The great unraveling

In one of the PBS series that engages American history (was it The American Experience? Frontline? I don’t remember and can’t find it online), the producers took a look back at the Carter administration. The show I’m thinking of would have been broadcast some 20 years ago.

Former Vice President Mondale was interviewed for the show. In a clip toward the end, Mondale recited a litany of woes that beset Carter as he (and they) stood for reelection: unemployment, inflation, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Iranian takeover of our embassy in Tehran, and so on.

In Mondale’s telling, these were like acts of God, the mysterious eruptions of of an indifferent universe. Yet in one way or another they could be traced to Carter administration policies. Mondale was of course clueless to the connection between left liberal policies and disaster. Unless its true object is the accrual of power to be exercised by a privileged elite, liberalism doesn’t “work” any more than socialism does.

In Year Six of the Age of Obama, we are in a great unraveling at home and abroad, with much more to come. The contribution of Obamacare, substantial as it has been to date, has been deferred and delayed; as a result of the lawless expedients adopted by Obama, so far we have seen only a preview of coming attractions.

Carter had declared early on, in his commencement speech at Notre Dame, that we had overcome our inordinate fear of Communism. Obama’s Cairo speech is the analogue to Carter’s Notre Dame speech; it was Obama announcing that in his person and in his election we had overcome our inordinate fear of Islam, or Islamism. He even arranged for representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood to hear it first-hand, over the opposition of then President Mubarak.

Obama’s bows were equally telling. They had unmistakable symbolic and pedagogic purposes. Recall that in the first such bow Obama all but prostrated himself before the King of Saudi Arabia, back in April 2009. Obama has never been asked about it directly, but his spokesman has dutifully lied about it. “It wasn’t a bow. He grasped his hand with two hands, and he’s taller than King Abdullah,” an Obama aide told Politico. When your project is “fundamental transformation, you can’t necessarily disclose all the details to the American people.

As Iraq disintegrates and al Qaeda/ISIS et al. rise, it is difficult to miss the connection to Obama’s foreign policy. Instead of settling accounts with Iran, he has rendered us a pitiful supplicant and enabler. Even the King of Saudi Arabia wants him to stand up. With the Iran factor in the equation we seem to have a case of eternal recurrence.

Charles Lipson gives his own account of the great unraveling, climaxing with the Bergdahl deal:

Why did Obama release a murderers’ row of Taliban generals? Why did he refuse to tell anyone in Congress beforehand, as he was legally required to do? Is the president floating a trial balloon to empty Guantanamo? Could the newly released Taliban plan deadly attacks? Will the swap encourage Islamic terrorists to kidnap other Americans?

But the Bergdahl deal is obviously a part of Obama’s announced goal of closing Guantanamo. To borrow the cliche, to Obama, the release of the Taliban Five wasn’t a glitch; it was a feature. As with the bows, however, he will never admit to it. He knows it would sound too stupid to the average American.

Professor Donald Kagan is our foremost living student of the Peloponnesian War. As such, he has thought deeply about issues of peace and war, as in On the Origins of War: And the Preservation of Peace.

Professor Kagan’s assessment of Obama hits home with me; the New York Times reports that he characterized Obama’s recent West Point speech as “pathetic.” Of Obama himself, Professor Kagan observed: “We should not underestimate the possibility of extraordinary ignorance.” This is how liberalism looks when the consequences of liberal policies become manifest.

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