It’s no secret that the President is not at the height of his popularity. His approval rating hovers somewhere between forty-five percent (that’s Rasmussen, mind you) and a disastrous thirty-six percent (Reuters). All the polls except Rasmussen show him at least ten points in the negative. If the occupancy of the White House was determined by Nielsen, Mr. Obama wouldn’t be renewed for another season.
There are, however, other tests involved in a complete diagnosis. One I might call the Beinart test: can the President hold on to an independent minded, moderate to slightly left of center Democrat? Since Peter Beinart actually exists, we can apply the test and it too produces a negative result for the President.
Sooner or later, honest liberals will have to admit that Obama’s Iraq policy has been a disaster. Since the president took office, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has grown ever more tyrannical and ever more sectarian, driving his country’s Sunnis toward revolt. Since Obama took office, Iraq watchers—including those within his own administration—have warned that unless the United States pushed hard for inclusive government, the country would slide back into civil war. Yet the White House has been so eager to put Iraq in America’s rearview mirror that, publicly at least, it has given Maliki an almost-free pass. Until now, when it may be too late.
Beinart’s piece is a pretty damning tale of diplomatic neglect. The present civil war might have been avoided if the Administration had pushed harder for an agreement that would have allowed 20-30,000 U.S. troops to remain in Iraq and if they had put pressure on Prime Minister Maliki to maintain a more inclusive government.
This account is perhaps not damning enough. As this blog pointed out back in 2008, Candidate Obama pressed the Iraqi government to delay signing a status of forces agreement with the Bush Administration. The motive for that was obviously to deny Bush any last minute victory and thus bolster Obama’s campaign. That might have been forgivable if Mr. Obama had managed to get such an agreement himself once he took office. As Beinart shows, it is hardly clear that this President ever seriously tried to do that.
A second and more severe diagnostic tool in the pundits quiver is the Milbank Test. Is the President still relentless protected by journalists on the left who mostly write like partisan hacks? In his recent column, Dana Milbank wrote what maybe the most scathing personal comment on Mr. Obama that I have read (at least coming from the left).
On June 14, Sunni rebels threatened Baghdad after seizing much of Iraq — and President Obama fearlessly played a round at the Sunnylands Golf Course in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
The next day, the militants posted pictures of their mass execution of Shiite members of Iraq’s security forces — and Obama boldly teed off again, at Oracle founder Larry Ellison’s Rancho Mirage estate.
These split-screen scenes were reminiscent of the weekend in March when Russia was about to annex Crimea. Obama played golf both Saturday and Sunday at Key Largo, Fla.’s Ocean Reef resort with former NBA star Alonzo Mourning and former NFL player Ahmad Rashad.
It’s enough to make one wish the president would take up a different pastime — like, say, stamp collecting.
Or, dare one suggest it, trying his hand at being President? This habit of playing golf while the world burns is bad enough on the face of it but it also takes one of Mr. Obama’s favorite clubs out of his bag: the “I’m not Bush” iron.
CBS News’s Mark Knoller, the unofficial statistician of presidential activities, reports that Bush played golf only 24 times while in the White House; Obama is up to 177 and now has a round-a-week habit.
Milbank notes that Bush 43 gave up golf entirely after the Iraq invasion. Say what you like about his policies, President Dubya could at least pretend to be a serious man. Mr. Obama doesn’t seem to understand the distinction.
These stories confirm what this blogger has been arguing since 2009: not that Mr. Obama is a bad President but that he is a good anchorman, and little more. That was enough to get him elected twice. It was not enough to provide leadership to his administration and, without that, all that comes out of the White House are the results of shifting alliances of aides and lobbies. What doesn’t come out is coherent policy.
It may be that the President’s approval ratings have fallen about as low as they can go. There is a stock of strong partisans for both parties who rarely give up. Even Democrats, however, say (48 to 39%) that the President has not clearly explained his goals in Iraq and only fifty percent of Democrats think that the President’s policies have made the U.S. safer. No one asked them if they thought the President had goals or policies.