Barack Obama has presided over the collapse of American leadership in the world

Barack Obama has presided over the collapse of American leadership in the world

Michael Den Tandt | December 20, 2016 3:26 PM ET
Has there ever been a victory lap like President Barack Obama’s? Day after day the affable, soon-to-be-former leader of the free world makes his rounds — sombre and a little sad, reassuringly calm. Progressives and classical liberals everywhere, not least in Canada, wipe away a single tear as we contemplate the end of this grand moment in American history, inaugurated with a Nobel virtually before the man set foot in the Oval Office.
Perhaps in the New Year, as citizens of Earth grapple with the rising tide of chaos and carnage, and cope with the immediate consequences of Obama’s failures, there will be time for a more sober assessment of his legacy. Don’t count on it, though. Attention will likely be focused on more pressing concerns.
Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted to the mass murder in a Christmas market – 12 dead, 48 injured, at last count — after a man in a truck drove into a crowd of holiday shoppers in an apparent terrorist attack.
“I am, like millions of people in Germany, shocked, devastated and deeply saddened by what happened yesterday evening in Berlin,” Merkel told a news conference.
Shocked, devastated, deeply saddened; incomprehensible. It’s the now customary syntax in the aftermaths of these bloodbaths. But the words are no longer up to the job, if ever they were. Numbed, inured and resigned might serve better. For also Monday, the Russian ambassador to Turkey was shot dead in mid-speech at an art exhibit, by a young Turkish policeman — a member of the security detail — who then shouted “Don’t forget Aleppo! Don’t forget Syria!” and “Allahu Akbar!” over his corpse.
In Zurich, a 24-year-old Swiss man shot up an Islamic Centre, injuring three.
Pushed down the news list — because there’s only so much room for headlines about mass-casualty terrorist attacks — was the assault by Islamist gunmen Sunday on a tourist site in Karak, Jordan, which killed ten people, including retired Canadian teacher Linda Vatcher of Burgeo, N.L., 62.
Days before Karak there was Cairo — the bombing of a Coptic Christian cathedral, which killed more than two dozen and injured twice as many. A suicide bombing in Mogadishu, Somalia in mid-December, which killed 29 and injured 50, barely registered in the international media.
With each successive barbaric act, we drive our heads further into the dirt, or turn away with a narcotized, collective shrug. What can anyone do? In Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria Bashar Assad’s forces commit mass murder and bomb civilians with impunity; that was a trend leader on Facebook for a week. In Iraq the Islamic State rapes, enslaves and murders. The West’s chosen proxy fighters, Iraqi regulars and Kurdish militia, struggle to retake ground.
Certainly there can be no American-led or NATO army deployed to wipe out ISIL and kill or capture the sociopaths who lead it, we are informed. Because, you know, Iraq and Afghanistan; imperial overreach; war fatigue; and quagmire. God forbid there be a quagmire. Far better to allow the Syrian infection to fester for years on end, sending millions of refugees into Europe and igniting a destabilizing Islamophobic backlash worldwide — including, of course, in the United States. Europe itself may collapse. But there’s no quagmire.
No one can predict how extreme President-elect Donald Trump will be, or not, as Commander-in-Chief. But his security appointments and choice of chief strategist, self-described apologist for the “Judeo-Christian West” Stephen Bannon, indicate he is preparing for the clash of civilizations many feared immediately after 9/11.
If nothing else, this would explain Trump’s otherwise inexplicable fondness for Russia and its thuggish leader, Vladimir Putin — a convert from Soviet-era atheism to conservative Christianity, a staunch ally of the Russian Orthodox Church, and a sworn enemy of Islamism.
Is it fair to blame Obama and the Democratic establishment for this unfolding calamity? Let’s say this: President George W. Bush laid the groundwork for it with the terrible blunder of his 2003 invasion of Iraq and the subsequent disbanding of the Iraqi army, which later morphed into ISIL.
But Obama had his own historical moment, three years ago, when he drew a “red line” beyond which Assad could not cross, then watched him cross, then sidled away backwards, hoping no one would notice his retreat. That is when American leadership, badly damaged by Bush, actually died. The ensuing chaos is testament to the combined failure of two successive presidents. The Iran nuclear deal, foreign-policy centrepiece of Obama’s second term, now looks like a finger in the dyke.
Added to this, Obama presided over a working-class alienation so profound it caused life-long unionists and Democrats in the Rust Belt to stay home Nov. 8, handing the world’s greatest democracy — and the mantle of global leadership — to an authoritarian, volatile, unpredictable, untested billionaire.
Obama is a likeable, charismatic guy, and a fine speaker. His post-presidential career is locked in. Short of Bush the Younger, he may well be remembered as the worst American leader since the Second World War.
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