When a young, flibbertigibbet reporter asked the old Edwardian Harold Macmillan what might derail implementing the prime minister’s promised political agenda, he rejoined, “Events, dear boy, events!”
For pseudo-aristocrat that he might have been – his grandfather was a Scottish crofter, his mother quintessentially Midwestern American – Macmillan knew well and had been a victim of the vagaries of human life that make plans just that, plans. [He almost died of wounds suffered in World War I.]
Macmillan’s maxim is one always to be remembered when, for example, attempting to discern where current trends will take the U.S.
Any serious attempt at calculating where the policies – or lack thereof – of the Obama administration will guide the U.S. and the world is therefore conceit rather than speculation. But certain it is that even though there is another three years to go, it’s highly unlikely that President Barack Obama will either change his views, or even should he have an epiphany, he could now limit the enormous damage he already has done.
For Mr. Obama has not only made mistakes common to human frailty and any American president faced with the role’s enormous demands on intellect and character. He has, in fact, also turned his back on so many fundamental concepts and values at home and abroad. His successor, whoever he may be and from whatever corner of the American political spectrum he [or she] may come, will be beset with the enormity of the struggle to right the ship of state.
The Obama administration has left a sorry trail of not only policy destruction but intellectual debris. For better or more likely for worse, it will require a period not only of assimilation but of radical readjustment to continue what has been by any estimate the remarkable history of the American experiment. Whatever else he intended and has accomplished; Obama indeed would have partially achieved a “transformation” of the U.S. which has been his announced goal. In an examination of the wreckage, one finds:
- Mr. Obama and his colleagues have made new contributions to the political concept, always rampant in American life since the late 19th century, that the U.S. Constitution was basically flawed and superannuated. Therefore, it has been argued, many of its basic concepts had to be honed through “progressive” readjustment to, admittedly, the revolutionary events of contemporary life. In the process, the incredibly inspired concepts of separation of powers, federalism and counterbalancing of power – even at the cost of occasional temporary impasse –should be sacrificed for expediency and ”efficiency”. Obama’s continued exercise of legislative and judicial power forsworn by the Constitution to the executive, but held in reserve for the other two branches of government, the states, and ultimately the people, has become a commonplace. Take for instance his decision to extend deadline requirements originally written into law in Obamacare, without going back to the Congress for a legislative solution demanded by proper Constitutional practice. Then there are his attorney-general’s constant public announcements of refusal to defend enacted legislation. They set an unholy precedent.
- Mr. Obama and his colleagues have made new contributions to the calumny that U.S. power and resources generously expended abroad, particularly since the end of World War II, have been reprehensible. It is the refrain of the pseudo-radicals of the 1960s in their poor imitation of their 1920s Communist forebears who brought us the Soviet Union, perhaps the worst despotism the world has ever known. However much they have sugar-coated these judgments in contradictory rhetoric, they have confirmed and contributed further to the domestic and worldwide attacks on U.S. leadership. Fundamentally, they refuse to acknowledge that, willy-nilly, if for no other reason, Washington has had to exercise power because of the enormous worldwide impact of its dynamic system and its gigantic economy. This overall concept of American misadventure, enhanced by lack of historical perspective and knowledge of the instruments of power and government, has led to creating power vacuums in every corner of the globe. The most dramatic, of course, is in the Mideast. There for overwhelming reasons – its strategic geographic position [Suez Canal, Dardanelles, and Eastern Mediterranean], abundance of fossil fuels [a principal ingredient of worldwide industrialization] and backward native societies [retrogression in Arab and Muslim civilization] – has had to be a major concern of U.S. policy since World War II.
- Mr. Obama and his colleagues have made new contributions to unrealistic concepts of the strengths of world government as a replacement for the exercise of U.S. power. Even those idealists who see supranationalism as the ultimate goal of international relations have had to recognize that for historical and other reasons, the current United Nations is a corrupt and dysfunctional organization yet, at best, to prove itself. However seemingly realistic at the time, for example, the creation of the Security Council with permanent members as the driving force of the organization has turned out to be one of its greatest weaknesses. The current Security Council’s “big power” composition with its vetoes neither represents the current balance of world power nor an ability to pursue its goal of maintaining world peace and order. The plethora of UN subsidiary technocratic and cultural organizations are something of a bitter joke – e.g. the world’s worst tyrannies presiding over human rights councils, nuclear watchdogs unable to recognize much less to halt proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, cultural activities inherently prejudiced and inconsequential, scandal-ridden and ineffective peace-keeping efforts, etc. All of this might be rationalized as the inevitable part of an effort to create something beyond a comity of nation states. But to actually entrust it with authority and decision-making, to ask it to substitute for national and multinational alliances, is infantile and only creates new problems.
- Mr. Obama and his colleagues have sought to defuse world conflict and the, admittedly, disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, by refusing to acknowledge the new long-term threat to world peace and stability. For whatever reason, the President insists on ignoring the basic thrust of worldwide terrorism, that is, its foundation in Islamic radicalism which alas! relies on centuries-old twisted interpretations of a religion. He and his advisors have refused to identify Islamic terrorism for what it is. They have in effect denigrated the shock and mobilization which followed the 9/11 attack on American soil from great distance – a confirmation of the new life-threatening strategic aspects of U.S. defense. Obama’s U.S. is now as vulnerable to attack. And while the Obama administration relies, thankfully, on the accumulated enormous technological and bloodied superiority of the American military, Washington now runs the risk of minimizing them in future engagements with potential new unforeseen adversaries.
- Mr. Obama and his colleagues have sought to minimize and discredit the role of entrepreneurial capitalism, which with all its faults has built the largest economy and most egalitarian society in world history. A campaign to substitute programs of government-enforced social equality for the traditional American concept of equality of opportunity cripples recovery from a traditional – if more severe – business cycle. Washington has exaggerated and increased the role of dependency on government redistribution of wealth – with all its notorious inadequacies – as part of the American civilization. There is proper concern that this movement toward more and more bureaucratic encroachment and dependency may destroy the essential fabric of the American economic miracle of the last two centuries, individual initiative.
Returning to Mr. Macmillan’s admonition, unforeseen happenings may radically change all this, that is, the effects of the Obama administration, even with the likelihood it will continue present patterns until 2017. Such turnabouts have come in the recent past: the largely unanticipated Reagan Revolution. But the “logical” outlook is that the U.S. and the world are likely to suffer even more instability and decline in economic opportunity awaiting a change in U.S. leadership.