- - Tuesday, November 15, 2016


A president’s legacy is shaped by his deeds, not by his wishes, hopes and dreams. A president can always hope, but there is nothing Barack Obama can do now to change a single line of the work of the moving finger. Mr. Obama is embarked this week on his final foreign tour, and before he left he drew his own view of the Obama years, but his own view is all it is.

He chose the best interpretation of events of his eight years at the White House, which is his right, and useful while his policies and repercussions are still fresh. But he should save the interpretation for his memoirs. It’s difficult for others to draw a balance sheet that is anything less than disastrous.

Perhaps more than any other recent president, Mr. Obama is an ideologue. He insisted in his political campaigns that he wanted nothing less than a “transformation” of America. His framework of events is an amalgam of his studies of history overlaid by the socialist and Marxist views of the small group of like-minded around the University of Chicago who launched his career. There’s no doubt that he has made changes, but whether they are transformations, and whether for good or ill, is the legacy that must wait for the judgment of the years.

But any early examination of the effects of his strategies is reflected in a record of miscalculation and failure. Perhaps the most dramatic effects are in foreign policy. His campaign to withdraw American power and decision-making from the international scene has demonstrated what is obvious to serious students of foreign affairs: The enormous power of the United States, whether economic, political or military, expresses itself even when Washington chooses to remain neutral or withdraw its influence. A world order without American participation is unimaginable not only to our allies, but to adversaries as well.

Chaos in the Middle East is the most dramatic example of what happens when American leadership, with all the pomp and power that comes with it, is withdrawn. His weakening of the U.S.-Israel alliance encouraged Muslim terrorists and his flirtation with the Muslim Brotherhood through the offices of Hillary Clinton was disastrous. When the Egyptian military, by popular demand overthrew the Brotherhood, the president and Mrs. Clinton attempted to boycott the new Egyptian government, breaking the close link to Cairo and provided the opportunity for Russian arms and influence to return to the place whence it was expelled a half-century ago.

In Syria, Mr. Obama’s initial declaration of opposition to the Bashar al Assad regime, and the infamous red line he confidently promised could not be crossed, assured the Syrian descent into a bloody civil war that sent millions of refugees into neighboring countries and even into Europe. The consequences included a Russian base of operations in the Mediterranean and the extension of radical Islamic terrorism across the Fertile Crescent.

In East and South Asia, Mr. Obama’s ambivalence toward Chinese aggression has encouraged China to make extravagant territorial claims, discouraged unity among friendly nations in Southeast Asia and invited Chinese threats. Hillary Clinton’s vaunted pivot to the Western Pacific never arrived. The rape of the American economy by the Chinese, through export subsidies and currency manipulation, has become clear, and the new president probably will have no option but to crack down hard.

Mr. Obama as the first black president was the longed-for opportunity to find the solution to the enduring American race problem. But his exotic background linked him to neither the rising black middle class nor the poor of the ghetto. He exacerbated racial incidents, neglecting completely the mayhem in his own hometown of Chicago. Few would dispute the fact that racial division in America is more acute now than when he took office.

His “reform” of health care is belied by the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — that threatens to collapse in a welter of skyrocketing costs, rising premiums and the failure of the insurance framework that was imposed to support it. His stream of executive orders to impose additional regulation and environmental restraints has contributed to the slowest and most erratic economic recovery since World War II.

The president has his legacy, and it will cast a shadow over the nation that gave him its highest honor, a shadow that will endure for a generation. It’s not much to boast about, but it’s all he’s got.

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