There's a scene in Woody Allen's Bananas where the marines are flying in to some Latin American micro-tyranny or other. A grunt asks his sergeant whether they're for the rebels or against them. "This time the CIA isn't taking any chances," replies the sergeant. "Some of us are for, some of us are against." American foreign policy is currently following this script so closely as to be guilty of plagiarism. In Yemen (now a bloody cockpit of Shi'ite/Sunni rivalry, but delusionally hailed by President Obama as a "success story" not so very long ago) America is providing logistical support to the Saudis (a friendly absolutist Sunni polity) in their campaign against Iranian-backed Shi'ite extremists. In Iraq meanwhile America is bombing ISIS (a hostile absolutist Sunni polity) in support of Iranian-backed Shi'ite extremists (keep up). Elsewhere in the schizoid dreamland of contradictions and counter-intuitions which comprise the Obamasphere, allies are antagonized and enemies appeased. In this President we contemplate a statesman who has been so consistently myopic at best, near-criminally negligent at worst, that the very scale of the dereliction has acquired a sort of negative grandeur.

It might seem invidious to highlight just a few low points in a career littered with so many others, but here is a President who honored Bowe Bergdahl's parents with a strange Arabic-infused ceremony of thanksgiving in the Rose Garden months before their son was charged with desertion. A President who invoked the Crusades at a White House Prayer Breakfast as a reminder that Christians too have sometimes done Very Bad Things (it doesn't occur to Obama, any more than it occurs to the average troll in a heated Facebook thread, that the very fact we have to reach back several hundred years to find an appropriate Christian analogy with latter-day Islamist brutality underlines in bold the atavistic quasi-medieval nature of the problem we're dealing with). A President who demoted the Jews targeted and slaughtered by Islamists in Paris simply because they were Jews to the status of "random folks in a deli." A President who has systematically envenomed relations with America's only dependable democratic ally in the Middle East and reduced US-Israeli diplomacy to the level of a personal grudge, with spite doing duty for statesmanship (in the latest addition to a long litany of petty rebukes, the Pentagon recently declassified highly sensitive material about Israel's nuclear program). A President who indulges the atomic ambitions of an Islamist theocracy ideologically committed to the destruction of the Jewish state and the global export of mischief. Here is a President, in summary, who by the time he leaves the White House and lays down the trappings of office (the nuclear football, Air Force One, his selfie stick, etc) will make Jimmy Carter look like Bismarck.

Psychologists are familiar with the phenomenon of irrational escalation: That is, the paradoxical tendency of people to invest more and more energy in a course of action even as the calamitous consequences of that course of action become increasingly obvious. Obama's Iranian policy to date is a case study in costs vastly and disastrously outweighing benefits- and yet all the while those costs continue to accrue. Obama is clearly a man desperate for a legacy- another paragraph in his Wikipedia entry- but the unenviable patrimony the world will inherit from his time in office is a revivified Iran seeking regional hegemony and the doomsday weaponry to enforce it. Naivete scarcely describes the childlike credulity of this President's approach. The very idea of cutting a deal with Iran assumes that in the Islamic Republic we are dealing with a rational actor amid a polite Westphalian system of international diplomacy that will stick to its word and diligently abide to the dot and dash of whichever attenuated pseudo-treaty ends up being signed: As opposed to a totalist hate state which has used the past decade of negotiations to equivocate and prevaricate its way to the perfection of the Ultimate Weapon. Even as the nuclear talks with the Americans were underway in Lausanne, Iran's Supreme Leader was bellowing "Death to America" to a crowd of the faithful in Tehran: A war cry promptly explained away by the White House as mere high spirits "intended for domestic consumption" (as was, presumably, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's attack on a mock-up of an American supercarrier in military manoeuvres a few weeks back).

Axiom: If the Iranian regime gains possession of a nuclear warhead, sooner or later it will use it. And we know where- and against whom- it will use it. To object that Israel has an offshore second-strike capability sufficient to send Iran even further back into the Stone Age is to miss the point. Put simply, you cannot negotiate with men for whom Armageddon is an aphrodisiac. Even the threat of total annihilation doesn't register as a deterrent to religiously-inspired ultraists who view "the thing called world" (in Ayatollah Khomeini's contemptuous idiom) as a grubby threshold to paradise, where of course the real action begins (legions of virgins, fountains of non-intoxicating wine, mountains made of musk, roses without thorns, and so on). It might rightly be countered that most people in Iran- even most people in the Iranian leadership- don't want a direct nuclear confrontation with Israel which would almost certainly precipitate the destruction of both countries; but there are any number of scenarios where a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic might consider using its atomic arsenal: The accession to power of another fanatical full-moooner like Ahmadinejad, a hardline coup by some of the more evangelical factions in the Revolutionary Guard, a wider regional showdown with Saudi Arabia spilling beyond vicarious theaters of war like Yemen...the Iranian bomb will introduce tectonic instability into a part of the world already on the brink of conflagration. And all this, under Obama's benignly neglectful watch.

A few words in mitigation: When we consider the mess left by his predecessor, it can be plausibly argued that Obama would inevitably find himself executing a janitorial role in global affairs. Whereas the justification for the invasion of Afghanistan was primarily sensory- the sound of women breathing freely- the invasion of Iraq remains devoid of any justification whatsoever other than Bush's desire for a post-9/11 scalp, and still qualifies as the greatest blunder in the history of American foreign policy, opening the Gates of Alexander to the hell-on-earth of the ISIS Caliphate, ceding swathes of Mesopotamia and the Gulf to Iranian influence, igniting the long-dormant civil war between Shi'ite and Sunni across the Middle East, and providing a lengthy excuse note for an entire generation of Islamist agitators (and their water-carriers on the far left) in Europe and beyond. Picking up where Bush left off was always going to be the supreme thankless task, but instead of rectifying his predecessor's mistakes Obama has actively exacerbated them in a six year-long public exposition of what social scientists call the Cobra Effect (a variant of the law of unintended consequences, where the solution to a problem actually conspires to make the problem ten times worse). The will should have been found from the very beginning to build an international coalition and obliterate the pestilence of ISIS at the root when it first appeared, just as the will should have been found to file an Iranian nuclear program under the category of "unthinkable" and roll back and contain any and all Iranian meddling west of the Shatt al-Arab. Even a cursory condemnation of Islamist terror would be a good start: But, as it is, Obama can't even bring himself to use the words "Islam" and "terrorism" in the same sentence. His most decisive response to terrorism in recent years was the deployment of James Taylor to Paris to serenade the French in their hour of need. There are few reasons to be optimistic here.

In the final analysis, this is what happens when a community organizer from South Side Chicago and his kindergarten of aging flower children are given a Superpower to play with. Enemies emboldened, allies alienated, foreign policy unspooling on all fronts, the world shuddering on its axis. In his recent State of the Union Address Obama declared, more wearily than proudly: "I believe in a smarter kind of American leadership", and that, "around the globe", his approach was "making a difference." That much is certain. But it's not a difference for the better, and it's not smarter, and, like Auden surveying the appeasement and timorousness of the 1930s, as a result of this President's actions and inactions we can look forward only to many more low, dishonest decades.

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