Obama’s Successful Foreign Failure

The president may look incompetent on Syria. But his behavior fits his strategy to weaken America abroad.



It is entirely understandable that Barack Obama’s way of dealing with Syria in recent weeks should have elicited responses ranging from puzzlement to disgust. Even members of his own party are despairingly echoing in private the public denunciations of him as “incompetent,” “bungling,” “feckless,” “amateurish” and “in over his head” coming from his political opponents on the right.

For how else to characterize a president who declares war against what he calls a great evil demanding immediate extirpation and in the next breath announces that he will postpone taking action for at least 10 days—and then goes off to play golf before embarking on a trip to another part of the world? As if this were not enough, he also assures the perpetrator of that great evil that the military action he will eventually take will last a very short time and will do hardly any damage. Unless, that is, he fails to get the unnecessary permission he has sought from Congress, in which case (according to an indiscreet member of his own staff) he might not take any military action after all.

Getty ImagesPresident Obama on Friday at the G-20 economic summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Summing up the net effect of all this, as astute a foreign observer as Conrad Black can flatly say that, “Not since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, and before that the fall of France in 1940, has there been so swift an erosion of the world influence of a Great Power as we are witnessing with the United States.”

Yet if this is indeed the pass to which Mr. Obama has led us—and I think it is—let me suggest that it signifies not how incompetent and amateurish the president is, but how skillful. His foreign policy, far from a dismal failure, is a brilliant success as measured by what he intended all along to accomplish. The accomplishment would not have been possible if the intention had been too obvious. The skill lies in how effectively he has used rhetorical tricks to disguise it.

The key to understanding what Mr. Obama has pulled off is the astonishing statement he made in the week before being elected president: “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” To those of us who took this declaration seriously, it meant that Mr. Obama really was the left-wing radical he seemed to be, given his associations with the likes of the anti-American preacher Jeremiah Wright and the unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers, not to mention the intellectual influence over him of Saul Alinsky, the original “community organizer.”

So far as domestic affairs were concerned, it soon became clear—even to some of those who had persuaded themselves that Mr. Obama was a moderate and a pragmatist—that the fundamental transformation he had in mind was to turn this country into as close a replica of the social-democratic countries of Europe as the constraints of our political system allowed.

Since he had enough support for the policies that this objective entailed, those constraints were fairly loose, and so he only needed a minimum of rhetorical deception in pursuing it. All it took was to deny he was doing what he was doing by frequently singing the praises of the free-enterprise system he was assiduously working to undermine, by avoiding the word “socialism,” by invoking “fairness” as an overriding ideal and by playing on resentment of the “rich.”

But foreign policy was another matter. As a left-wing radical, Mr. Obama believed that the United States had almost always been a retrograde and destructive force in world affairs. Accordingly, the fundamental transformation he wished to achieve here was to reduce the country’s power and influence. And just as he had to fend off the still-toxic socialist label at home, so he had to take care not to be stuck with the equally toxic “isolationist” label abroad.

This he did by camouflaging his retreats from the responsibilities bred by foreign entanglements as a new form of “engagement.” At the same time, he relied on the war-weariness of the American people and the rise of isolationist sentiment (which, to be sure, dared not speak its name) on the left and right to get away with drastic cuts in the defense budget, with exiting entirely from Iraq and Afghanistan, and with “leading from behind” or using drones instead of troops whenever he was politically forced into military action.

The consequent erosion of American power was going very nicely when the unfortunately named Arab Spring presented the president with several juicy opportunities to speed up the process. First in Egypt, his incoherent moves resulted in a complete loss of American influence, and now, thanks to his handling of the Syrian crisis, he is bringing about a greater diminution of American power than he probably envisaged even in his wildest radical dreams.

For this fulfillment of his dearest political wishes, Mr. Obama is evidently willing to pay the price of a sullied reputation. In that sense, he is by his own lights sacrificing himself for what he imagines is the good of the nation of which he is the president, and also to the benefit of the world, of which he loves proclaiming himself a citizen.

The problem for Mr. Obama is that at least since the end of World War II, Americans have taken pride in being No. 1. Unless the American people have been as fundamentally transformed as their country is quickly becoming, America’s decline will not sit well. With more than three years in office to go, will Mr. Obama be willing and able to endure the continuing erosion of his popularity that will almost certainly come with the erosion of the country’s power and influence?

