Let’s be honest: President Obama is throwing a good old-fashioned foot-stomping world class temper tantrum. He is just beside himself that the stupid American voter elected Donald Trump. How could the country willfully dismiss the erudite recommendation of nearly every news organization in the nation – as well as Obama’s personal plea that not electing Hillary would be a personal insult to him? How could young people not respond to Obama’s call to “bend the arc of history in a better direction?” It is beyond comprehension.
But it happened, and Obama is having an extremely difficult time dealing with what may be his first-ever serious setback. This is a man described by his closest advisor, Valerie Jarrett, as “just too talented to do what ordinary people do.” More flattering, Jarrett noted that “I think Barack knew that he had God-given talents that were extraordinary. He knows exactly how smart he is. …” He is so smart, said Jarrett, that “he’s been bored to death his whole life.”
Very few people surround themselves with people capable of such uncompromising adoration. It isn’t healthy. But Obama is different. He has been told over and over – even by the Nobel Committee that awarded him their coveted Peace Prize on spec– that he is extraordinary. So when a man like The Donald bests him, a man Obama clearly considers a joke, he is undone.
That is certainly the way he is behaving. Not for Obama the normal gracious withdrawal into political stasis; no, he wants to prove in these waning weeks of his presidency that he was right all along. That his agenda is what The People want, even if they don’t know it. That putting America’s valuable natural resources permanently off limits is the correct thing to do, because only Obama can see the future. That taking over vast swatches of the west is in the best interests of the reluctant residents there, because only Obama will protect our environment. That publicly confronting Russia for cyber misbehavior after years of looking the other way is called for, even if it complicates diplomacy in a number of theaters. Because Obama knows best.
He also knows what is best for Israelis. Upending long-standing tradition, he has allowed our only true ally – and the only democracy -- in the Middle East to be further isolated and compromised, in the interests, we are told, of seeking a meaningful peace. The reality is that Obama fully expected that by dint of his winning personality, superior insight and sympathy for the Muslim people, to conquer the divides in that region.
He was shocked that his Cairo speech did not cause the waters to part, and the wounds to heal. And he is angry that, in his mind, Bibi Netanyahu has stood between him and fulfilling this key legacy achievement. As he revealed in 2010 to an interviewer with Time magazine, “[Getting peace in the Middle East] is just really hard”; notably, this came as a surprise.
Make no mistake: we do need to rein in Russian misbehavior. Putin is a dangerous adversary and should never have been allowed out of the penalty box inflicted by drooping oil prices. But, Obama gave him running room by putting him in charge of the Syrian debacle and making him a key figure in the Iran nuke deal. So important were those quests to Obama that our president chose to ignore Moscow’s serial aggressions and misbehavior. Indeed, after the conclusion of the Iran accord, Obama called Putin to thank him for his help. Is it any wonder that an emboldened Putin felt he could act out his hostility to Hillary Clinton?
Obama is having a difficult time passing the baton, because he thinks the baton should be his in perpetuity. Unlike most of his predecessors, Obama intends to stay involved in his party’s politics, and to continue living in the nation’s capital, better to keep his finger on the pulse. Whether Democrats want him involved, since after eight years of his leadership the party’s pulse is barely discernible, remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin has once again outfoxed President Obama. His response to Obama’s eviction of 35 diplomats and other grave-sounding but ultimately unimportant retaliatory measures? Instead of engaging in traditional diplomatic tit for tat, the Russian leader has invited the children of U.S. diplomats to the Kremlin for a holiday party. Who looks like the adult in the room?