From the golf courses of Martha's Vineyard to the shores of Tripoli, President Obama's re-election strategy is running out of steam. As our economy remains stalled and unemployment remains high, it's tougher and tougher for even Obama's closest allies to swallow his "it's all the Republicans' fault" line.
If he can't shift the blame, he can't win. But the Teflon has worn off. Unless the media can save him -- or the Republicans nominate another John McCain -- Obama will be "one and done."
Obama's blame-shifting strategy isn't working well among the sentient (and even some liberals) because it's clearer each day that the nation's economic ills are mostly of Obama's making, and that his proposals to spend more will only accelerate our economic decline. (The outright lie he keeps telling about the three trade agreements Congress can act on immediately is very instructive. All three are still sitting on his desk, and haven't yet been submitted for congressional action. Only the likes of MSNBC and the New York Times will cover for him on so big a lie.)
And to the extent people are even thinking about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the coming Palestinian intifada against Israel, it's equally clear that these problems are also of Obama's making.
The media will break their picks helping Obama shift the blame on economic issues because that's their focus. But the Obama-media partnership can only seek to conceal by not covering the explosions we'll see abroad. If the problems in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel become as big and bloody as they may well be next year, even the media won't be able to protect Obama, and the blame will be his and his alone.
As I've written here before, Obama is desperate to prevent Iraq and Afghanistan from falling apart before Election Day 2012. In Iraq, the situation is -- already -- nearly desperate. Terrorist bombings have taken dozens of lives in just the past two weeks, there is a resurgent al-Qaeda presence there, and it's all too obvious that Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki is too closely tied to Iran to do anything to prevent Iraq's neighbor from planning and implementing its strategy to gain hegemony over Iraq once we leave.
To pull the covers over this, Obama -- and now his newly installed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta -- have been trying to get the Iraqi government to modify the agreement reached by the Bush administration which mandates that all U.S. forces be removed from Iraq by year's end. Panetta's diplomatic skills are not yet evident. After eleven days in office, Panetta was widely reported as telling the Iraqi government, "But damnit, make a decision" on whether U.S. troops would stay.
Late last week, a Politico report said that Panetta had declared an agreement with the Iraqis so that U.S. troops would stay there at least through 2012. That was quickly repudiated by the Maliki government and "clarified" by Panetta's people who pointed out that Panetta didn't quite say that. (Politico's reading of the transcript was fair. Panetta strongly implied that there was an agreement.)
Obama's Iraq muddle is of his own making. His doublespeak says that we need to get out by the deadline, but we should stay if the Iraqis want us, and -- please, please, Mr. Maliki -- say that you need us. Obama's plan to blame Republicans for the inevitable fall of Iraq may or may not succeed, depending on how quickly the Iraqis toss us out and how soon Iran asserts control of its neighbor.
Obama is playing the same game with Afghanistan, though our "ally" there -- Hamid Karzai -- is one of the few allies we have who is less coherent and loyal than Maliki. According to a report in the Friday U.K. Daily Telegraph, the Afghanis have apparently agreed that U.S. forces will stay there ten years past Obama's 2014 deadline until 2024. If that agreement is actually signed, the media will take Afghanistan off the screen altogether. Unless the Republican candidate can argue convincingly that Obama's Afghanistan war is failing -- as nation-building always does -- Obama will probably be able to dodge the issue throughout the campaign year.
He may be able to slide by on Libya, and Syria, and even Iran. But not on Israel.
Obama may yet be able to claim some sort of victory in Libya if Gaddafi is swept from office. But to what avail? As the apparently-untouchable Bashar al-Assad continues to slaughter the Syrian rebels, the contrast between Obama's actions will be stark if anyone can be brought to care. Libya was supposed to be so easy that the French were eager for war. Syria is a hard target: Obama lacks the judgment to conclude that decisive action is essential against a state sponsor of terrorism and the courage to pursue such action.
But it's almost impossible to see how Iran or Libya -- or Syria -- will figure significantly in the 2012 campaign. Few Americans will care about these hotspots if there is no open war involving U.S. troops there. Few voters will choose to vote for Obama or whomever his opponent may be based on Obama's dangerous policies toward those nations.
Last week, President Obama demanded that -- on the basis of the uncontained anti-regime riots in which Bashar Assad had ordered the continued massacre of the rebels -- that Assad must step down. But, as Frederick the Great said, diplomacy without arms is like music without instruments. Not even Obama's cabinet took him seriously.
Last Tuesday Mizz Clinton derided the president's demand before he made it, saying "Okay. Fine. What's next? If Turkey says it, if King Abdullah says it, if other people say it, there is no way the Assad regime can ignore it." But, as Clinton says, it's safe for Assad to ignore Obama.
Iran also knows it's safe to ignore Obama. Three American hikers who apparently wandered into Iran were sentenced to eight years in prison last week on charges ranging from stupidity to espionage. The sentences were handed down after a multiplicity of pleas from the men's relatives and the White House. They will be kept as bargaining chips to play against some other Iranian-manufactured crisis. But, again, no one is likely to care.
What should -- and likely will -- hurt Obama next year is the Palestinians' new "intifada" against Israel which kicked off last week with attacks on military and civilians riding buses, causing a number of casualties. The terrorists were apparently Hamas operatives from the Gaza Strip who were allowed to cross into southern Israel by the new Muslim Brotherhood-friendly Egyptian government. When Israeli air forces struck back and killed several terrorists as well as some Egyptian "policemen," everyone from al-Jazeera to the Arab League blamed Israel for the "crime" of striking back.
And, as this is written, there have been several more attacks from the Gaza Strip, Hamas missiles raining down on southern Israel, killing at least one civilian and wounding many others including children. Israeli air strikes continued through Sunday. There are reports that an al-Qaeda group is claiming responsibility for some of the attacks. But we should receive those reports skeptically, as terrorists rename themselves as quickly as they switch from one disposable cellphone to another. Regardless of what they call themselves, their sponsors are in Syria and Iran.
Obama's anti-Israeli stance has emboldened the Palestinians. They -- with the help of the Syrians and probably the Iranians -- are baiting the Israelis with escalating attacks, trying to cause the Israelis to launch a large ground-based invasion of the Gaza Strip or big air attacks. The terrorist nations want to preface the Palestinian statehood vote in the UN next month with another media campaign showing large numbers of dead Palestinians, made so by Israeli arms.
Going into a presidential year, it's better to speak of responsibility than blame. Obama has been in office for almost three years. It was his responsibility to mend our economy, win our wars and protect our allies. In those responsibilities he has failed comprehensively.
If his blame-shifting strategy succeeds, it will be the result of Republican ineptitude. The facts are what they are, and Obama should be stuck with them.