- - Monday, April 18, 2016


At 54 and soon to be unemployed (though with a nice pension and a feast of travel perks), Barack Obama may well believe that there’s still something in the political world ahead for him. Congress has nothing for an ex-president — been there and done that. But there are options.

There’s been a small buzz about the United Nations, with a search under way for a new secretary-general, and deputies to the Great Mentioner, who usually confines himself to presidential possibilities, have mentioned Mr. Obama. The United Nations is from the bush leagues, but the president has entrusted much of his “transformation” of foreign policy to hapless international organizations.

The president made a revealing remark the other day in an interview with Fox News, when Chris Wallace asked him to identify his worst foreign policy mistake. He replied that it was his failure to anticipate what would happen after the Gadhafi regime was brought down in Libya. He erred in not anticipating what would come with regime change, and made the mistake of leaving the details to Prime Minister David Cameron of Great Britain.

He might have kissed off the question, as he has on many other times when his foreign policies, or lack of them, come up in learned discussions. Other presidents have resorted to platitudes, like “history will be the judge.” But he couldn’t let pass another opportunity to take a swipe at the British, the colonial power in his father’s native Kenya, and the president has drunk deeply from the inherited dregs of hatred for Englishmen. Wise men in London noticed.

Bringing up the Libyan debacle was not very helpful to Hillary Clinton, who is suddenly running more scared in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination than she ever imagined she would. Talking about Libya, at a time when congressional investigators are still examining what she did — and what she didn’t do — as secretary of State to rush to the aid of an American ambassador and three other American officials who paid for her carelessness at Benghazi with their lives, was not helpful. “Leading from behind” has become shorthand for Mr. Obama’s foreign-policy incompetence; was it worth bringing up the Libyan debacle just to take another shot at Old Blighty?

The president’s public positions in the campaign have been unusual, bordering on strange. He has said it would be a good thing to have a woman president. He has endorsed Hillary’s credentials. But he has not explicitly endorsed her, nor has Joe Biden, who may be nursing his own regrets for not running against her when the stars suddenly looked in fortuitous alignment.

What could the president be waiting for? An endorsement sooner rather than later would be more effective now as the lady feels the hot breath of Bernie Sanders on her neck. She will have put distance between herself and Mr. Obama later, when an endorsement won’t be worth as much as now.

The Obama legacy is a high priority concern of his, one that is increasingly unsettled. His only major domestic accomplishment looks ever more like a major disaster. His retreat from what he regards as American overcommitment overseas looks ever more like another disaster with every regional conflict where American leadership has been the order of the day for nearly three-quarters of a century.

The relationship between Barack Obama and a new president is crucial to the president’s job prospects when the moving trucks back up to the White House, which is only a matter of weeks and months.

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