To understand what President Obama will do, it's necessary to understand how he thinks and reacts. Understanding that will make his policies better understandable and, to a certain extent, predictable. This is important because he is so much an unknown on the political scene, since his voting record (Senator "Present"), apparent policy contradictions (balancing the budget, health care reform) and relative inexperience with foreign affairs means that he remains, for many an unknown.
First of all, let us remember that President Obama is first and foremost a product of the Chicago Democratic Party Machine, where it's not important who you are and what you can do, but rather who sent you.
My last post here underscored that: understanding President Obama's policies means understanding what is important to him, which means you need to understand his dogmas (beliefs) and how he sees the world.
In stark contrast to how he and his supporters contend for the man, President Obama is dogmatic, seeing the world divided into those who are useful to reaching his goals and those who can be ignored because they are of no use.
But let's take a further step and try to understand his advisers, those helping him reach his goals.
Fundamentally President Obama sees the world as being made up of sovereign states interacting with each other. Most will say, at this point, "Uh, Dude: duh".
But consider this:
America cannot and should not seek to impose any system of government on any other country, nor would we presume to choose which party or individual should run a country.
Those are the words of President Obama: he is basically saying that, much like the Chinese or Russian view of the world, that countries are sacrosanct, that they are absolute sovereigns, and, as a logical result, that we should not care what happens within a country's borders.
In other words, the repudiation of the centuries-old tradition of the US in promoting human rights and criticizing the repression of such rights anywhere in the world, regardless of who is involved. This coming from a populist President, a true man of the American Left?
You bet. During the Cold War, regardless of where the US stood up for human rights, the Chinese and the Russians screamed foul, that this was an absolutely impermissible meddling in internal affairs. Never mind that both the Chinese and the Russians - and their vassal states - interfered massively in internal affairs, actively attacking institutions and persons in their attempt to install socialism world-wide: it was the invariable response when dissidents were jailed and minorities repressed.
Of course, it does make sense if you consider this:
The responsibility for the outcome of the war in Afghanistan rests squarely with Mr. Obama. Until now, he seems to have treated the conflict as a distraction from his efforts to nationalize our health-care system. But the war is now front and center. He has been told by Gen. McChrystal that America needs more boots on the ground to win.
In the past, when Mr. Obama has moved left, he moved fast and far to the left—witness his willingness to push health-care legislation even if it only has Democratic support. But when he has played to the center—as on Afghanistan, when he decided in last year's campaign that he needed to be tough on at least one of the wars America was engaged in—he has looked for appealing half-measures that ultimately prove unworkable.I think the case can be made that President Obama is, right now, is the President that has, in living memory, the least interest in foreign affairs (do not think that travel overseas translates into interest: he traveled to Germany before the election to gain political points at home, not to impress foreign leaders: he is the President of the United States, not of the world, and had no particular need to visit Germany, for instance, except to disarm critics who pointed out that he didn't have any meaningful experience in foreign affairs).
But for President Obama, judging by his actions - not his words - foreign affairs is at best a distraction and an annoyance: his attempt to bring Palestinians and Israelis together was, at best, white-washing and a photo opportunity, not a serious attempt to resolve the contradictions and problems that are the relationship between Israel and her neighbors.
What President Obama tends to do is to find people dedicated to him, who owe him, and give them the tasks that he doesn't want to deal with:
Mr. Obama's hands-off approach to the war seems to fit his governing style. Over the past year, he outsourced writing the stimulus package to House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, washed his hands of Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to reinvestigate CIA interrogators, and hasn't offered a detailed health-care plan.
Mr. Obama's aloofness on the war will be a problem if the recent airing of Joe Biden's views on Afghanistan is a tipoff that Mr. Obama will rely on his vice president's guidance. According to reports in the New York Times and other publications, Mr. Biden supports reducing troop levels in favor of surgical attacks—mostly launched from offshore—and missile strikes against al Qaeda, especially in Pakistan.See the pattern? I wrote this about his choice of Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, here:
The world will remember Susan Rice not as an intellectually sharp and incisive woman, but rather as someone who pushed for the US to get involved in any and all genocides across the globe, truly aiming for imperial overreach. The woman is at best a catastrophe waiting to happen: I can just see her lecturing the government in Khartoum about its genocidal activities, and that government deciding that the Americans are both insane and stupid. She is a moralist wanting to correct the world's wrongs, and such people should be kept behind locked doors before they start wars.
