 percent of the people), who were robbed and persecuted in what was represented as a free presidential election.

As all the world knows, despite this evasive campaign and objectively unimpressive record in office, the president was reelected, though without the riptide of enthusiasm that put him across in 2008. 


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