The Corner

Year One of a President at War with Reality

Just about a year ago, many people here and abroad had very high hopes for our new president and for us. He was going to take on our economic woes, improve our international reputation (as he defined it), and fight a smarter and better war on terrorism. How has the year unfolded?  

Using Gallup numbers, President Obama began his administration with a 69 percent approval rating. Today he’s at 49 percent — a 20-point drop. Last January unemployment was at 7.2 percent; today it’s at 10 percent. President Obama came to office criticizing the public debt, and continues to speak of the debt he inherited, but let’s get it right: According to the Heritage Foundation’s Brian Riedl, “President Bush presided over a $2.5 trillion increase in the public debt through 2008. Setting aside 2009 (for which Bush and Obama share responsibility), President Obama’s budget would add $4.9 trillion in public debt from the beginning of this year through 2016.” In addition, there is now talk of a second stimulus, and a nearly trillion-dollar health-care plan is in the works.

On the international front, Iran is more threatening and dangerous than ever. President Obama campaigned on a new kind of policy toward Iran, but the only thing new is that the Iranian government has become more aggressive, more brutal, and more contemptuous toward our desire to curb its nuclear ambitions. North Korea has test-fired banned missiles and broken off accords. Russia is as aggressive as ever. We have spurned the Dalai Lama. We have upset Eastern European allies from Poland to the Czech Republic. Israel is more nervous than ever — both about its existence and about the pressure the U.S. is putting on it. Sudan has been appeased further than it was by either of the last two administrations but is no less of a threat to Darfur, where things are getting worse. And in Latin America, the president has received praise from Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro. Meanwhile, he’s twice gone to Copenhagen and come back empty-handed: once to bring the Olympics to Chicago, once to formulate a climate policy. In neither visit did he get what he set out for.

On Afghanistan, he has finally come out with a policy and committed to sending more troops. His administration’s spokesmen are unclear on what the exit or ramp-down procedures and timelines are, but for now, we can praise the ramp-up. But on the terrorism and war issue more generally, we have seen a backslide. Despite ringing statements that we will close Guantanamo, stop enhanced interrogation, and move detained terrorists like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed into our civil-justice system with a public trial, thus bestowing constitutional rights on those terrorists, an interesting statistic came out last week: More terrorist acts and attempts took place in the United States in 2009 than in any year since 2001. According to the Rand Corporation, there have been 33 terrorism-related events on these shores since 9/11, and 13 of them occurred in 2009.

Meanwhile, President Obama seems to want to take the focus off this threat by changing the language of what we are in — which is a war. He tries to narrow and crib the definition as much as possible: a) by not talking about any of it very much and b) when talking about it, by restricting the discussion to al-Qaeda. He has a genus problem, but really only mentions the species; you never hear him talk about Islam or Islamic terrorism, and he hardly ever uses the word “war.”

Barack Obama is president. He asked to be. The complaining, the blaming, and the distracting are not presidential. We need a president who sees the world as it is and rises to the challenges.

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