In the cocoon of our public debate Obama gets high marks on foreign policy. That is because his policies’ principal aim is not to make strategic decisions but to satisfy public opinion– he has done more of the things that people want and fewer of the things we have to do that may be unpopular. To our allies, however, our constant tactical maneuvers don’t add up to a coherent strategy or a vision of global leadership. – Vaili Nasr The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat
PRESIDENT Obama is confusing people still, amid a scandal atmosphere he didn’t think he’d ever have to address. Obama’s gone from aggressive on national security to being called “skittish” by the Washington Post, to “President Paserby” by Dana Milbank. He’s caught in the vortex of Washington smelling weakness, because Republicans finally see a way to wound a man who came into office in 2008 as one thing, when people refused to see simply another politician smartly playing the game to win.
From the Washington Post and make sure you notice the headline:
President Obama’s professed ignorance of the targeting of conservatives by one government agency and his support of tracking journalists’ sources by another highlight one of the great paradoxes of his presidency: Sometimes he uses his office as aggressively as anyone who’s held it; other times he seems unacquainted with the work of his own administration.
The controversies over the Internal Revenue Service’s scrutiny of tea party and other conservative groups and the Justice Department’s surveillance of Associated Press journalists are only the latest examples of Obama’s a la carte governing style.
[...] Obama came into office promising to rein in what he and other Democrats charged were frequent overreaches of executive authority by George W. Bush’s administration. He vowed to strive for non-ideological, bipartisan solutions to problems.
In practice, Obama followed Bush’s lead when it came to executive power in fighting terrorism and other areas. His administration invoked the state-secrets privilege to avoid disclosing information when challenged in court, and Obama asserted executive privilege to withhold information from Congress amid questions about the Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation. …
[...] “It’s one thing for the president to make sure he doesn’t say or do anything that might undermine the independence of agencies like the Justice Department or the IRS,” Tribe said. “It’s quite another for the president to insulate himself to a degree that creates the false public impression of disinterest or indifference.”
President Obama thinks his primary purpose as president is to find common ground between parties, which he said himself in 2007 and to which I refer often. On policy it’s quite different, which informs one reason why he has not been successful in negotiating with Congress. He can’t succeed on Capitol Hill because Republicans decided a long time ago to thwart Obama no matter what. There’s not a lot he can do about that.
However, a case that Vali Nasr makes in his book, which we’ve talked about around here a lot, is that President Obama never demands anything. Not from Congress, not from the American people, and not from his military advisers either. There’s less bully and more pulpit word salad slinging from Obama, who is the antithesis of LBJ. Obama can be manipulated by the ingrained forces that need to be challenged. This has shown up again and again in his presidency.
Obama is seen as strong on national security, because he doesn’t buck tradition, ceding most of the decisions to the Pentagon, which is why he wanted Hagel at the DoD, because through a military man Obama can find cover for what he wants to do. President Obama will not take on the military industrial complex himself. This is something I warned about from the start, with no one believing that Obama was much the same when it came to national security as Clinton, except that she believes in soft power much more. Clinton did prove she’d take on the military, through budgeting and asserting diplomatic power over military, even when White House aides stymied her again and again, because of their skepticism and outright distrust. This dynamic is being proven conclusively through the history being written about the Obama administration, from Nasr to Ron Suskind, with the power Obama’s aides maintain on the Obama presidency very real, reminiscent of the Reagan era in many ways.
The reason Obama has no problem standing by the AP secret dragnet is because he sees this as a national security problem, not a First Amendment issue. He has sided with CIA Director Brennan and the intelligence complex on it, which isn’t surprising, however uninspiring.
As far as Benghazi, it will remain a Republican fetish, with Obama haters never to be satisfied. But with the email release and the reporting that Republicans had doctored emails, along with ABC being duped, and Stephen Hayes being shown as the best partisan stenographer Republicans have, the general public has turned it off.
This brings me to Obama’s domestic policy, which includes the IRS scandal especially. The bubble in which President Obama operates has gotten him into this mess. His aides make it possible. It’s not so much he’s “skittish” or a “passerby,” but insulated so that a plausible case for deniability is always available to him. However, caught in the traditional DC scandal atmosphere where Obama now finds himself enveloped, they just don’t know what to do. They didn’t anticipate it, aren’t prepared for it, and all they can hope is the public tires of it all as Memorial Day and the summer looms.
Republicans won’t let the IRS scandal go. They can’t possibly pass by the opportunity to let a good yarn of a weakened and allegedly scandal ridden Democratic president be churned into a preemptive campaign to take back power.