Will Obama Finish as a Statesman or a Politician?

Rachel Marsden
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Posted: Nov 18, 2014 4:03 PM
Will Obama Finish as a Statesman or a Politician?

PARIS -- U.S. President Barack Obama was elected in 2008 as a politician, and he's on pace to finish his presidency as one, rather than as the statesman many presumed he would become. 

As it currently stands, his accomplishments aren't likely to remain historically memorable -- except in the way that a natural disaster might be considered historically memorable. Obama and his supporters might try to blame Republicans for being "obstructionist" in doing their job as the opposition party, but that's a cop-out. No leader of any democracy has ever sailed through a term in office unopposed. 

Leadership, legacy-building and long-term vision are the traits of a statesman. By contrast, tactical jockeying to score short-term ideological points is the behavior of a politician. 

Obama has just two years left to forge a legacy with which history will credit him. As of now, here's how his presidency is likely to be remembered. 

Unemployment: The unemployment rate rose to 10.2 percent in October 2009. It has receded to the current 5.8 percent largely because so many would-be workers have given up. The labor participation rate is now at 62.8 percent, its lowest level since 1979, and down from 66.2 percent when President George W. Bush left office in 2008. Nice "victory." 

Health care reform: The ambitious attempt to provide millions more Americans with affordable health care basically just caused everyone else's already pricey premiums to become even more expensive. Obama blew the chance to lead a debate on a much more interesting solution by asking: "What useless government agencies should have their budgets reallocated to health care?" He could have found a few. Another question he might have asked: "What kind of regulatory relief could we provide to insurers that would allow them to remain viable while absorbing the added costs of low-income clients and protecting their current clients from cost increases?" That would have been statesman-style thinking. Instead, America is now stuck with the disastrous result of political compromise. 

Environment: Obama just pledged $3 billion at the APEC summit to help developing nations contend with climate change. Maybe he can toss me $1 billion to fight the seasonal climate change inside my apartment, because my plan of buying sweaters or air conditioning is far more concrete than anything at which he's throwing money. 

Meanwhile, the president is adamant about preventing Canadian oil from flowing through the Keystone XL pipeline to the Gulf of Texas -- though he seems OK with it being shipped via rail through the operations of one of his billionaire campaign-donor friends. Where does Obama think his sanctimonious environmentalism will ultimately take that Canadian oil? To China, whose leaders just nodded and smiled politely as Obama hailed a U.S.-China climate change accord. Maybe Obama hasn't noticed, but the Chinese long ago chose turbocharged industrialization over environmental luxuries like smog-free air. 

Foreign affairs: Obama drew down overt U.S. military operations in the Middle East, only to replace it with U.S.-backed insurgency. Out of this Islamic insurgency grew the Islamic State, which has reportedly agreed to join forces with al-Qaeda in Syria. Obama sure has a knack for bringing people together -- except for members of Congress. 

President Ronald Reagan successfully executed covert operations and insurgency in the Middle East with the CIA's anti-Soviet operations in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The "Canadian Caper" during the Iranian Revolution -- the subject of the Oscar-winning film "Argo" -- is another example of a success. Covert operations aren't supposed to become so obvious that they ultimately end up in Congress, potentially subjected to a vote to approve overt military action, as was the case when the U.S. meddled in Syria under Obama's watch. Covert actions are supposed to be something that Ben Affleck makes a film about several decades later, at which time all the players come out of the woodwork to argue publicly about the weight of their respective roles because so much secrecy still persists. 

Russia: Obama is at risk of becoming known as the U.S. president who rebooted the Cold War, this time as an economic standoff starting in Ukraine and heating up into an ongoing low-level insurgency right up against Russia's border. So now what? I seriously doubt that Obama knows. Worse, Russian President Vladimir Putin has to know by now that the Obama administration is clueless, and he'll be looking for opportunities to exploit the obliviousness. Meanwhile, the new Cold War is disrupting the normally smooth European-Russian relations on everything from gas supplies, as we head into the winter cold, to the delivery of a $1.4 billion Mistral-class helicopter carrier from France to Russia. 

Obama, the president who won the Nobel Peace Prize, has only two years left to mitigate this wrecking-ball legacy.