Overrated: Barack Obama
The former president’s administration was defined by lies, cover-ups and incompetent foreign policy
Barack Obama was the first black president of the United States, which was a tremendous achievement that everyone should welcome and appreciate. He also killed Osama bin Laden, although that was a decision he could not have shirked without losing the 2012 election.
Beyond those two achievements, however, President Obama was an unmitigated disaster for America and the rest of the world. The hope and change he so hyperbolically promised in the 2008 election turned out to be merely cynical soundbites. The promises he made — slowing the rise of the oceans, ending the War on Terror, bringing racial peace to America, closing Guantanamo — should not have been taken seriously. Yet when I predicted, the morning after his election, that Obama would be the worst president since Jimmy Carter, I was roundly condemned by a large roomful of starry-eyed optimists who utterly believed in him. Remember “Yes We Can”?
Obama set out a new agenda towards the Muslim world in his Cairo speech in June 2009, but then refused to support the Green Revolution in Iran later that same month; he tried to “reset” America’s relations with Russia, but was so weak that Putin annexed the Crimea de jure and eastern Ukraine de facto; Obama withdrew American troops from Iraq and publicly declared “the War on Terror is over”, creating a strategic vacuum that was immediately filled by IS; he failed to protect the life of his ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and administration officials then knowingly lied about how and why the attack on Benghazi took place; he drew a “red line” in Syria against the use of chemical weapons, and then promptly backed down when Assad brazenly crossed it; he allowed Russia to have bases in the Middle East for the first time since they had been kicked out by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger four decades ago; he constantly undermined America’s closest ally in the region, Israel, and conspired with Egypt at the Security Council in the last days before leaving office to have the Israelis denounced over settlements; he hypocritically (but ineffectually) threatened the UK with being sent to “the back of the queue” if we had the temerity to vote for our sovereign independence; he tried to “pivot to Asia” while cutting the military so badly that China was given the green light to hegemonise the region; he signed a disastrous nuclear deal with Iran — bypassing the Senate — that allows the centrifuges to keep spinning and long-range missiles to be tested at will. And that’s just the foreign policy, which he had promised in the 2008 election would be “bipartisan”.
Domestically, Obama promised to balance the budget but in fact doubled America’s national debt; he created the bureaucratic nightmare that is Obamacare, about which he misled people into thinking they could keep their own health plans; he was the only president since Herbert Hoover not to hit 3 per cent growth; the only jobs he created were public sector ones, possibly because his view of entrepreneurs is that they “didn’t build” their own companies; he signed trade deals so bad that Donald Trump could get elected by opposing them; he thwarted the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines and did his best to thwart fracking, while also turning the Colorado River green with pollution; he attacked the Supreme Court justices at the State of the Union when they had no opportunity to respond; and he commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, thereby encouraging future traitors.
Yet the worst part of his administration wasn’t the policies but the lies and obfuscations and cover-ups that came to define it. “I’m extremely proud of the fact that over eight years we have not had the kinds of scandals that have plagued other administrations,” Obama tweeted on leaving office, which was instantly parroted by the BBC’s Washington correspondent Gary O’Donoghue, who told Radio 4’s Today programme that it had been a “sleaze-free administration”. O’Donoghue can’t have lived in Obama’s America for the same half-decade as me, during which scandal after scandal was systematically covered up, albeit usually incompetently.
After the Mexican gun-running scandal, Operation Fast and Furious, came to light, Obama invoked executive privilege and his Attorney-General Eric Holder became the first sitting Cabinet member in US history to be held in contempt of Congress. James Rosen, a journalist at Fox News, was spied upon; the Internal Revenue Service deliberately targeted conservative groups such as the Tea Party; the administration knew that the Taliban hostage Bowe Bergdahl had deserted his post before his capture in 2009; $1.7 billion in cash was paid in part to release four American hostages; lavish parties were thrown in Las Vegas by the General Services Administration costing more than $700,000; Veteran Affairs administrators lied about care for veterans. In every case, the administration lied and obfuscated to cover up the scandals.
Nonetheless, Barack Obama was the first black president, and he did kill Osama bin Laden.