Often, crazy things seem normal for a time because logical catastrophes do not immediately follow.
A deeply suspicious Richard Nixon systematically and without pushback for years undermined and politicized almost every institution of the federal government, from the CIA and the FBI to the IRS and the attorney general’s office. Nixon seemed to get away with it — until his second term. Once the public woke up, however, the eventual accounting proved devastating: resignation of a sitting president, prison sentences for his top aides, collapse of the Republican party, government stasis, a ruined economy, the destruction of the Vietnam peace accords that had led to a viable South Vietnam, the end of Henry Kissinger’s diplomatic breakthroughs, and a generation of abject cynicism about government. Did Nixon ever grasp that such destruction was the natural wage of his own paranoia?
In the post-Watergate climate of reform, for nearly three years a naïve Jimmy Carter gave utopian speeches about how American forbearance would end the Cold War and create a new world order based on human rights — until America’s abdication started to erode the preexisting global order. Scary things followed, such as the fall of the shah of Iran, the rise of Iranian theocracy, the taking of American hostages in Tehran, revolutions and insurrection throughout Central America, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, radical Islamists taking over Mecca, more gas lines, continued stagflation, and China invading Vietnam. Did the puritanical Carter ever understand what might be the consequences of his own self-righteousness in an imperfect world?
Barack Obama likewise has done some crazy things that seemed for years to have no ramifications. Unfortunately, typical of the ways of Nemesis (a bitter goddess who waits until the opportune moment to demand payment for past hubris), suddenly the bills for Obama’s six years of folly are coming due for the American people.
When a president occasionally fails to tell the truth, you get a scandal like the monitoring of the Associated Press reporters. When a president serially fails to tell the truth, you get that plus the scandals involving the IRS, the NSA, the VA, Benghazi, and too many others to mention.
The same is true abroad. The American public hardly noticed when Obama recklessly withdrew every peacekeeper from Iraq. Did he not boast of “ending the Iraq War”? It did not mind when the U.S. posted dates for withdrawal from Afghanistan. Trashing all the Bush–Cheney anti-terrorism protocols, from Guantanamo to renditions, did not make much sense, when such policies had worked and, in fact, were of use to Obama himself. But again, most Americans took no note. Apparently the terrorists did, however, and they regrouped even as the president declared them “on the run.”
Lecturing Israel while praising Islamist Turkey was likewise ignored. America snoozed as its president insidiously redefined its role in the Middle East as secondary to the supposed pivot to Asia. Each new correction in and of itself was comparatively minor; but in aggregate they began to unravel the U.S.-inspired postwar global order.
At first, who cared whether Iran serially violated every Obama deadline on halting nuclear enrichment? Did we worry that Libya, where Obama was proud of having led from behind, was descending into Somalia? Few Americans were all that bothered over Obama’s empty order to Syrian president Bashar Assad to step down, or over Obama’s later vacuous red-line threats that bombs would follow any use by Assad of chemical weapons.
Few noted that Obama lied to the nation that a video had caused the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, that Obama had known who the real terrorist perpetrators were but had ordered no immediate action to kill or capture them, and that Americans had been engaged in mysterious and still unexplained covert activities in Benghazi. After all that, we still shrugged when the president traded five top terrorist leaders for an alleged American deserter.
Trashing George W. Bush’s policy toward Vladimir Putin while promising a new reset approach (illustrated with a plastic red button) to an aggressive dictator raised few eyebrows at the time. Nor did many Americans worry that our Pacific allies were upset over Chinese and North Korean aggression that seemed to ignore traditional U.S. deterrence.
We were told that only Obama-haters at home had catalogued the president’s apologies abroad, his weird multicultural bowing to authoritarians, his ahistorical speeches about mythical Islamic achievements, his surreal euphemisms for radical Islam, terrorism, and jihadism, his shrill insistence about civilian trials for terrorists and closing Guantanamo, or the radical cutbacks at the Pentagon, coupled with the vast increase in entitlement spending.