The key point here is that President Obama is heavily dependent on using such people to achieve his goals, either in a positive sense - helping reach that goal - or in a negative sense - keeping the problem off his back - but nonetheless relying on folks whose records are tentative at best and downright dangerous at worst.
President Obama, fundamentally, isn't interested in Afghanistan: you can see this in the fact that he hasn't talked to the General running the war there since June (!) and the fact that he keeps on pushing any decision off, but without any really good reason to do so. President Obama doesn't want to make the decision. He want to have it forced upon him, or to have the luxury of dealing with it when it's convenient for him.
President Obama isn't interested in Afghanistan, in Iran, in Iraq, in Israel. He's interested in passing comprehensive health care reform and ensuring that he pays back the unions for their considerable support in getting him elected:
For the American left, now fused to financial support from domestic labor unions, the world's dispossessed represent a threat—less costly labor selling goods into the high-cost world.
The problem, however, in following this course is that President Obama is playing with US credibility. Credibility is a fickle thing: it takes decades to build up and can be destroyed in a matter of minutes by someone who either doesn't care or can't be bothered to remain credible.
The results can be devastating: the fall of South Vietnam made US credibility fairly worthless (thank you very much, Democratic Congress more intent on taking Nixon down than in providing more than 30 rounds of ammunition and 2 hand grenades in the face of more armor than Germany used at the beginning of WW2) for decades.
In an interview at the Journal's offices this week in New York, Pakistan Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi minced no words about the impact of a U.S. withdrawal before the Taliban is defeated. "This will be disastrous," he said. "You will lose credibility. . . . Who is going to trust you again?" As for Washington's latest public bout of ambivalence about the war, he added that "the fact that this is being debated—whether to stay or not stay—what sort of signal is that sending?"
US actions - or in this case, the President's inaction - have real-world effects. They can't be easily unmade, they can't be simply dismissed. Anyone with any understanding of foreign policy understands this: apparently, President Obama doesn't care.
Let me briefly underscore priorities and importance elsewhere, as can be seen here:
It also says something about the mindset of Congressional Democrats that while whiffing on true reform for investors, they're planning to smack a home run for the trial lawyers. The draft contains all kinds of new potential liability for the credit raters, including a bizarre section on "joint liability" that makes one ratings agency liable for another's mistakes.
Rather than go for a needed reform - of liberalizing the market for rating agencies - we see the corruption of the process, with - surprise, surprise - Rep: Barney Frank switching from criticism to reinforcement.
Again: we see here the subjugation of the process to the end, which in this case is the creation of a structural deficit in how the financial markets work so that failures here can be exploited by supporters for personal gain (and hence, in the follow-up, political campaign financing).
Welcome to the world of Chicago politics: if you can't grab the interest of the Mayor, then you can't get anything done; if you grab the interest of the Mayor, you can only get things done if he gets his share; if the Mayor gets interested in you, be prepared to go along or be prepared to be destroyed by the Mayor's allies.
It's one thing to do this to the City of Chicago: it's something completely else to do it the United States.
What we are seeing here is the repudiation, effectively, of one of the most subversive documents ever published and set into action: the Constitution of the United States.
What we are seeing here is the subjugation of the interests of the United States to the political interests of President Obama and the Democratic Party Machine that elected him.
What we are seeing is the attempt to create structural changes that serve no other purpose than to continue to misallocate capital (by manipulating markets) and to create the situation where political supporters of President Obama can make their personal fortunes in order to create a permanent, self-sustaining national party machine that ensures permanent Democratic Party majorities.
Rating agencies remain part of the problem: by not taking them down - and by the fact that the rating process in the US has become fundamentally suborned to commercial interests, rather than being a neutral statistical analysis - President Obama can only be perceived as following his own interests, rather than the interests of the entire nation.
The Obama Administration is increasingly playing with the credibility of the United States. This could be vastly worse than the damage that Carter did: if the US is merely one country among others, then the international playing field has been abandoned to the rules of everyone else, not those of the last 200 years of US policy.