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Obama and 'Initial Error' on Diplomacy, Domestic Issues and Expectations

3 years ago
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"When one begins with an initial error," Aristotle wrote in Book V of "The Politics," "it is inevitable that one should end badly."

Almost 17 months into his presidency, things are going badly for President Barack Obama on multiple fronts. That is in part because he entered office with, and has governed based on, several initial errors. Among them are these:

1. Barack Obama entered office believing that when it came to international relations, opposition to America was largely the result of the personality and policies of his predecessor. Stalemates and conflicts were caused by the inflexibility and confrontational approach of George W. Bush. Obama would turn the page through diplomacy. Indeed, virtually every time he was asked about a thorny foreign policy issue during the campaign, Obama offered talking with the other side as the solution. Regimes like Iran and Syria would amend their ways once their leaders were exposed to the personal diplomacy of Obama. In the spirit of the prophet Isaiah, we would reason together.

Columnist Charles Krauthammer years ago referred to this attitude as the "broken-telephone theory of international conflict" -- the belief that talking to other nations would untangle all the knots and clear up all the misunderstandings. Worse, Obama -- like Jimmy Carter before him -- believed that we could alter the ambitions of our adversaries simply by being more "reasonable," more compliant and less confrontational. Concessions would beget concessions; good will would beget good will.

It hasn't turned out that way. Obama's extended hand has been met with clenched fists. His worldwide American apology tour has been met with disdain. Iran particularly has become more intransigent, more aggressive, and more brutal since Obama was sworn in as president. We have no progress to show for his efforts. Quite the opposite. Obama is viewed as irresolute and unreliable by our enemies (including Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea), by our competitors (like Russia and China) and by our allies (like Israel, Brazil, Honduras, Poland, the Czech Republic, Georgia, India, the United Kingdom and even Afghanistan). There have been "Obama the Impotent" headlines in Europe. Even the president of France is asking of Obama, "Is he weak?"

Today America is in a more feeble position and our relations with allies and adversaries are generally in worse shape than they were pre-Obama presidency.

2. Barack Obama assumed office in the aftermath of the near-collapse of our financial system. The debt and deficit skyrocketed to record post-World War II levels. But rather than addressing this fiscal crisis, Obama used it to push through a sweeping liberal domestic agenda, most especially the federal government's unprecedented involvement in our health care system.

"A crisis is a terrible thing to waste," Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said. What they did instead was compound the crisis. Obama's agenda has made our fiscal situation significantly worse, with the debt estimated to double in five years and triple in 10 years. To borrow an analogy first used by C.S. Lewis, Obama, facing a flood, reached for a fire hose.

This error, in turn, was rooted in yet another false assumption: That Obama's election marked a significant ideological shift within the electorate. The president and his aides believed the public wanted the federal government to increase its size, cost and reach. Obama and his team thought that in the aftermath of his election and in light of the circumstances he faced, trust in government would increase. Actually, trust in government was fairly low when Obama took office -- and his attempt to create a new progressive era has eroded it further. Today the public's trust in government is near an all-time low. And Obama's signature domestic initiative, the health care reform bill enacted in March, is unpopular.

3. Barack Obama was the least experienced and least prepared chief executive in our lifetime. Yet he began his presidency having made extravagant promises, even by the standards of a political campaign. His ascension to power would mark a moment when the earth would begin to heal and the rise of the oceans would begin to slow. Millions of new jobs would be created, cities rebuilt, farms saved, lives mended. America's image in the world would be restored. Our politics would be transformed. Bipartisanship would rule the day.

Instead, Obama looks impotent on everything from closing Guantánamo Bay to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, from stopping Iran's march toward nuclear weapons to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During the Obama era, America is more, not less, polarized. The partisan divide is growing rather than receding. Sleazy backroom deals are more rather than less common. Millions of jobs have been lost rather than added. Unemployment has gone up rather than down. The country is becoming more conservative, not more liberal. And the Democratic Party is running away from Obama's agenda rather than embracing it.

The man who campaign aides referred to as the "Black Jesus" is not only imperfect -- all of us are -- he at times looks overwhelmed and overmatched. There is now talk about a failed presidency, a Carter redux and a political massacre for Democrats in November.

