Having examined President Obama’s economic and domestic policy legacies in the first part of my evaluation of the Obama presidency, we now turn to the issues of national security and the way he’s conducted the Presidency.
Osama bin Laden was killed on President Obama’s watch. In addition, President Obama has been more grounded in reality than Candidate Obama on keeping Gitmo open. That’s about where the positives end. Hopefully, the Nobel Prize Committee has learned a lesson about handing out Peace Prizes in hopes that the recipient does something to earn it. Obama hasn’t.
Despite Obama’s charm offensive to the Islamic world, it’s hard to argue that Americans are safer now than when Obama took office. He underestimated ISIS as “the JV squad,” and they’ve become a major threat to the stability of the Middle East and the peace of the world. Similarly, Obama failed to enforce his “red line” against the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government and this helped to fuel a humanitarian refugee crisis that has overwhelmed Europe and now the United States.
At the same time, Obama has been averse to naming America’s enemy in the War on Terror or acknowledging it exists. Responsible leaders don’t tar all Muslims as terrorists but have no problem identifying Islamic terrorism as our country’s enemy. Not President Obama, what the world has learned about this President over eight years is that he’d rather play politically correct semantic games than fight the terrorists.
Obama’s ideology has driven the way his administration has acted rather than the best interests of the American people. His efforts to get as many prisoners out of Guantanamo as possible have put American lives at risk as many of these ex-detainees returned to the battlefield.
During the last eight years, Obama failed to secure the nation’s borders and continued the tolerance for sanctuary cities which refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities. This lax practice led to several deaths that galvanized the nation and created a lot of anger.
Obama’s administration has been the most anti-Israel in history. He sought to undermine the election of Israel’s leader Benjamin Netanyahu and created distance between the United States and its most reliable ally in the Middle East. The one-sided anti-Israel Resolution that President Obama allowed to go through the United Nations on the eve of Hanukkah in 2016 capped two terms of a president who emboldened Israel’s enemies while troubling our allies. In addition, Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran sets that rogue regime on the path to becoming a nuclear power and of course, a greater threat to the security of Israel than it already is.
Obama’s responses to Chinese and Russian cyberattacks on our country were weak and have taken too long. The only reason he ended up taking action regarding the Russian attacks on the DNC is because he knew President-elect Trump wouldn’t. Had Hillary Clinton won, Obama would have left it to her to deal with, a perfect picture of this President’s general passivity in foreign affairs.
There’s much more that could be said about Obama from his misadventures in Libya, his re-engagement with the Cuban dictatorship, and the movements for freedom he didn’t lend support to. If you want a safe world and a free world, President Obama’s administration was a big step in the wrong direction in nearly every way.
National Security Grade: F
While there have been some scandals around his administration (Benghazi, Fast and Furious, and the IRS scandal,) Obama has not disgraced the nation with personal scandal. There’s a sense of normalcy and dignity in the Obama marriage and family, and I think the American people will miss that.
The President has grown in office. He has demonstrated a much better ability to laugh at himself and show a self-deprecating sense of humor than he did at the beginning. I’ve also appreciated that the President has spoken out against the move to make college campuses “safe places” where liberal students will never have to encounter an opposing idea.
At the same point, there have been a lot of problems. The first half of presidency had him massively over-exposed. He was on every channel and offering his opinion on everything from police officer encounters gone bad in Connecticut to Kanye West’s behavior. In addition, President Obama spent much of his first term punching down and attacking Fox News for all of his problems. Those who are alarmed at President-elect Trump’s attacks on news outlets and his attacks on celebrities can thank Obama for setting a precedent for this sort of behavior.
The President came on to the national scene in 2004 when he delivered the keynote address at the Democratic Convention talking about how we were one nation and one people. The American people voted for him because they hoped he could bring us together.
Consider the issue the case of Henry Louis Gates, a black professor arrested by a white police officer back in 2009. Obama, though he admitted he didn’t have access to all the facts, declared the department “acted stupidly.” After police objected, he invited Gates and the officer for a discussion known as the “beer summit.” The big question is why didn’t he start by inviting the parties over and work to create better understanding between police and minority communities. However, at this point, police departments across the country got the idea that Obama was against them and therefore he couldn’t be an honest broker or a peacemaker.
