Due to positive media coverage, the American public does not understand how Obama’s policies have negatively impacted the American military, and have actively undermined our ability to carry out effective foreign policy and negotiations worldwide.
Ignorance of the Situation
Uninformed General Positivity Regarding Obama
During his presidency, many Democrats and mild Leftists had a generally affectionate attitude towards Obama. Several factors created this atmosphere.
The first factor for this attitude was the historical nature of his achievement. He was our first clearly black president, and this was heralded as “smashing the glass ceiling” for black Americans nation-wide and even considered by some to be “the end of racism” in America generally.
He was also raised by a single parent. Though she was married to his father during his early childhood, they were separated much of the time. Additionally, she was married to her second husband for only a few years. He lived with his grandparents for a few years in order to finish his high school education in the United States. He was a shining example of overcoming adversity. While some have claimed that he rose out of poverty, this seems not to be strictly true.
He is also lauded as proof of what we will call the “community ascendancy” model, where someone who begins as a community organizer slowly climbs through positions of political power, before becoming an important force nationally (and in this case internationally). This gave hope to many people working at the lowest levels of politics that if they continued to put in the long hours for little or no pay, that they would eventually achieve a great deal of power and influence, which is not the reality for most low-level political players. It is, however, a useful fiction to retain hardworking talent without appropriate pay or room for advancement.
The second reason for this admiration grew from his mostly positive political campaigning, and reluctance to openly denigrate his opponents. Through his years as an organizer, Obama understood the importance of giving people a deep-seated motivation for supporting him. He chose not to focus on himself but made every effort to embody hope itself. To stand against him was to stand against the hope of a better life and better world.
He captured a popular longing for hope, especially among younger people, and played into a longing for increased American power on the world stage, which people felt had been lost during the Clinton and W. Bush administrations. He embodied a nobler, more lofty vision of the world and America’s place in it. He promised to elevate us to become the greatest voice for morality at the international level.
The third reason for positive views of Obama was sustained favorable media coverage. Generally, the media portrayed the administration in a positive light and only covered a few scandals. One key point to consider is if the administration actually lacked scandals, or if they were hidden because protecting his legacy was more important than exposing wrong-doing and questionable choices, out of fear that admitting shortcomings might lead to setbacks for the groups which he was considered to represent.
And finally, Obama had a polished, urbane style. President W. Bush represented a moderate form of Evangelical Conservatism, and as such he was an unassuming Southern every-man: He did not deliver polished soundbites, rousing speeches, or motivational exhortations; he did not stage well-choreographed visits to foreign countries or invent inspiring photo opportunities; he did not attempt to manipulate the press into covering him well, instead thinking that his policies would speak for themselves. Obama, by contrast, was well spoken, hired excellent speech writers, and understood the importance of PR in maintaining a positive public image. He spoke and acted in ways that Americans expected of a world leader, and never wasted an opportunity for positive news coverage.
Handling of Obama’s Detractors
Due to the positive view of Obama held by the public and the news media, criticisms of the president were assumed to come from irrational thoughts and fears, rather than well-reasoned positions or fears about the eventual effects of his policies and actions.
Chief among the charges levied against those who opposed Obama, regardless of their stated reason, was a charge of racism. It was the idea that those who opposed Obama’s “clearly brilliant” positions and policies must have been opposing them from a sense of racism: they either didn’t believe that a black man could have any ideas worth implementing, or that Obama’s ideas were good, but that they could not be allowed to work, because then everyone would have to admit that African-Americans were just as smart and capable as everyone else. While in a few cases these accusations may have been warranted, the vast majority of the time they were thrown around in a thoughtless and insulting way, leading to a great deal of resentment.
The second common rebuttal was that the person criticizing the president was a conservative with an “irrational fear” of progress. These charges were frequently tied back to racial ideas, meaning that people often stated that someone opposing Obama was irrationally fearful about African-Americans becoming co-equal citizens, or were panicking about a minority group rising up to oppress them as repayment for historical wrongdoing.
This ties into the last accusation, of failing to understand the “new era” of international cooperation and expanded equality. Detractors were accused of being ignorant of, or too stupid to understand, Obama’s vision for complete equality and freedom for all Americans. Or, if they were able to understand it, they were either too religious or bigoted to support a “clearly enlightened” point of view.
Few would consider the idea that maybe the policies were naïve or potentially harmful, but rather that those who opposed them were obviously just too bigoted, fearful, stupid, conservative, or religious to accept what was “the way forward” in the world. This form of alienation and degradation of detractors, some well-meaning, may be a reason that American politics has shifted toward those of Donald Trump and other figures like him. Democrats and mainstream leftists may be more to blame for the election of Donald Trump than they would like to believe.