Barack Obama, a bright man in possession of undeniable talents, can still turn things around. But doing so will require that he recognizes the errors of his ways, that he alter the course and direction of his administration. If he doesn't, his presidency will end badly, for reasons Aristotle wrote all those years ago.

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79 Comments

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jack

great article finally some one is willing to tell the truthabout obama

June 12 2010 at 4:28 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
xtrees130

Peter,
Thank You for a fair and balanced commentary.

June 12 2010 at 4:25 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
rlupia

This guy entered office with NO experience in International relations, and apparently no understanding of how thet work. He has shown NO leadership in this area, or any other for that matter. He thinks he can sit down with our enemies, who have vowed to kill us, and talk out our differences. What will he negotiate, what weapon they will use to try to destroy us? He has been a friend to our enemies and a foe to our traditional allies. George Bush will be remembered as the last American President, after this guy finishies tearing apart this country. Before he was "coronated" i said, "He wants to take a first rate World power and make it a third rate country." He is on track to do just that.

June 11 2010 at 5:53 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
dc walker

This country was sent into decline when our government changed the tariff schedules and allowed foreign goods to enter duty free. Corporations and manufacturing took advantage by moving operations to cheap labor nations and bringing their goods back free to the same market. Loss of jobs, increase in legal and illegal immigrants have created problems we cannot deal with. Tariffs once built the city of DC, the continental railroad, West Point, Annapolis, etc. When we start taking care of America once again we will be able to take care of our own, properly.

June 11 2010 at 5:00 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
boredwell

The state of the economy determines un/employment levels not the president. The free market's deregulated banking and investment sectors with its dangerously leveraged subprime tranches and dubious money-making schema were a disaster waiting to happen. Much like the explosion of oil in the Gulf, apathetic management and bad decisions were the primary contributing factors. Furthermore, the ingredients that produced the great recession began with Reagan's banking industry deregulations, Greenspan's muddled management, Clinton's general apathy and Bush's Bernacke who was asleep at the switch. As for Obama's let's talk demarche, it is unfair to deride it as feckless. JFK's backdoor diplomacy averted a possible nuclear showdown with the Soviets. Cease-fires are accomplished through talks in which all sides agree to lay down arms. Conflicts which ended in cease fires are: WWI, Korean war, the Pakistan-Kashmiri Incursion, the Israel-Palestinian and Israel-Lebanon conflicts, battles between IRA-Great Britain in Northern Ireland and between the separatist ETA (Basque) and Spain. Talk diplomacy resulted in the release of two journalists being held in North Korea on charges of spying. Talk diplomacy succeeded in bringing the antagonists to the table. As for intransigent Iran, we have sought to demonize and marginalize that theocracy with ever more punitive economic sanctions. Yet it has not wrought any desirable or substantive change. Engagement takes time. And patience is not an American trait. Should presidents then make decisions and act in ways that instantly gratify Americans? Or is their job to assess and evaluate then determine what is best in the long, rather than short, term?

June 11 2010 at 4:47 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
plasticpigeonpro

Who says that Syria,Cuba, and Venezuela are enemies of the US?

June 11 2010 at 3:39 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
ttdq

The initial error will never be recognized as a error by Obama. He doesn't see any of his policies as being in error. It has become obvious that his presidency will end badly.

June 11 2010 at 3:25 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Alex Stoops, Jr.

This I beleive is the best article on this failed President I have read. It is honest and true and rather than an attack offers the Comander in Chief alternatives to his failed approaches on just about every front. This brings back something that AOL and the rest of the media has been lacking since the Clinton Years. It is fair and it also is balanced. Hummm-I've heard that somewhere before.

June 11 2010 at 3:19 PM Report abuse +11 rate up rate down Reply
johndeagun

I'd like to offer a word of help....RUN!!!

June 11 2010 at 3:18 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Rob & Kathy

Cheryl Clark7:22 AM Jun 11, 2010
I do not see Obama as having failed. What has failed is Congress. For nearly all of Obama's time in office, the Republicans have refused to work with him even on bills that they write.
********
As usual you are in denial. Democrats have the majority and have controlled Congress since Obama took office.

June 11 2010 at 2:35 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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