"You never want a serious crisis to go to waste," Rahm Emanuel told a conference organized by The Wall Street Journal in November 2008.
A moxie sound bite in an exhilarating moment: Emanuel, and his election-winning candidate, Barack Obama, were still ascending, the passionate rhetorical rockets of hope and change only two mere months from empowering policies guaranteed to place America in a far superior global position, an in-sync-with-the-planet, non-confrontational orbit guided by "smart diplomacy," multilateral cooperation and Obama's own unique, enlightened personality.
Obama's thrilling campaign rhetoric, however, has proved to be a transitory opium of the masses, and time and events have revealed Emanuel's zest for the opportunity a crisis offers ambitious men to be nothing more than embarrassing, hubris-drenched immaturity.
Indeed, time and events have cruelly rephrased Emanuel's brash declaration. Crises -- serious international and domestic crises -- are wasting the Obama administration, eroding its political capital, and exposing its debilitating combination of inexperience and weakness.
Consider this list of major crises President Obama confronts -- and this is a list, not a rank order, for events within the next 24 hours, a North Korean nuke striking Seoul, for example, or a Greek default, could radically order any precedence:
1) The economy, 2) the Middle East, 3) Gulf of Mexico oil spill, 4) Korea on the brink, 5) Global War on Terror (GWOT), 6) illegal immigration and border security, 7) divisive domestic agenda (health care, taxes, cap and trade).
The crises, of course, interweave, wickedly. The economy involves tax policy, but also global relations, such as Chinese and Greek domestic fiscal policies, over which Washington exerts minimal control. The economy also involves energy markets, which links to Middle Eastern stability, and domestic production, which connects to the oil spill, which links back to the divisive domestic agenda's "green initiatives."
Obamites may object to GWOT, since the president ditched the GWOT in favor of "overseas contingency operation" (OCO). He insisted on his rhetorical frame. However, events like the Christmas terrorist, Maj. Hasan's Ft. Hood massacre and the Times Square terror attempt have exposed his verbal hocus pocus. Afghanistan, Iraq and Times Square are linked battlefields in a global war.
The Middle East is shorthand for a snake's nest of crises, Iran's nuclear bomb and Iranian finagling in Iraq being the most dangerous. However, the Gaza Flotilla fracas, which today pits Israel against Turkey, ought to drop Obama's claim of "smart diplomacy" into the dustbin of history.
The dispute could fizzle for several reasons (including Turkey's and Israel's numerous common interests), but if it does not, where is the U.S. leverage in this tangle between the Eastern Mediterranean's (and Middle East's) two most powerful nations, who are both ostensible U.S. allies?
Obama got a Nobel Peace Prize (the unique personality component of his November 2008 policy tool kit), so he should want to stop a shootout if Turkish warships escort another aid convoy to Gaza, as the Turkish government has threatened to do, right?
Obama may have very little clout with Israel. In diplomatic posture, the Obama-led U.S. does not act like a reliable Israeli ally. Obama uses his own personal indignation to send macro-political messages, and he treats Israeli leaders with disdain. Israelis may have a reached a point where they will do what they conclude they must do to assure their own survival, and that includes openly confronting the so-called "peace activists" who are really propagandists for terrorist groups committed to Israel's destruction.
Obama administration support for an Armenian genocide resolution miffs Turkey. Ankara also insists it kept Obama senior officials fully informed as it conducted nuclear program negotiations with Iran, only to have the U.S. condemn the deal. Turkish regional diplomacy since 2008 suggests the Turks have concluded President Obama is going to let Iran get a nuclear bomb, and they are going to accommodate themselves to that dangerous reality. Kiss off, Washington.
Obama confronts converging crises -- crises exacerbated by the perception he is weak. Hope has turned to cope, and just barely so. How Obama succeeds or fails in each of these immanent crises will either make or break his administration.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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