Cracks in the Narrative
Initial Signs of Different Information
While during the Obama administration news coverage of his administration was generally positive, after the election of Trump, it very quickly became nostalgia about “the good old days”. While most news coverage since Trump’s inauguration has centered around his own actions (at times very much out of the norm for the president and even downright shocking on some occasions) there have been some conversations around Obama’s legacy. Some of the statements during these conversations should give Obama’s admirers pause.
The first very public statement which credibly criticises the Obama administration comes from Johnson during R Tillerson’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of State. Johnson states, “The United States’ influence and prestige and respect in the world is probably lower now than it was six or seven years ago.” A moment’s reflection should lead many to consider that this may, in fact, be true. Is the Middle East more stable than when Obama took office? Are we more closely allied with and trusted by European nations? Are tensions with Russia lower? Has progress been made in regard to North Korean relations? Do we have a more fruitful relationship with China? While Obama may not have directly caused these changes, he is responsible to the degree with he did, or did not, address them. On the bright side, at least, he fostered more normalized relations with Cuba.
Following Johnson, there have been a few statements given by former military and defense officials which are important to note. They have given these statements calmly and quietly, and did not draw attention to them even on the programs where they were given. Due to this quiet, nonchalant delivery, we should assume that these statements are not politically motivated, but rather unfortunate facts which should be addressed as soon as is possible, in a non-partisan way.
And finally, there is what is perhaps the more shocking indictment of Obama’s administration, in the form of a document produced by John McCain.
McCain’s Nail in the Coffin
As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain put forward a whitepaper in the early days of the Trump administration entitled, “Restoring American Power”. This document takes a straightforward, no fuss approach to admitting the failure of Obama’s policies regarding international diplomacy and the US military. There has been absolutely no effort to hide this report, and it is freely and clearly available on the front page of the Senate Armed Services Committee website.
The situation which McCain presents in this document is extremely troubling. It shines a very bright light on the very real difficulties currently endured by our military. These indignities threaten our safety at home and our interests abroad.
“Restoring American Power” paints the picture of a military which faces a shrinking budget, a lack of soldiers and training, a lack of munitions and vehicles, aging fleets and infrastructure, neglect of emerging technological threats, as well as a complete lack of congressional support.
McCain’s assessment of the situation is this: politically motivated cuts to the defense budget are crushing our ability to defend ourselves while failing to correct the deficit. The military is falling behind year after year, and even if we take appropriate action, it will take at least five years to remedy current deficits and operational deficiencies. That means five years before we are able to modernize our forces and achieve superiority in emerging theatres cyber-counterterrorism.
Implications Moving Forward
Based on the information that McCain outlines in “Restoring American Power”, America is over-extended on multiple fronts — it cannot afford to enter into any more conflicts because it is struggling to maintain its current positions. To put it another way: America is bluffing.
Despite the reality of the situation, American foreign policy is becoming increasingly aggressive, ending Obama era foreign policy without first correcting the damage of Obama era budgets and military philosophy.
We are increasingly relying on threats of force, up to and including nuclear force, without the real power to back up those threats. And other countries, both our allies and our adversaries, are realizing the emptiness of these threats. Europe has begun planning for the possibility of future conflicts without American aid. Russia, China, and North Korea are beginning to flaunt their newfound powers, showing that we are either unwilling or unable to check these aggressions.
Now, of course, bluffing has its place. In times of dire need, bluffing can be a calculated response in a desperate situation. Playing on a history of overwhelming force or victory, a small vulnerable force can bluff its way to either victory or safety. This relies on explicitly on a knowledge of and a fear of these previous victories, and an unwillingness to risk defeat.
Ignorant bluffing, however, puts us in a poor position. While bluffing can be a tactical strategy, we are not using it for that reason. Instead, our foreign policy assumes that we have a strong military (which we don’t) and uses that threat of a “strong” military to intimidate other nations into agreeing with us. What if some nation were to call us on our bluff? We are inviting disaster.
While military leaders do not want to broadcast these weaknesses to our enemies, they are increasingly aware of it and are becoming more willing to test us. It is necessary for the American citizen to realize the situation, as their sense of patriotism should motivate them to correct situations faced by the military, understanding that this situation threatens our continued safety and security. If we don’t correct this situation, we allow our adversaries to continue to play to our weaknesses and exploit the public’s ignorance.
We must make every effort to influence world events from a position of power, rather than relying on bluff. A bluff will inevitably be challenged, and the defeat that follows it will be devastating.
If you have not read McCain’s whitepaper, “Restoring American Power“, I would strongly suggest that you do.