Friday, January 25, 2013

Krauthammer: Obama unbound

, The Washington Post

The media herd is stunned to discover that Barack Obama is a man of the left. After 699 teleprompted presidential speeches, the commentariat was apparently still oblivious. Until Monday's inaugural address, that is.Where has everyone been these four years? The only surprise is that Obama chose his second inaugural, generally an occasion for "malice toward none" ecumenism, to unveil so uncompromising a left-liberal manifesto.
But the substance was no surprise. After all, Obama had unveiled his transformational agenda in his very first address to Congress, four years ago (Feb. 24, 2009). It was, I wrote at the time, "the boldest social democratic manifesto ever issued by a U.S. president."

Nor was it mere talk. Obama went on to essentially nationalize health care, 18 percent of the U.S. economy — after passing an $833 billion stimulus that precipitated an unprecedented expansion of government spending. Washington now spends 24 percent of GDP, fully one-fifth higher than the postwar norm of 20 percent.

Obama's ambitions were derailed by the 2010 midterm shellacking that cost him the House. But now that he's won again, the revolution is back. Monday's inaugural address was a paean to big government. At its heart was Obama's pledge to defend unyieldingly the 20th century welfare state and expand it unrelentingly for the 21st.
The first part of that agendaclinging zealously to the increasingly obsolete structures of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — is the very definition of reactionary liberalism. Social Security was created when life expectancy was 62. Medicare was created when modern medical technology was in its infancy. Today's radically different demographics and technology have rendered these programs, as structured, unsustainable. Everyone knows that, unless reformed, they will swallow up the rest of the budget.
As for the second part — enlargement — Obama had already begun that in his first term with Obamacare. Monday's inaugural address reinstated yet another grand Obama project: healing the planet. It promised a state-created green energy sector, massively subsidized (even as the state's regulatory apparatus systematically squeezes fossil fuels, killing coal today, shale gas tomorrow).
The playbook is well known. As Czech President (and economist) Vaclav Klaus once explained, environmentalism is the successor to failed socialism as justification for all-pervasive rule by a politburo of experts. Only now, it acts in the name of not the proletariat but the planet.
Monday's address also served to disabuse the fantasists of any Obama interest in fiscal reform or debt reduction.
On the contrary. Obama is the apostle of the ever-expanding state. His speech was an ode to the collectivity. But by that he means only government, not the myriad voluntary associations — religious, cultural, charitable, artistic, advocacy, ad infinitum — that are the glory of the American system.
For Obama, nothing lies between citizen and state. It is a desert, within which the isolated citizen finds protection only in the shadow of Leviathan. Put another way, this speech is the perfect homily for the marriage of Julia — the Obama campaign's atomized citizen, coddled from cradle to grave — and the state.
In the eye of history, Obama's second inaugural is a direct response to Ronald Reagan's first. On Jan. 20, 1981, Reagan had proclaimed: "Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem." And then succeeded in bending the national consensus to his ideology — as confirmed 15 years later when the next Democratic president declared "The era of big government is over." So said Bill Clinton, who then proceeded to abolish welfare.
Obama's mission is to redeem and resurrect the 50-year pre-Reagan liberal ascendancy. Accordingly, his second inaugural address, ideologically unapologetic and aggressive, is his historical marker, his self-proclamation as the Reagan of the left. If he succeeds in these next four years, he will have earned the title.

