Ethics & Public Policy Center

Obama’s World of Make Believe

Published in Commentary Magazine on March 20, 2014



For anyone who has observed Barack Obama over the years, it’s obvious that a fundamental part of his self-identity involves seeing himself, and having others see him, as pragmatic rather than ideological, reality-based, driven by reason instead of bias.

This has never actually been true. Mr. Obama is, in fact, unusually dogmatic, blind to counter-evidence, and mostly unable to adjust his views to the way things are. So when his worldview collides with reality, he often can’t adjust. He instead creates his own make believe world.

We’ve seen it time and time again with the Affordable Care Act. (Earlier this month the president declared ObamaCare “is working the way it should.” He may be the only person in America who believes such a thing.) We’ve also seen this in Mr. Obama’s dealings with Vladimir Putin, who with lightning speed has seized Crimea, threatens Ukraine, and whose top officials are now openly mocking the president (including with tweets ending with smiley faces). Yet President Obama insists that Putin is acting “out of weakness, not out of strength” in attempting to take control of Crimea. This is an effort to seek comfort by engaging in an almost clinical level of delusion. And it’s not isolated to Mr. Obama.

As Russia began its aggression against Crimea, Secretary of State John Kerry said, “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.” Except that Russia did exactly that. Earlier this week Mr. Kerry said Putin’s speech announcing the Crimean annexation “just didn’t jibe with reality.” But the reality is that Crimea is once again part of Russia.

The president puts in place sanctions that are so farcically weak that it would have been better to remain silent and done nothing rather than huff and puff and do as little as he has. (In response to the announcement of sanctions, the Russian stock market actually rose.)

Mr. Putin, meanwhile, is in the process of restoring the Russian empire. He is besting Mr. Obama at every turn, from arms control agreements to Crimea and Ukraine to Syria, Egypt, and Iran. Russia has established a major presence in the Middle East for the first time since the 1970s. Early in his presidency President Obama canceled a missile defense agreement with Poland and the Czech Republic–and got nothing in return from Putin. Our adversaries are emboldened; our allies are afraid. Confidence in America is collapsing.

Yet the president seems clueless to all this; his failures don’t seem to compute with him. Even Jimmy Carter eventually understood the errors of his ways and adjusted his dealings with the Soviet Union. Mr. Obama remains off in his own world.

In psychiatry, there’s a condition known as dissociative disorder. It’s considered to be a coping mechanism, when the person literally dissociates himself from a situation or experience too traumatic to integrate with his conscious self. A person escapes reality in ways that are unhealthy.

That pretty well sums up the Obama foreign policy. He cannot understand how someone as brutish, crude, aggressive and chauvinistic as Vladimir Putin is acting as he is. The fact that in the process Mr. Obama is being humiliated is simply too much for him to bear. And so he’s created a fantasy world where disengagement translates into influence and we’re strong and Putin is weak.

For Barack Obama, the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.

Peter Wehner is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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