Ethics & Public Policy Center

Reality Is Crushing the Obama Presidency

Published in Commentary Magazine on April 25, 2014



Yesterday I wrote a piece on President Obama’s staggering record of failure, including in the foreign-policy arena.

Events in the last 24 hours appear to reinforce my case.

Here is a story from the front page of today’s New York Times, hardly a right-wing outlet. It’s worth quoting at length:

President Obama encountered setbacks to two of his most cherished foreign-policy projects on Thursday, as he failed to achieve a trade deal that undergirds his strategic pivot to Asia and the Middle East peace process suffered a potentially irreparable breakdown.

Mr. Obama had hoped to use his visit here to announce an agreement under which Japan would open its markets in rice, beef, poultry and pork, a critical step toward the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the proposed regional trade pact. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was not able to overcome entrenched resistance from Japan’s farmers in time for the president’s visit.

In Jerusalem, Israel’s announcement that it was suspending stalemated peace negotiations with the Palestinians, after a reconciliation between the Palestine Liberation Organization and the militant group Hamas, posed yet another obstacle to restarting a troubled peace process in which Secretary of State John Kerry has been greatly invested.

The setbacks, though worlds apart in geography and history, speak to the common challenge Mr. Obama has had in translating his ideas and ambitions into enduring policies. He has watched outside forces unravel his best-laid plans, from resetting relations with Russia to managing the epochal political change in the Arab world. On Thursday, as Russia staged military exercises on the border with Ukraine, Mr. Kerry denounced broken promises from the Kremlin but took no specific action.

This is incompetence on stilts.

Mr. Obama’s failures are piling up one after another, in foreign policy and on the domestic side, to the point that they are now well beyond dispute. Blaming his predecessor became passé a couple of years ago. Blaming Republicans for his foreign-policy failures, and the failures of the Affordable Care Act, is absurd. And so the best the president and his allies can do at this stage is to (a) invert reality (for example, explaining that Russia’s aggression and our timidity are evidence of its weakness and our strength) and/or (b) explain away each failure as the fault not of themselves but of the stars.

That won’t be nearly enough. At some point the excuses grow tiresome and unconvincing, and the bill comes due.

We are at that stage in the Obama presidency. Reality is crushing his presidency. And there’s nothing America’s most famous former community organizer seems able to do about it.

This is not an easy time for anyone who reveres this nation.

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

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