Obama Unchained? A look at the second term

January 20, 2013
USA- WASHINGTON, DC - Freed from election constraints, has the time arrived for American President Barak Obama to no longer be judged by the public, but by history? The implication? The president can afford to be bold and decisive in shaping his foreign-policy legacy.
Can the president now set about being the transformer he and his acolytes always wanted him to be? Obama unchained, if you will, perhaps one of the great foreign-policy presidents of the modern era?
The Second-Term Illusion
On paper it all looks so promising. A popular two-term president freed from the pressure of reelection and driven by legacy sets out to conduct big-time diplomacy. Risk-ready rather than risk-averse, political constraints fall away in favor of doing what‘s right and what‘s in the national interest. The Obama White House turns into a real-life version of The West Wing: beating up on Bibi, striking grand bargains with the Iranian mullahs, and launching big initiatives on climate change. But the world rarely works out that way. The same political choices, risks, and political laws of gravity that make these issues so tough to handle in a president‘s first term seem as difficult in the second. Other issues intrude, and leaders delay the tough calls. Exhausted and weary, second-termers are prone to scandals, stumbles, and mistakes. As the term wears on, lame-duckery starts to compete with legacy. The Chinese, Russians, Israelis, Arabs, and Iranians all know that the clock is running out -- sooner than anyone expects, the “let‘s wait until the next president appears”syndrome sets in.
The President and His Team
We know the president‘s instincts: cautious, deliberate, with a leadership style that prefers to dominate rather than delegate decisions.
We have also seen his basic approach: practical, non-ideological, multilateral where possible, wary of high doctrine, and determined to avoid foreign adventures. Indeed, Obama is the extricator in chief, taking the United States out of old wars and tight spots, while ensuring that the country doesn‘t become entangled in new ones. Nor has he demonstrated the kind of strategic grasp of a Henry Kissinger or a James Baker, or exhibited an understanding of the art of making a deal. And neither has anyone around him.
The real question is whether the president, regardless of how smart, intuitive, and nuanced a thinker he is, can be a doer. Does he have the will and the skill to tackle the toughest issues, the grand bargain with Iran or war with the mullahs, or a big initiative to break open the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Does he even want to? And because he can‘t do all this by his lonesome, will the next secretary of state have the drive, negotiating skills, and personal toughness to shoulder much of the load?
Domestic Drag
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the United States has a few domestic challenges that need sorting out. The line between what matters at home and America‘s capacity to remain a great power abroad no longer exists. The country‘s strength abroad has always flowed from its economic and social capacity. Now, the six deadly Ds -- debt, deficit, dysfunctional politics, dependence on hydrocarbons, a deteriorating education system, and decaying infrastructure -- are slow bleeds sapping the country‘s national strength and resolve. America can‘t withdraw from the world, nor can it afford to focus on domestic priorities at the expense of protecting its interests abroad. But the president‘s political capital, even after reelection isn‘t limitless. Much of it will be required, particularly in the first year, to deal with economic and other matters, such as immigration reform. And that first year, is critically important when it comes to tackling some of the most troublesome foreign-policy challenges.
Cruel and Unforgiving World
The key requirement for success in a bolder second term Obama foreign policy is not only will and skill, but opportunity. Indeed, the foundation for foreign-policy success isn‘t lack of political constraints, it‘s the presence of some flexibility among those engaged in the problem the president is trying to resolve.
That is to say, are the locals also interested in striking the grand bargain or forging the historic peace? To some degree, presidents can help shape that environment, but unless the parties in today‘s world, the Israelis, Palestinians, Iranians, or Russians are ready too, the odds of success are very long indeed. Some argue that regardless of the risks and odds, trying and failing is better than not trying at all. It‘s a noble sentiment, but more appropriate for high school athletics than for the foreign policy of one of the world‘s most influential powers. Failure, particularly repeated failure, can actually make matters worse, particularly when the effort isn‘t serious or well conceived.
Obama‘s foreign policy with some exceptions has so far been pretty good. Save killing Osama bin Laden, he has had no spectacular successes, but no spectacular failures either. Extricating America from the two longest wars in its history, preventing another attack on the U.S. homeland, and improving America‘s image in the world is pretty good. And I‘d even argue that avoiding overreach even at the expense of a not terribly imaginative foreign policy is appropriate for the times in which America finds itself.
If leading from behind means thinking things through and ensuring that you have clear, reasonably attainable objectives and the means to achieve them well, sign me up.
So, how then should President Obama really approach his second-term foreign policy?
Accept that this may not be the moment for grand transformation, and understand there‘s nothing wrong with a series of fruitful transactions. Test the mullahs on an interim agreement on the nuclear issue as a first step toward a possible broader bargain. Push the Israelis and Palestinians on an interim accord on borders and security if you can. Work on a reasonable reset of relations with the Russians that allows for a degree of cooperation rather than constant competition. And either find a way to inject credibility into the “pivot to Asia,” or find another way to check the Chinese but cooperate with them too. Above all, make sure to accept partial victories, if that‘s what‘s on the table. At the same time, ignore the advice of those Don Quixotes who are urging you to expend your time and energy, not to mention your rapidly diminishing credibility on problems you can‘t possibly resolve and on fights you aren‘t going to win.

No comments: