For crying out loud America, elect a capable president!

16 years of inept leadership by Bush and Obama will have done incalculable damage abroad and at home

Hillary Clinton’s pro-Israel interview marks the beginning of the American battle for the presidency. It is too early to analyze specific candidates. But it is a good time to urge more than personnel change at the White House. When Mr. Obama departs, sixteen years of unsuccessful presidents will have done their damage. Can the major world power govern itself, much less play its role in world affairs with such weak leadership?

The Middle East illustrates the effect of the combined incompetence of the last two US presidents. Bush got into Iraq and Afghanistan without clear goals. He dithered while Iraq fell apart. Obama got out of Iraq without doing what was necessary to ensure stability.

Who here can forget Bush turning the screws on Israel and the PA, enabling Hamas participation in the 2006 elections? Hamas rejects the Quartet principles. It refuses recognition of Israel, acceptance of signed diplomatic agreements and renunciation of violence. Mr. Bush’s error put the wind in Hamas’ sails. They won the election by a plurality and later staged a violent coup in Gaza.

Mr. Obama, not to be outdone, embraced the Muslim Brothers. He undermined America’s credibility when he disowned the Bush understandings with Israel. Those were a crucial basis for the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Obama’s inaction on Syria creates a damning picture of a president who does not have clear goals, and the list goes on.

The current president is not open to learning from his mistakes. In his recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama blamed the Israelis. They do not pressure Netanyahu to make peace. The Israeli Prime Minister (whose coalition is falling apart) has too much power according to Obama. Israelis guffaw, seeing Netanyahu’s political limitations for what they are. How frightening to watch the adolescent excuse made by a man who holds the fate of the world in his hands. Few have confidence that this man, so out of touch with his own errors, can correct his course in the time that remains to his term.

As if to drive home the point, Obama added a new error. A few days ago he intervened to hamper transfer of weapons to Israel in the middle of the war with Hamas. As was the case with Bush, these actions are not so much hostile to Israel as they are inept. What a tough job it has become to be in America’s camp.

Neither president enjoyed success with the internal affairs of the United States. Mr. Bush left a battered mess of an economy. Obama has done a bit better, but that does not say much. Even Obamacare, his signature achievement, faces considerable legal challenges. Its fate remains hard to predict.

The core failure of these two men, so different in so many ways, lies in their inability to work with those with whom they disagree. True, Congress is dysfunctional. But in the American system, the president must lead the whole country, not just his/her supporters. The politics of bridging gaps can be ugly. A quote mis-attributed to Bismarck says that two things you do not want to watch are the making of laws and sausage. Yet, building coalitions across the aisle is a sine qua non of healthy democratic culture. Bush and Obama failed. Their failures have consequences, the polarization of the electorate chief among them. The next president will have to fix governance broken by one president and broken again by the next.

How interesting to observe from afar as the similarities between the two presidents become clear even to die-hard supporters. An article on the Photojournalist blog at NPR (NPR!) compares Obama to Bush. Check out “The Bush/Obama Quiz: What’s The Difference?” by Linton Weeks:

Which president…
1) … authorized military attacks on Iraqi targets? Bush or Obama
2) … said we are “a nation of immigrants,” but our immigration system needs fixing? Bush or Obama
3) … sparked protests by not closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility? Bush or Obama
4) … supported increased domestic oil and gas production? Bush or Obama
5) … experienced lackluster popular support midsummer in the middle of his second term? His job approval rating was at 40 percent while his disapproval rating was in the mid-50s. Bush or Obama
6) … endorsed increased surveillance of everyday Americans? Bush or Obama”

Tricky questions these. The answer is both.

Neither the American electorate nor either major political party has reason to boast. They not only nominated and elected these men. They re-elected them after their flaws became clear in their first terms. Will the next presidential elections finally produce a leader worthy of the task? Or will it condemn the world to another four years of American presidential incompetence. For crying out loud America, elect a capable president for a change!

About the Author
Ed Rettig is the Chair of Shomrei Mispat, Rabbis for Human Rights.