Obama’s Legacy: A Failed Twitter Presidency

Obama’s Legacy: A Failed Twitter Presidency

Iva Hruzikova/The Fiscal Times

Obama’s legacy? How about the #TwitterPresident? Surely the pint-sized messaging service is a perfect vehicle for promoting the undernourished programs of the #ObamaWhiteHouse.  How better to convey Obama’s meaningless foreign policy “doctrine” than summing it up in 140 characters (or less!)? Of course, it’s not just on overseas matters that the president presides over a bumper-sticker administration.

His prescriptions on the domestic front are equally Tweet-worthy: #Forward!, #WinningTheFuture, #AFairShot, #BettingOnAmerica! The bad news for Obama, as even the friendly Washington Post has noted, “Obama’s slogans have been suffering from the product they are selling.”  The bad news for the nation, and for the world, is that Obama’s ‘lil bit pronouncements rarely link to a more meaningful and informed analysis. Exhibit A: the chaos engulfing the globe.

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The tweet: #IraqWarEnded. The reality: the inevitable aftermath of our premature withdrawal from Iraq is ongoing conflict. While in 2011 Obama told Americans we were “leaving behind a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq…” it has become all too clear that our hasty abandonment of a war-torn country was risky, and a mistake -- a mistake that was flagged early on.  

As The New York Times reported, “Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates favored leaving 16,000 troops” in Iraq.  President Obama talked Gates down to 10,000 troops, a proposal that so alarmed Mullen that he wrote the president a letter still pressing for 16,000 troops and cautioning, “In light of the risks noted above and the opportunities that might emerge, that is my best military advice to the president.” Mullen added that the recommendation was supported by Gen. Lloyd Austin, the American commander in Iraq, and Gen. James N. Mattis, head of Central Command, which has responsibility for the Middle East.”

The letter set off a firestorm in the uber-political White House; a Pentagon spokesperson responded by arguing that their job was not to provide “only politically acceptable advice” to the president. Ultimately, Obama lowered the troop level under consideration to under 5,000 and made the terms so impossible that the U.S. failed to secure a Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq – a failure the dimensions of which are only now becoming apparent.  

Astonishingly, the U.S may now be reaching out to Iran to help contain the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, further alienating our long-time Sunni allies in the region like Saudi Arabia. It is complicated, yes, but President Obama seems unflappable; he did not interrupt his golf holiday in California to call Prime Minister al-Maliki to discuss the way forward. Maybe he could send a tweet.

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The Tweet: #RussiaActingOutOfWeakness. The reality: Russian President Putin has humiliated and outflanked President Obama at every turn. The former KGB strongman continues to host U.S. serial embarrasser Edward Snowden, has stepped in to clean up Obama’s missteps in Syria, has corroded U.S. – European alliances, has officially annexed Crimea and continues to meddle in Ukraine. Moreover, Putin currently enjoys 80 percent approval ratings in Russia- a vote of confidence that Obama can only dream about. 

Russia has no qualms about using its energy resources to further its geopolitical ends – an approach dismissed by the Obama White House – thus, it currently has Kiev, and the EU, over a barrel. It has just been announced that Gazprom has cut off gas deliveries to Ukraine, heightening tensions in the region and further pressuring that country’s struggling government. Emergency meetings had taken place in recent days to resolve the dispute between Kiev and Gazprom, which is demanding a 44 percent hike in the price of gas it exports to Ukraine. Given that Ukraine can produce internally only about 40 percent of the natural gas it consumes, and that Western European sources are limited, Russia will retain significant sway over its neighbor for the foreseeable future. Russia may only be, as Obama blithely described it, a “regional power,” but it happens to be in a region of some importance.

The Tweet: #PivotToAsia. The reality: the U.S. continues to be engaged in the upheavals in the Middle East and Ukraine.  We cannot pick our battles, though this truth veers from Obama’s world view. (Just as Obama could not deal with Putin’s Crimea aggression, which he considered outside 21st century norms. As though Putin cared.)  Unhappily, it is that same world view, and our vacillation, that has encouraged an ever-more belligerent China. China has asserted territorial claims against Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan, polarizing the region. At the same time, China has been unapologetic about continuing to ramp up its cyber-spying on military and commercial interests alike.

In his recent trip to Asia, Obama made reassuring noises to Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and Malaysia – promising in the case of Japan to take their side in a territorial dispute with China and entering into a new defense pact with the Philippines. Lest this be mistaken for a bold and assertive posture, President Obama quickly explained that "Our goal is not to counter China, our goal is not to contain China…,” thus undermining the message that our allies in the region so hoped to hear.

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While in Asia, President Obama also worked to further a trade agreement with Japan, which came to naught. The talks were aimed at breaking down barriers to a broad Trans-Pacific Partnership, which involves 12 countries and 40 percent of the global economy. The TPP, as it is called, has been an important ambition of the White House, which has engaged in some 20 negotiating sessions over several years to promote the deal. One stumbling block is the pact’s uncertain reception in Congress – and mainly from union-backed members of Obama’s own party.

Early on, President Obama staked out expanded trade agreements as a key lever to raising our exports, which he vowed to double over five years. While many other countries (most recently Canada and the EU) have concluded significant trade deals, the Obama White House has chalked up few wins in this category—finalizing only pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, which were leftovers from the George W. Bush administration.

In part due to the White House’s inability to further its trade agenda, U.S. exports have climbed, but at a disappointing rate.  Mark Perry, economics professor at the University of Michigan, recently reported, “In the three-and-a-half years since Obama made his promise to double US exports and create two million new jobs, US exports have only increased by about one-third in nominal terms and only about 25 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars. At the current annual average growth in exports of about 3.3 percent, US exports in early 2015 will likely be about $200 billion per month, and only about 40 percent above the $143.6 billion worth of exports in January 2010 when President Obama announced his lofty goal.”

The only reason U.S. exports will even come close to reaching Obama’s target, as Perry notes, is that shipments of refined oil products outside the country have tripled since 2007. Mr. Obama has the shale revolution to thank for that, but you probably won’t hear him take much credit.

After all, #OilSavestheDay isn’t much of a twitter post for our Green President.

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