WEINSTEIN: The failed state of Obama’s presidency

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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Forget the platitudes President Obama declared during his State of the Union Address: The state of Obama’s presidency, if not the Union, is not good.

If President Obama is to have any great policy legacy for history to remember, it is at this moment entirely wrapped up in the success of his health care law. The bad news for the president is four months after the launch of the Obamacare exchanges, the program is in worse shape than the law’s most vehement critics could have imagined. It is even conceivable that it could collapse entirely under its own weight.

Whether you believe Obamacare is good policy or not — and I definitely don’t — its passage was a momentous achievement for President Obama. Five years into his presidency, it may in fact be his only major one.

What else has President Obama accomplished of historical significance? Killing Osama bin Laden comes to mind, but while the president deserves credit for pulling the trigger on the operation to get America’s enemy number one, it is hard to imagine any president not authorizing the raid — or at least a missile strike.

Before the 2012 election, Washington Monthly put together a list of President Obama’s 50 greatest achievements. The bullet points didn’t look impressive then, but just over a year removed from the 2012 election, they look downright pitiful.

Obamacare comes in as his number one achievement on the list. We see how that is turning out, despite Obama’s wholly false claim Tuesday night that it has helped sign up 9 million Americans for health insurance. Obamacare is followed on the list by the president’s 2009 stimulus bill which stimulated our national debt more than our economy, and a behemoth Wall Street reform bill which has not had a majority of its rules written three years on.

Topping his list of supposed international achievements, after getting bin Laden, were ending the Iraq war, beginning the withdrawal from Afghanistan, toppling Libyan dictator Muhammar Gaddafi and telling Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak to go. Can any of these be seen as achievements in retrospect?

President Obama left Iraq without negotiating a status of forces agreement to leave a contingent force behind and today the success the U.S. military achieved in the Surge has been radically reversed. Far from being decimated, as President Obama claimed on the 2012 campaign trail, al Qaida now controls the largest swath of territory in its history, stretching from Western Syria into Iraq, according to terrorism expert Peter Bergen.

Leading from behind, President Obama did oust Gaddafi. But by the time of the military campaign, Gaddafi was a menace to his people, but not to America, having given up his weapons of mass destruction programs after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Gaddafi’s removal helped lead to al Qaida-led turmoil in Mali and instability that, combined with State Department negligence, led to the death of our ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi. Libya today is a mess and dangerous weapons pilfered in the conflict have spread far and wide across the region.

President Obama is withdrawing from Afghanistan, but how, exactly, is that a success in and of itself? Campaigning in 2008, President Obama’s goal was to defeat the Taliban and al Qaida in Afghanistan.

As for Egypt, no one considers American policy there a success — and many now long for a return of Mubarak, as ruthless as he could be.

The president may get credit from some quarters for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and liberals might cheer his Supreme Court picks, though they didn’t reshape the political composition of the court. But these are not accomplishments that propel presidents to the top of the presidential rankings.

In short, the bulk of the “50 achievements” either weren’t achievements when they were written, aren’t achievements now, or are small achievements that history isn’t likely to remember all that much.

So long as the comically unserious John Kerry is in charge of the State Department, the president isn’t likely to achieve anything abroad for the rest of his term either. Only the hopelessly naïve could think that a final nuclear deal with Iran and an Arab-Israeli peace deal are around the corner. Indeed, it seems quite possible that by the end of his term President Obama could watch Iran turn nuclear and, by irresponsibly setting expectations for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, help instigate another outbreak of violence in the Holy Land.

What’s more, Obama hasn’t done anything to deal with America’s long-term entitlement crisis during his tenure in office, which is far and away America’s number one domestic challenge. Obama’s failure on this score comes despite the fact that the GOP ignored the potential political consequences and passed a serious reform effort in the House. All Democrats did was demagogue the GOP’s efforts and call for higher taxes on the rich, which would do next to nothing to solve the looming fiscal catastrophe.

All that is left for President Obama is his health care law. So much of what President Obama said about his law when he was trying to pass it in 2009 and 2010 has turned out to be false. If he was honest with the American public at the time he was pushing it through Congress, it would never have passed. Now it might well collapse if the young and the healthy do not come around and sign up through the exchanges.

It is true you can’t exactly size up a president’s historical importance so soon after he leaves office, much less while he is still in office. But it is hard to see how President Obama’s tenure will be seen as historically great in anything other than the superficial. His election in 2008 will always be viewed – and rightfully so — as a significant moment given America’s racial history. But in terms of policy achievements, both domestically and internationally, the president’s record currently ranges from the unimpressive to the disastrous. His State of the Union Address Tuesday night gave little hope that he has any intention of changing course.

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