To borrow a baseball analogy, U.S. President Barack Obama is in a terrible batting slump.
Buttressed by huge expectations given the foreign policy and economic disasters set in place by his predecessor, the first president of color — I completely dissent from the practice of using ethnic, racial or religious characterizations of our people as African-American; Irish-American; Jewish-American; and Hispanic-American and the like declaring myself an American-American — Obama’s inauguration was filled with hope and promise.
The president embarked on improving America’s reputation abroad. Visits to Berlin and Cairo were tours de force.
But besides knocking a few balls out of the park, he also began fouling, grounding and even striking out. The first mishit came in the initial months of his administration and the Afghanistan study report called AfPak.
As argued in this column, that study was profoundly flawed for many reasons. In particular, it depended on a functioning government in Kabul; recruiting, training and retaining a capable Afghan security force; and identifying Pakistan as the strategic center of gravity in the region and providing the wherewithal accordingly. None of these assumptions worked.
The president and Congress did pass an economic recovery act and groundbreaking healthcare and financial reform packages. But each was also flawed. More about that later.
In foreign policy, the president’s attempts to win the 2016 Olympics for his home town of Chicago and to push climate change in Copenhagen were strikeouts. That said, he was still granted the Nobel Prize — baseball’s most valuable player and rookie of the year awards rolled into one.
Most recently, he went hitless in failing to obtain a free trade agreement with South Korea or to convince the Group of 20 to focus on currency alignment.
Ironically, he was booed from the sidelines just before the Asian meetings by Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve who deserves his share of blame for the fiscal and economic meltdowns. Writing in the Financial Times last week, Greenspan recommended benching his protege Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and successor Ben Bernanke by rebuking the latest moves of the administration to buy back $600 billion of bonds through quantitative easing.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi government isn’t playing ball despite repeated attempts by the Obama administration to exert influence. It is neck and neck whether the lame duck Senate will approve the vital new START nuclear arms treaty with Russia.
These failures will drive the president’s already anemic batting average even lower.
When the new 112th Congress takes office in January, the flaws in the healthcare and financial reform acts will move front and center. The chief errors in the first were the failure to contain costs and to reduce Medicare payments to the point where physicians will only be able to practice as part of hospitals and health maintenance organizations rather than privately driving up expense and possibly rationing care. The financial reforms didn’t cover the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. and Federal National Mortgage Association — Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae — and the huge liabilities of those agencies regarding mortgage guarantees or rein in hedge funds. The record breaking bonuses of the big Wall Street banks will also not be received well by an already furious public. And unemployment is still close to 10 percent.
The biggest whiffs occurred two weeks ago with the by-elections. The Republicans won the House of Representatives and closed the gap in the Senate. Worse, virtually all the moderate and conservative or Blue Dog Democrats were defeated meaning that the more extreme left wing will dominate the party and clearly limit the president in batting from both sides of the plate.
So what can Obama do to get his batting eye back and hit at least a single or two if not a home run?
Later this week, NATO heads of state will gather in Lisbon, Portugal. For those who may not recall, NATO has been the most successful military alliance in history. But it remains a military alliance in which the threat that created it has been gone for 20 years. And in growing to 28 members operating under consensus rules, taking tough decisions ain’t easy.
More than a great speech is needed. While the hard work has been done, Obama must hit one out of the park.
A breakthrough deal on Day Two at the NATO-Russia summit (and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev is attending) is a sure home run. Decisions on Afghanistan are likely to be deferred until after the United States completes its review at year’s end and should not be an at bat. And getting the new Strategic Concept — the last one was approved in 1999 — to say something of significance will get him to second base.
If the G20 and trip to India are indicative, the mighty Casey Obama will strike out. But let us hope the president will break his slump and do so quickly.