Obama and his supporters hinted or outright said that people disagreed with policies not because they felt they were wrong but because Obama is black. While real racism has always been a problem to some degree, racism was far from cured by Democrats accusing their ideological opponents of racism for simply disagreeing with a Democratic party led by a black man. This backfired with a “little boy who cried” wolf effect. As a result, race relations are worse than they’ve been in 50 years due to the President’s mishandling of this issue.
The President utterly failed in his promise to unite the country. While he wants to blame everyone else for this, including Republicans who disagreed with him, there was no reason for him not to be fully aware that the two political parties had stark differences. To actually achieve unity, he needed to find some common ground that he and Republicans could agree on to benefit the American people and he failed. He made the promise and it was his job to keep it.
Probably, one of his biggest failings was in the area of being mourner-in-chief. In the second half of his administration, the President refused to lead Americans in a bi-partisan moment of grief at horrific school shootings. Instead, he would rush to the inevitable and pointless debate on gun control. On some of these days, it seemed like the President couldn’t be bothered to wait for the bodies to be cold. At least after the Oklahoma City Bombing, President Clinton at least led the nation in a few days of respectful mourning before trying to make political hay of the deaths.
Many Americans saw Obama as someone who looked down on them. He delivered the infamous comment in the 2008 campaign about his opponents being bitter people who “cling to guns and religion.” Obama got away with these comments. However when Hillary Clinton mirrored them by declaring Trump supporters were either part of a “basket of deplorables,” or worthy of pity, it really cost her in the campaign. Obama’s condescending attitude towards Americans who don’t agree with him didn’t work well for Hillary Clinton and it raises alarm bells for the future of the Democratic Party.
A President sets a tone for future leaders particularly within his party. The Democratic Party has a weak bench with few young rising stars. They need more youth in Congress and in the State legislatures. However, if these young pols follow Obama’s attitude towards those voters who don’t fit into the progressive paradigm, the Democrats may nominate many leaders who will struggle to connect with Middle America. Under Obama, Democrats have reached their lowest point of power in nearly ninety years.
Compared to the open graciousness of Obama’s rhetorical piñata, George W. Bush, in handling the change of power, Obama’s handling of the transition to Donald Trump has been far more mixed. While Obama had some supportive statements regarding the President-elect, his actions seem to seek to hamper the new administration. While I thought the action against Russia was if anything too lenient, Obama’s support for an anti-Israel resolution Trump objects to, and his acceleration of federal hiring to fill positions before Trump puts a hiring freeze in place makes it look like Obama is trying to sabotage the new administration. This reduces the impact of Obama’s one appropriate action on Russia and makes everything he’s doing look like sour grapes.
If Obama is nervous, he has cause to be. Obama has so subverted the Constitution, Trump will have more power to do mischief than any President before him.
Deportment Grade: D+
Obama is not a complete failure. He’s not James Buchanan, Jimmy Carter, or Herbert Hoover. He is, however, the worst two-term President America has had since Ulysses S Grant. After Hillary Clinton, Obama bears the most responsibility for the election outcome. For many, this election was truly a choice between two utterly distasteful people, and it came down to a question of whether to continue the path of the last eight years.
People had to ask whether they would vote for a party that had made the country less safe, and its most visible efforts to make America safer was to push for making it harder for law-abiding Americans to obtain weapons for their own self-defense. Voters had to decide whether to continue to support a party that ignored the economic plight of those who have given up finding a job and has instead dictated a national school bathroom policy. They had to decide whether to support a party that seemed to look down on them. Given that choice, voters voted for a change. Whether it’ll be an overall positive one remains to seen.
Whatever happens over the next few years, Obama will bear a portion of the blame. His administration promised to bring light, but brought only heat to already contentious issues. He undermined America’s confidence in the Constitution and in the institutions of free government. Obama’s opponents warned in 2008 that he didn’t have what it takes to be a good president. He spent the last eight years proving them right.
Overall Grade: D-