by Joseph Klein
Ex-president complains about the problems he helped make worse.
Former President Barack Obama delivered a lengthy speech to an audience of around 15,000 people at the 16th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in Johannesburg, South Africa on Tuesday. Obama leavened his standard rhetoric with effusive praise of Nelson Mandela, who, Obama said, was “one of history’s true giants” and someone whose “progressive, democratic vision” was a model for the world. Obama also praised South Africa’s current President Ramaphosa who, according to Obama, “you can see is inspiring new hope in this great country.” Obama evidently believes that “inspiring new hope” includes government expropriation of land without compensation and plans “to accelerate the land redistribution programme.”
Obama mentioned Russia in passing, declaring that “Russia, already humiliated by its reduced influence since the collapse of the Soviet Union, feeling threatened by democratic movements along its borders, suddenly started reasserting authoritarian control and in some cases meddling with its neighbors.”
Meddling with its neighbors? Is Obama suffering under some form of amnesia or is he just in a state of denial? Under Obama’s watch, Russia meddled in our presidential election in 2016 without any pushback by the Obama administration. Aside from moving into portions of nearby Ukraine and illegally annexing Crimea, Russia inserted itself into the Syrian civil war on behalf of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad after Obama drew back from his infamous “red line” over the Assad regime’s chemical attack against its own people.
Prior to the 2012 presidential election, Obama was caught on a hot mic colluding with Dmitry Medvedev (who was then the outgoing Russian president) to pass along a message to Vladimir Putin regarding missile defense. “On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this can be solved,” Obama said in hushed tones, “but it’s important for him [incoming Russian President Putin] to give me space. This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.” Medvedev replied. "I will transmit this information to Vladimir.”
Obama set the tone of his appeasement towards Russia early in his first term. As Daniel Greenfield has reminded us, during a meeting held in the summer of 2009 at Putin’s dacha, Obama “listened without a word of protest to Putin’s attack on America.” That should be no surprise. After all, Obama himself made a habit of apologizing for America’s alleged wrongs during his overseas trips as president. Obama also went out of his way to praise the Russian dictator. At the beginning of his talks in 2009 with Putin, Obama said to Putin in flattering terms, “I am aware of not only the extraordinary work that you’ve done on behalf of the Russian people in your previous role as prime minis-, uh, as president, but in your current role as prime minister.”
President Trump, in fact, has imposed more severe sanctions against Russia than Obama did, expelled more Russian “diplomats” from the United States, increased U.S. energy supplies to compete with Russian energy, and provided lethal arms to Ukraine. President Trump is building the military back up to a much more effective deterrent fighting force, and has restored confidence among former Soviet bloc nations such as Poland by reversing Obama's abandonment of plans to install missile defense systems in the region.
Obama said in his Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture speech that China’s economy was based on a “model of authoritarian control combined with mercantilist capitalism.” He added that it was “proper for advanced economies like the United States to insist on reciprocity from nations like China that are no longer solely poor countries, to make sure that they’re providing access to their markets and that they stop taking intellectual property and hacking our servers.” Excellent point, but under Obama’s watch China continued to take our intellectual property and hack our servers. The trade deficit in goods with China grew approximately 150 percent during Obama’s two terms in office. His jawboning did nothing. President Trump is at least trying to use some hardball tactics to move China in the right direction.
Obama castigated in his Nelson Mandela speech what he labeled “rabid nationalism and xenophobia,” “strongman politics,” and “far-right parties that oftentimes are based not just on platforms of protectionism and closed borders, but also on barely hidden racial nationalism.” He decried what he claimed was the rejection of “objective truth,” referring as an example to the debate over the extent of climate change and its causes. “People just make stuff up,” Obama said. “They just make stuff up. We see it in state-sponsored propaganda; we see it in internet driven fabrications, we see it in the blurring of lines between news and entertainment, we see the utter loss of shame among political leaders where they’re caught in a lie and they just double down and they lie some more.” While Obama did not specifically mention President Trump or the Republican Party by name, it is not too far a stretch to assume that he had both in mind when he came up with these “pearls of wisdom.”
It is not “racial nationalism,” “rabid nationalism” or “xenophobia” for the president of the United States to enforce this nation’s immigration laws and place the security of the American people above all else. Obama failed to discharge his paramount responsibility as president to protect the American people. Donald Trump is carrying out his responsibilities as the nation’s chief executive and commander-in-chief.
Regarding Obama’s lament that people “just make stuff up,” he was guilty of doing just that on repeated occasions while president. He lied repeatedly, for example, about the availability of choice of doctor and insurance provider under Obamacare. He lied about the Iran nuclear deal, or was totally duped by Iran’s thuggish leaders, or both. He lied about the origin of the “Fast and Furious” gun walking program that allowed about 2,000 weapons to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartel associates, which was started early in the Obama administration’s first term, not during the Bush administration as Obama claimed. He lied when he proclaimed, "There is no spying on Americans." The list goes on and on.
Finally, there is Obama’s complaint about “strongman politics,” which “are ascendant, suddenly, whereby elections and some pretense of democracy are maintained, the form of it, but those in powers seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning.” Obama is right to be concerned about the ascendancy of “strongman politics.” However, it is too bad he did not worry so much about this phenomenon while he was president. He initially turned his back on the millions of Iranian citizens protesting in the streets in 2009 against a fraudulent election and the repressive theocratic regime running the country. Behind the scenes Obama sucked up to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with personal letters and other assurances that his administration would not rock the boat against the regime, all to keep his dream of what turned out to be a disastrous nuclear deal with Iran alive.
Obama accepted a gift from Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez of a book entitled Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent. Obama said it "was a nice gesture to give me a book. I'm a reader." This was nothing, however, compared to Obama’s obsequiousness to his host in Havana, Cuban strongman Raúl Castro, as the two leaders met to close the door on decades of hostilities between Cuba and the United States. Indeed, Obama offered to open the door wide to re-establishing diplomatic relations and expanding economic ties with the communist country without receiving any commitments in return that the regime would take concrete steps to improve its human rights record. In fact, during their joint news conference, Obama noted in his own remarks Castro’s criticism of “what he views as short comings in the United States around basic needs for people and poverty and inequality and race relations.” Obama added that “we welcome that constructive dialogue as well because we believe that when we share our deepest beliefs and ideas with an attitude of mutual respect that we can both learn and make the lives of our people better.” Obama was engaging in moral equivalency at its worst.
Obama had eight years to address the problems he complained about in his Nelson Mandela speech in South Africa. He failed and in some ways made matters worse. President Trump deserves a chance to try a different approach that puts the American people first.
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