The Real Obama Legacy

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A.J. Caschetta Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow, Middle East Forum
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In his final press conference as president, his year-end Youtube message and in a flurry of Twitter twaddle, Barack Obama has been busy promoting his legacy.  Among all the dubious claims he has been making, none is more fraudulent than “almost every country on earth sees America as stronger and more respected today than they did eight years ago.”  If he really believes that, he’s the only one.

Eight years of timidity, retreat and empty talk have in fact made the nation weaker and less respected.  Of all Obama’s terrible foreign policy decisions the following ten are the worst:

  1. Toppling Moammar Qaddafi: Obama portrayed himself as the intellect to George W. Bush’s buffoon but  repeated what he himself described as a mistake, this time in Libya, where, Hillary Clinton joked, “We came. We saw. He died.”  Toppling dictators is tricky business.
  1. Emptying GITMO: As of this writing, only 59enemy combatants remain at Gitmo.  Obama’s first attorney general, Eric Holder, wanted Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others tried in Manhattan.  When Congress wouldn’t go along, Obama opted for Plan B – parole them.  He paid countries to take some jihadis and released others to the Saudi jihad detox program.  All remain threats.
  1. Underestimating ISIS: Premature departure from Iraq and no discernible Syria policy aided the rise of ISIS.  Refusing to take the group seriously accelerated its growth.  Obama called ISIS the JV teaminsisted it is not Islamic, and treated fighters like civilians, for instance refusing to bomb ISIS fuel tankers.  Perhaps they were union drivers.
  1. Demoralizing the Military:  Beginning with “sequestration,” Obama has shrunk, alienated and forced change on the military.  Three Secretaries of Defense resigned citing interference from the president.  The fourth (Ash Carter, who has no military experience) was willing to entertain his social justice agenda and began using the military to advance Obama’s domestic policies: women in combat roles, lifting the transgendered ban, allowing Muslims to wear turbans and  hijabs (negating the “uni” half of their “uniforms”).
  1. Mistreating allies:  After insulting the British by removingthe bust of Churchill sent to the US after 9/11, Obama focused on putting “space between us and Israel.”  His administration adopted the anti-Israel language and outlook of the UN, culminating with the December 23 abstention on the Security Council resolution declaring  parts of Israel (“the settlements”) illegal.  Obama is fond of saying that “The people of Israel must always know America has its back,” but when Israel needed his help, Obama put a knife in its back.
  1. Politicizing Intelligence: Obama declassified much of the Bush administration-era Enhanced Interrogation Techniques program and reopened a closed investigation into the interrogators.  His fifth CIA Director, John Brennan, has been more vocal and public than any of his predecessors, even offering advice to the president-elect in a BBC interview.  Obama is currently using the Intelligence apparatus to pin Hillary Clinton’s loss on Russian hackers.
  1. Bowing to Russia: In 2012 Obama disclosedto then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that after his last election he would have more flexibility regarding Russia.  Subsequently, he showed all the flexibility of an Olympic gymnast as Russia shot down a passenger jet (like the “good old days”), invaded some neighbors, and annexed their territory.  By ending the space shuttle program, Obama effectively turned the International Space Station into the Russian Space Station.
  1. Egypt: The April 2009 Cairo speech began Obama’s courtship of the Muslim Brotherhood.  In 2012 he met in the White House with Hani Nour Eldin, a member of Gama’a Islamiyya – the organization whose spiritual leader, Omar Abdel Rahman, was convicted in 1995 of plotting attacks on New York City. He supported Islamist candidate Mohamed Morsi in Egypt’s first post-Mubarak election and refuses to acknowledge the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.
  1. Syria: Obama put the country’s reputation on a red line he drew over the use of chemical weapons.  When that line was crossed, he did nothing, indelibly changing US foreign policy.  Not only does everyone now call Obama’s bluffs, they ignore him.
  1. JCPOA: Undoubtedly, Obama’s single most damaging, self-inflicted foreign policy wound is the one-sided Iran nuclear deal.  Instead of submitting to the Senate as a treaty, he took it to the UN where, like a money laundering scheme, Iran’s illegal nuclear program becomes legal in 10 years.  Democrats continue to lie about it: Hillary Clintonand Tim Kaine boasted that they “stopped the Iran nuclear program without firing a single shot.”  In reality, they handed Iran a gun and some bullets and asked them not to load and shoot.

Barack Obama spent his presidency trying to “fundamentally transform” the country.  Only time will tell how successful he has been.  However, when it is finally written, the most significant Obama legacy may just be the Trump presidency.  For just as the final grim years of the Bush administration made an Obama presidency possible, so too have the Obama years catalyzed the anti-establishment movement that propelled Trump to victory.

A.J. Caschetta is a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum and a senior lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology.