by Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
Professor, Depts. of Political Science and of International Relations, Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401
Since it is sometimes difficult to read a scan from a newspaper, here is the full text:
Poor President Obama: the guy just can’t get Americans to recognize how successful he has been. Mired in a malaise he surely believes to be of others’ making, the President’s re-election nonetheless still appears vulnerable. That this is happening despite a season of a most self-destructive fratricide among Republican candidates suggests that something more than your garden variety ineptitude is involved.
Obama entered his presidency with a landslide mandate, … and widespread doubt about the depth of both his national security credentials and his understanding of our economy. As the slayer of Bin Laden and most of Al Qaeda, he must have planned for his several successes in counter-terrorism to quiet critics of his foreign policies in this his re-election year. Fat chance. Even after ordering our final troops home from Iraq, and after announcing plans to start drawing them down in Afghanistan, all it has taken is the accidental burning of a Muslim holy book, and presto: white hot rage at Americans burns anew. George Bush, that now so distant villain famed for waterboarding, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo, once was the bright beacon who could energize any anti-Americanism abroad. But, with one apology for this recent Quran-burning, Obama has managed to ignite a similarly intense ire.
Ironically, those who are smoking hot now seem most to include those Americans who always have been readily convinced that even these days our love still means “never having to say we’re sorry.” Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, our troops are paying daily for both the burned Quran and for Obama’s apology for it. A grenade lobbed at them in Kunduz, a shoot-up in a ministry in Kabul, and before you know it Afghans and Americans alike have stopped seeing Obama’s “surge” toward victory as anything other than a hot poker in the eye. And then there is all that success we’ve had with Pakistan, and Yemen, and Syria.
So much for the successful new American strategy of “leading from behind.” If we limp home on our hind legs, it may yet be billed as success at the White House.
But it is four dollar a gallon gasoline that soon may prove most relevant. Four bucks may just prevent working people here stateside from giving Obama his due credit for this economic “recovery” we all have been so enjoying. As costs of meat, milk, and other such luxuries have pinched family pocketbooks, those lucky to have jobs fail to notice this side of The President’s Herculean labors. Each week we are paying less federal payroll taxes thanks to a deal Obama cut with Congress this month. But money not taken by the taxman in each of our paychecks goes unseen, while nearly all of us will soon squirm filling out that unavoidable IRS 1040 form. Even refunds seem always to be absorbed by the next necessity. Will you use yours to pen a check to the re-elect anybody committee?
Here is where the circle is squared. Much that is roiling the fuel market stems from worry about Iran, and the storm clouds of war building over that extremist state’s secretive nuclear program. Having chosen to snub Israel from day one of his presidency, Obama now is reaping the harvest of having squandered much influence over America’s only genuine ally in the Middle East. Put bluntly, many Israelis don’t trust Obama to ever act to stop an Iranian nuclear bomb, so this year Israel may set out on their own to stop it. Uncertainty about what such a war might do to world oil markets is central to the steep recent rise in the price of gasoline.
Thus, in spite of upticks in the economy and a strategy to exit unpopular wars, President Obama remains vulnerable to events he cannot control. A Republican field obsessed with opposing birth control and protecting the offshore accounts of the top one percent of Americans may yet save him. But the Republicans’ tune still could change: it’s more than eight months until the voters must focus on any song, any candidate. In politics, that’s several lifetimes.
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