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Opinion: Columnists

Obama would have to change his entire worldview to save his presidency

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Opinion,Noemie Emery,Columnists,Barack Obama,Iraq,National Security,George W. Bush,Middle East,Foreign Policy

In late 2006, George W. Bush and Iraq were both in crisis, his poll numbers and the war he began both hitting rock-bottom, his credibility eroded by false reassurance and the new Iraq he had such a large stake in creating now on the verge of collapse.

What did he do? He tossed out his old plan of three years duration, canned his military and civilian advisers, pushed aside the report of the Iraq Study Commission that urged him to accept defeat gracefully and ordered a high-risk surge of troops and an aggressive new strategy that in six months had started to turn things around.

Snatching promise from the clutches of utter disaster, he left it to his successor to toss it away in an ill-timed and misguided withdrawal from the country, creating a vacuum into which the worst forces from the chaos around it poured in. As the Washington Post said Friday, President Obama is now exactly where Bush was at a similar place in his last term in office, his sky-high approval ratings worn down by many misjudgments, facing an explosive, intractable Middle East crisis. Can he do what Bush did and renounce a failed policy? The answer to this is may be ‘no.'

Bush had committed a tactical error that was Iraq-specific in misjudging the amount and kind of force needed for his regime change agenda, while Obama, in misjudging the role and extent of American power, committed a strategic one that was region-wide, even worldwide.

Bush knew American power was the solution when applied properly; Obama thought it was the problem and used it erratically when he used it at all. He thought reducing American presence and sway in the world would lead to world peace, and he was mistaken. He thought the ‘reset' button would mollify Russian president Vladimir Putin, who mocked him, absorbed Crimea and began to move in on Ukraine.

He thought courting Iran would make it loosen its fist, but it tightened further. He thought not pressuring Syria would lead to less war, and the atrocities multiplied.

He thought he could stop wars simply by leaving before the issues were settled, and the results are now obvious. "For years, President Obama has been claiming credit for 'ending wars' when...he was pulling the United States out of wars that were far from over," said the Washington Post, correctly. "Now the pretense is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain."

The National Journal's James Oliphant calls Obama's decision to send 300 advisers into Iraq a tacit admission that many of the assumptions he held of the world -- that American power is better defined by its limits -- have clearly been wrong.

His misreading of power runs deeper that that.

"Mr. Obama is not a pacifist," says the Telegraph's Charles Moore. "He sees the use of force in [some] situations. What he does not see is its strategic value ... that the Pax Americana, under whose protection we have lived since 1945, has existed because it has always been backed by the credible threat of force. Weakness is provocative to bad actors, and some of the worst have now been provoked. This seems to come as an almost complete surprise to the Obama White House. The Peace President is starting to leave a legacy of war."

Bush had to change plans, but Obama will have to shift his entire worldview to gain just a small hold upon what is unfolding.

The chances don't seem all that good.

Noemie Emery, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."
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