Serious people feel obliged to listen whenever Obama speaks. They furrow their brow, hold their chin and parse every word. They assume that most everything he says is significant, and what’s significant must also be well-informed.
I’ve been thinking about this and it has become clear that, even at an elementary level, Obama often doesn’t know what he is talking about. It isn’t so much his analysis of global events that’s wrong, though it is. The deeper problem is the foundation of knowledge on which that analysis is built.
Here, for instance, is Obama answering a question posed in August by New York, Times columnist Tom Friedman, who wanted Obama’s thoughts on the new global disorder. Obama replied that “you can’t generalize across the globe, because there are a bunch of places where good news keeps on coming. Asia continues to grow. . .and not only is it rowing but you’re starting to see democracies in places like Indonesia solidifying. The trend lines in Latin America are good. Overall, there’s still cause for optimism.”
Here, now, is reality: In Japan, the economy is contracting. China’s real-estate market is a bubble waiting to burst. Indonesia’s democracy may be solidifying, but so is Islamism and the persecution of religious minorities. Democracy has been overthrown in Thailand. The march toward freedom in Burma, supposedly one of Obama’s (and Hillary’s) signature diplomatic victories, has stalled. India may do better than before under its new prime minister, Narendra Modi, but gone are the days when serious people think of India as a future superpower. The government of Pakistan is, as ever, on the verge of collapse. As for Latin America, Argentina just defaulted for the second time in 13 years. Brazil is in recession. Venezuela is a brutal dictatorship and, Ecuador is well on its way to becoming one.
In 2012, after the Arab Spring, Obama singled out Yemen as a model for prospective political transition in Syria. He was at it again just two weeks ago citing the fight against al-Qaeda in Yemen as the model for the war he intends to wage against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Whoops! Over the weekend, the growing gap between Obama’s rhetoric and reality came to a head as the acerbically anti-American Houthi rebels, who American diplomats allege have close financial and military ties with Iran, took control of many areas of the capital, Sanaa, with minimal resistance from the U.S. supplied Yemeni armed forces.
Obama predicted in 2012 that Assad’s days were numbered just as the Syrian dictator was turning the tide of war in his favor. He declared victory over al-Qaeda and dismissed groups like ISIS as “the jayvee team” at the very moment al-Qaeda was roaring back. He mocked the notion of Russia being our enemy. Remember the line about the 1980s wanting “its foreign policy back” just as Russia was again becoming our enemy.
Every administration attempts to spin events and every president gets things wrong. Obama is not exceptional in those respects. Where he stands apart is in his combination of ideological rigidity and fathomless ignorance.
What does Obama know? The simple answer and maybe the truest – is not a lot!
You can read What Obama Knows by Bret Stephens, in full at this link.