Barack Obama came into the White House in a cloud of glory and optimism.
He defined the problems that the nation faced in his first inaugural address. First, the nation was at war with a network of violence and hatred. Second, our economy was badly weakened. Homes were lost, and businesses shuttered. Health care was too expensive. Schools failed their students. And finally, "less measurable, but no less profound, is a sapping of confidence across our land; a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable." Obama promised that he and the country would meet these challenges head on.
Eight years later, as Obama prepares to depart the White House, he leaves the nation in a cloud of disappointment, recrimination, and even paranoia. None of the wars Obama inherited are truly over, and he has started or joined America to several more. If anything, the sense of America's decline is even more palpable than before.
For a sense of that decline, look at the pathetic tantrums that the Obama administration is throwing in its last days. After the White House received some criticism from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others in the media for letting a non-binding resolution condemning Israeli settlements pass at the U.N., Secretary of State John Kerry let fly with a speech on Israel and its settlements at a bewildering length. He scolded Israel for having the "most right-wing [government] in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by the most extreme elements." It was petty and unnecessary. Letting the resolution pass said everything that the administration hoped to express. Nattering on just evidenced the impotent frustration of the administration, particularly since it will not ratchet down foreign aid or military aid to Israel.
This minor meltdown also invited critiques from America's allies. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May fired a shot at Kerry. So too did the Australian government. Obama's State Department replied to these remarks by saying, "We are grateful for the strongly supportive statements in response to Secretary Kerry's speech from across the world, including Germany, France, Canada, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and others." Invoking Qatar and Saudi Arabia as a character witness for the United States' defense of human rights and building of peace is contemptible, considering that conversion to Christianity is a capital crime there.
Next there is the way the Obama administration has treated Russia as a newly menacing and strangely omnicompetent rival. Last week the Obama administration expelled 35 Russian diplomats and their families in retaliation for their government's supposed hacking. But when the Obama administration presented its evidence for Russian hacking to the public, it was so weak and circumstantial, it almost invited those perusing it to disbelieve the administration's claims:
Instead of providing smoking guns that the Russian government was behind specific hacks, it largely restates previous private-sector claims without providing any support for their validity. Even worse, it provides an effective bait and switch by promising newly declassified intelligence into Russian hackers' "tradecraft and techniques" and instead delivering generic methods carried out by just about all state-sponsored hacking groups. [Ars Technica]
These tantrums are not without reason. One prefers to lash out at an enemy beyond the border than to look at one's own failures square in the face.
The Obama administration has fallen far short of the soaring aspiration in which it began. The wars have not ended. Obama is the first two-term president to be in one war — the war in Afghanistan, the war that even his own "surge" could not end — for his entire presidency. And it's a war in which the Taliban has been making a comeback. Obama hands off American involvement in Libya, Yemen, Iraq, and a humiliating wind down of its five-year covert intervention in the Syrian civil war.
Other inaugural promises have come to naught as well. More people have health care, yes, but more people also pay more to get the health care they want. And American health-care costs have not gone down to meet the standards set by the rest of the world. Our education system still fails people at the same desultory rates as before. And our respectable allies feel more empowered than ever to denigrate us.
The political promise is spent as well. Obama was hailed as a genius and political savior. Now his own Democratic Party has fallen to new lows in the state legislatures and governors' mansions across the country. Instead of handing on the executive branch to an ordained successor, he is passing it onto the man who questioned his birth certificate.
If you had left your country and party in such a state, you'd be acting like a petulant jerk, too.