Since the day he took office, President Barack Obama has seldom let a day pass without a reference to the “mess he inherited,” much of it concerning the disastrous, chaotic, uncalled for “war of choice” in Iraq. What a shock it was then to hear Vice President Joe Biden boasting last week about the success in Iraq that will be Obama’s greatest achievement (not that he has many others), and the most lustrous jewel in his crown.
The country is stable! The troops are returning! It’s becoming a democracy (just like President George W. Bush said).
What happened to the quagmire, the catastrophe, the worst foreign policy decision in history that Democrats railed against and ran on from 2004 onward? Well, that was then.
Press Secretary Robert Gibbs tried to say lamely that the Obama team came in and managed “to fix what was broken,” but no one believed him, as everyone knows that the fixing was done in 2006-07 by Bush and the surge. Obama and Biden had firmly opposed it, along with all Democrats except Sen. Joe Lieberman. Obama said the surge would prove worse than useless. Biden urged the country be split in three parts.
Never mind. Obama and Biden are owning the mess while detaching Bush from it, as it’s now much too good to be shared. Obama rates praise for refusing to lose the wars he was given, but he did so by using the plans and the generals Bush made and appointed.
To get rid of the mess, he had to adopt it — or so it would seem.
This isn’t the only part of “the mess he inherited” that Obama has found himself forced to adopt. It turns out that the voters don’t like Attorney General Eric Holder’s conceptions of New York Times-friendly terrorist justice; don’t want Khalid Sheik Mohammed standing trial in Lower Manhattan; don’t want would-be pants bombers read their Miranda rights before being questioned; and don’t want hard-core jihadists stored in Club Gitmo relocated to prisons near them.
How easy it is to rail against these things when one is campaigning, and how hard to avoid them when one is in charge. Bush didn’t like them, he just had to do them. So Obama sinks into the “mess.”
For Obama, the worst part may be that all the curative un-Bushian things that he longed to be doing are all losing traction, while the only things above water continue Bush policies, and so all trace back to the “mess.” His ratings for dealing with “his” kind of issues — the economy, jobs, cap-and-trade, his stimulus package — are all underwater.
Politically, he has managed to fracture his party, enraging independents, centrists and liberal fringes, losing three huge elections in states that he carried, and driving hordes of placeholders to early retirement.
And his signature health care reform bill? Don’t ask.
On “Meet The Press” on Sunday, Biden tried to talk back the praise he had given Iraq days earlier, lest any sliver of luster rain down on Bush. “I don’t think the war was worth it,” he told David Gregory. “We paid a terrible price.”
So the great — and so far only — achievement of the Obama presidency hasn’t even been worth it, in the considered words of the nation’s vice president. And what does this say of the other big measures? I think you can call this a mess.
Examiner columnist Noemie Emery is contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of “Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families.”