No doubt he will either deny that anything has gone wrong, or failing that, he will resort to his favorite tactic of blaming others—Congress or the Republicans or Rush Limbaugh. But what is also almost certain is that he will refuse to change course and do the things that will be necessary to restore U.S. power and influence.

And so we can only pray that the hole he will go on digging will not be too deep for his successor to pull us out, as Ronald Reagan managed to do when he followed a president into the White House whom Mr. Obama so uncannily resembles.

Mr. Podhoretz was the editor of Commentary from 1960-95. His most recent book is “Why Are Jews Liberals?” (Doubleday, 2009).



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Campaign finance zealots and free speech regulators have sought to stifle the freedom of conservative organizations, such as the Tea Party, by falsely claiming they are “political” while giving a pass to leftist groups that still enjoy unimpaired 501(c) IRS tax-exempt status. As the IRS attacked Tea Party groups, it left hundreds of leftist activist groups alone. A quick review of just eight of those leftist, tax-exempt activist groups demonstrates the IRS’s hypocrisy.

Americans United for Change

Americans United for Change enjoys 501(c)4 tax-exempt status.  The organization exists, according to its own website, “to amplify the progressive message–to contribute to a grass roots groundswell for progressive policies. Progressives need to redefine ‘common sense’–by reasserting the primacy of the traditional progressive values that resonate with most Americans.”

The group spent $4.7 million in 2009 “redefining” common sense and, according to their IRS form 990, on “advocacy and education about public policy issues.” Americans United for Change directly engaged Republican senators facing reelection in 2008, running television advertisements against them. Naturally, no Democrat complained.  Nor did the IRS revoke its 501(c) status.

Ruckus Society

The Ruckus Society (photo above) is part of the Occupy Movement–and donations to this 501(c)3 organization are tax deductible. The George Soros-funded organization’s purpose reads like a parody of the modern Left.

The Ruckus Society provides environmental, human rights, and social justice organizers with the tools, training, and support needed to achieve their goals through the strategic use of creative, nonviolent direct action.

Ruckus also evidently organizes criminal trespass:

The Brass Liberation Orchestra accompanied a second round of the “I Will Survive…Capitalism” flashmob before leading the crowd of over 1,000 people onto the Bank of America, and deployed a giant balloon banner with our friends at [Rainforest Action Network] reading “Defend Human Dignity: Challenge Corporate Power”…The day of course culminated in the truly mass marches to the Port of Oakland to shut down all operations at the Ports for the night. Some reports say 50,000 people marched and danced the three miles to the ports from Camp, and it was truly an unforgettable experience, marching in a sea of thousands at sunset.

None of this seems to attract any IRS attention. Ruckus’s 2011 IRS Form 990 indicates that it has maintained undisturbed 501(c)3 status. The form states Ruckus “provides environmental, human rights, and social justice organizers with the tools, training and support needed to achieve their goals.”

The Ruckus training offers the manual “Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for Revolution” and provides suggestions for direct action such as “take over intersections and use for community activities,” give “fake parking tickets on SUV’s,” “Occupy Bank Foreclosed Homes,” and “rip out rancher’s fences” to free livestock.

Planning illegal acts is incompatible with 501(c)3 status. Ruckus is run by Megan Swoboda.

Women’s Action for New Directions

Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) is another leftist organization funded by George Soros that engages in activity designed to transform politics and America. It dates back to the era when the KGB was funding anti-nuclear movements in the West, and was involved in the effort to block installation of Pershing II missiles in West Germany. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the organization continued to oppose America’s national defense.WAND enjoys 501(c)4 tax-exempt status. The organization also boasts a “Students Action Network for New Directions” that encourages leftist students “to become politically active, to vote, and to network with other WAND members.”

Despite the overt political mission and anti-defense militancy, the 990 Forms submitted by WAND to the IRS whitewash their mission in one short sentence: “Empowering women to stop violence through the legislature.”

New World Foundation

The New World Foundation, like so many others, uses the money from industrialists who built America to help reduce America. Cyrus McCormick’s daughter formed the NWF to help transform the world, starting with America. The foundation enjoys 501(c)3 tax exempt status and exists, according to its IRS Form 990, to support “community activists across America and around the world.”

