One of the keystones of Obama’s promised reset foreign policy was the premise that George Bush’s obstinacy had needlessly antagonized our enemies like Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Venezuela — and, in fact, most of the Arab world. But at the beginning of his second term, Iran refuses even to talk with his administration as it presses ahead with its nuclear program. North Korea just issued a video of an envisioned nuclear strike on New York City. And Syria has suffered 60,000 killed in a cruel civil war. Obama campaigned on the bad war in Iraq and the good war in Afghanistan, but when he entered office the war in Iraq was over, in terms of American losses, while the Afghan war was about to explode, costing more American lives since the end of 2008 than it had in the prior seven years since 2001. Add in the Benghazi disaster and the spread of Islamic extremism across North Africa from Egypt to Mali, and one could argue that the world is a more dangerous place than it was when George Bush left office. Presidents cannot be blamed for such events, but they can be called out for their hypocrisy when they have made the case that prior presidents were in fact culpable for chaos abroad.
There is a pattern here, and the list could be expanded: the Affordable Care Act, which will send health-insurance premiums skyrocketing; the bragging about new oil and gas development that came despite, not because of, administration action; the moralizing about the selfish and high-living 1 percent amid the president’s vacationing at Martha’s Vineyard, lavish entertaining, and golfing at tony links; and the platitudes about a new civility and a new politics while raising record amounts of money in order to blacken Mitt Romney as a sexist, racist, veritable crook, and near killer.
In 2008 Obama was not just a fierce critic but a sanctimonious critic of just the sorts of practices and protocols that he has later embraced. Why? Partly, Senator Obama was inexperienced and really believed that the presidency would be as easy a task as had been his opportunistic brief tenure as a senator. Partly, because during the 2007–08 campaign the media never asked questions of Obama in the manner that they did other candidates, he naturally assumed, quite correctly, that they were so invested in his symbolism that they would never critique him when he was president. And partly, as a man of the Left Obama believed that the means really are justified by the ends — and so the reactionary Bush should be judged by standards that can hardly apply to the egalitarian progressive Obama.
Will the abject hypocrisy continue for another four years? There is no reason to believe that Obama has become more circumspect and now understands that he cannot meet the very expectations he demanded of others, or that the media will try to salvage their tattered reputation by applying the same scrutiny to Obama that they did to others. But who knows — in 2016 we may see a young charismatic senator like the Barack Obama of 2007 who creates a messianic persona through hypnotizing the media, insisting that the incumbent is an utter failure, and promising “hope and change.”
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His The Savior Generals will appear in the spring from Bloomsbury Books.