Mr. Obama concluded in his first year that the Bush-era dream of remaking Afghanistan was a fantasy, and that the far greater threat to the United States was an unstable, nuclear-armed Pakistan. So he narrowed the goals in Afghanistan, and narrowed them again, until he could make the case that America had achieved limited objectives in a war that was, in any traditional sense, unwinnable. (…) Out of the experience emerged Mr. Obama’s “light footprint” strategy, in which the United States strikes from a distance but does not engage in years-long, enervating occupations. .(…) Faced with an economic crisis at home and a fiscal crisis that Mr. Obama knew would eventually require deep limits on Pentagon spending, he was also shocked, they said, by what the war’s cost would be if the generals’ counterinsurgency plan were left on autopilot — $1 trillion over 10 years. New York Times
His steep learning curve, basically, is “why” number three. The president seems to have quickly learned an important lesson that other presidents have taken much longer to learn or have never learned at all, that is: the Pentagon has the knack of spending endless money, while achieving little or no results, over unlimited time. In fact that process: (endless x little or no x unlimited) would seem to be the object of their existence.
Over the decades since the end of the Second World War, much of American policy has evolved into “killing people and blowing things up”, which is essentially the job description of the armed forces and America has the largest, most powerful, armed forces in the history of the world. Many careers have flourished, uncountable dollars have changed hands, hundreds of thousands of people have died and millions have been displaced in a chain of military disasters. The United States famously spends more on its military than the next seventeen nations combined: if it could cut that down to say, more than the next five combined, then perhaps, while also raising taxes on the one percenters, the US economy, its infrastructure, its public schools and its safety net could be restored to health.
Obama is the first president to fully realize that most of this mayhem could be executed just as well, (with less casualties on either side, and much more cost-effectively), simply by using toy airplanes instead of thousands of over fed soldiers at the end of infinitely complex, wasteful, frightfully expensive and vulnerable supply lines.
Is all this blowing things up and killing people, even with toy airplanes necessary? The unpleasant truth is that “yes” it is. Why?
In its desire to micromanage the universe the USA has made many enemies over the decades, but the last batch they have made are the first to have ever hit the American “homeland” (sinisterly Teutonic term) and it turns out that although the USA packs the world’s hardest punch, its jaw is made of glass.
No sooner did Al Qaeda manage to kill 3000 Americans in territorial USA, than the citizens of the United States were willing to lock the Bill of Rights in a drawer and misplace the key… nothing could be more cost effective than to make the Americans scrap their centuries old, “inalienable rights” using only 19 young Arabs carrying box cutters. The asymmetry between the cost and its effect means that it will be attempted again and again. Sooner or later one of these attempts is bound to succeed, it is just a matter of time
The reality is that any successful, new attack on US soil will spark a fresh wave of hysteria, which would probably destroy the presidency of whoever happened to be in the White House when it occurred. The steps the president has taken to keep another 9/11 from happening on his watch have probably taken more bloom off his rose than anything else. However that is the reality, politicians deal in reality and Obama is a politician.
The Financial Times compares Obama to Facebook’s IPO:
Mr Obama’s frothy initial valuation offers parallels. Having marketed himself as the man who would transcend Washington’s cynical ways, Mr Obama’s brand was quickly tarnished. It was one thing to promise and fail to close Guantánamo Bay. It was quite another to produce a new rationale for indefinite detention without trial.
Without defusing the Middle East and with it the world of Islam, it is certain that American civil liberties will continue to be degraded, with this or any other administration.
As Al Qaeda draws much of its support and recruiting from America’s tacit connivance with Israel’s continuing oppression of the Palestinian people, no plan to end the threat of Al Qaeda to the USA can have any hope of success without solving the Palestinian question. Although it may not be enough, giving the Palestinians a state of their own, thus defining Israel’s borders permanently, would do more to “drain the swamp” than having the Pentagon endlessly trying to re-engineer ancient cultures into American suburbs.
Solving the Palestinian question would require putting considerable pressure on the Israeli government. It is fair to doubt whether any US administration would have the chops to do that. Would Obama? I really don’t know. What I do know is that Mitt Romney is a close friend of Bibi Netanyahu and would consult him before doing anything in the Middle East… So far, I hear nothing from the Republicans but attacking Iran, increasing military spending, cutting entitlements, supporting the Israeli right à outrance and lowering taxes for the wealthy.
So retuning to my leitmotiv of this “count the whys” series, I have no trouble at all imagining a better president than Barack Obama, but I cannot imagine that Mitt Romney, who is the only candidate with any chance of replacing him, would be that president.