The IRS Form 990 also states that the NWF seek to “build stronger alliances for social justice, environmental justice…while encouraging democratic participation to achieve real and lasting [sic].”  The form details the mission of “mobilizing of the least enfranchised in working class and people of color communities.”

In 2010, NWF spent over $15 million.  It funnels money to a variety of activist leftist groups like the Coal River Mountain Watch, Colorado Progressive Action and National Peoples Action.


Fierce is a New York-based organization that employs the Saul Alinsky organizing model toward activist gay issues. Its website unapologetically proclaims that it is “building the leadership and power of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth of color,” and “We develop politically conscious leaders.”

Looking toward the future, as always, “FIERCE is dedicated to cultivating the next generation of social justice movement leaders who are dedicated to ending all forms of oppression.”  This unapologetic political mission is also included in the IRS Form 990 submitted by Fierce, so it should not surprise the IRS.

Fierce also provides a chart showing its organizing model is dedicated first to “Build our Power,”  then “Exercise our Power,” and finally “Sustain our Power.”

Fierce! has 501(c)3 status, making contributions to the overtly political organization tax deductible.  Last tax year it spent $529,713 on stipends for activists, travel and other expenses.

Black Alliance for Just Immigration

The Black Alliance for Just Immigration enjoys 501(c)3 status.  The organization “advocates for administrative changes to visa, detention and deportation regulations” according to the IRS Form 990 it filed with the IRS.

For whom does it advocate these changes?  The Black Alliance webpage states:

Historically and currently, U.S. immigration policy has been infused with racism, enforcing unequal and punitive standards for immigrants of color. African Americans, with our history of being economically exploited, marginalized and discriminated against, have much in common with people of color who migrate to the United States, documented and undocumented.

Executive Director Gerald Lenoir told me by telephone that the IRS has never questioned the tax status of the organization. After providing this information, Mr. Lenoir also asked: “is Breitbart a progressive news publication?”

Brennan Center for Justice

Few organizations have worn nonpartisan sheep’s clothing while behaving like a partisan wolf better than the Brennan Center for Justice. Enjoying 501(c)3 status, the Brennan Center’s stated mission on its IRS Form 990 barely scratches the surface. They merely “focus on fundamental issues of democracy and justice,” they claim.  The Brennan Center also told the IRS that it is engaged in “the study and solving of intractable problems of social justice and implementing those solutions by coordinating strategies.”

What Brennan didn’t tell the IRS was that those “coordinating strategies” involved bare-knuckle attacks on election integrity laws around the country. The IRS probably doesn’t know that Brennan is hip deep in the effort to derail public policies such as photo voter identification laws. Both the effort and the results of the effort are bathed in politics.

Brennan’s executive director Michael Waldman isn’t above publishing outright falsehoods or phony social science data about election integrity measures in order to advance the group’s agenda and enable voter fraud.

Voto Latino

Voto Latino is dedicated to mobilizing Hispanic voters into powerful political coalitions. It also enjoys 501(c)3tax exempt status.

The group holds an annual “Power Summit.” The April 2013 Power Summit included panels entitled “Activism Everyday–I’m Hustling,”  “We Voted, Now What?,” “How to Run for Office,” and “Field Operations for Beginners.”

Voto Latino also has a webpage dedicated to the 2012 Democratic National Convention (click while it still exists).

Some on the left are defending the IRS attacks on the Tea Party by falsely claiming the Tea Party is a political organization. These charges sound like projection when considering the descriptions of Voto Latino on itsown webpage:

“We firmly believe that the quality of our future depends on our ability to mobilize and vote….Texas and Florida, two states with the largest Latino populations, passed restrictive voting laws that intimidate people from going to the polls. There’s never been a more pivotal time for us to flex our collective power and move our country forward. Despite our economic difficulties and educational needs, Latinos profoundly believe in America….The quality of our future depends on our ability to mobilize today.”

When contacted, a representative at Voto Latino told me its IRS 501(c)3 tax status had never been challenged. Voto Latino receives money from the Soros-affiliated Open Society Foundations.

These are a mere eight groups dedicated to activist political outcomes. Many, many more exist. Under the law, anyone can demand a copy of the IRS 990 form filed by a tax-exempt organization.  All you need to do is pick up the phone and call whatever leftist organization you wish and demand its “IRS 990 form.”  If they don’t send it, call the IRS.