The second Obama administration is now just a month away, reminding us of the century-old American tendency for second presidential terms to be troubled and often unsuccessful. Second terms are particularly vulnerable to scandal.
At the same time, constitutional changes made after World War II have guaranteed that every second term president is a lame duck, and therefore less feared by his enemies. It is impossible to predict the future, but it is also clear that the second Obama administration bears a major vulnerability: this is a foreign policy heavily reliant on support from irregular military forces which can only be described as “al-Qaeda.” Obama has in fact gone far beyond any of his predecessors in his use of terrorist fighters as the infantry component in the NATO-backed assaults on countries like Libya and Syria, as well as for operations in Pakistan and Yemen. This is often what “leading from behind” really means.
The declared goal of the US military in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as in Somalia and Yemen, is to kill any al-Qaeda fighters which they manage to locate. But when it comes to Libya and Syria, al-Qaeda fighters are welcomed, provided with transportation, given logistical support, armed, paid, and given diplomatic assistance by the Pentagon and the State Department. This blatant contradiction has been building up since the early months of 2011, and it may now be reaching critical mass.
In the case of Libya, much of the country, and especially the eastern province of Cyrenaica – including the Benghazi-Derna-Tobruk corridor – is now under the control of warlords and militias from the orbit of al Qaeda. The September 11 assassination of US Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi – already a cause célèbre for Republicans — was largely the handiwork of a pro-Romney network inside the Pentagon and General David Petraeus’ CIA, but one of the reasons the Obama administration has been forced on the defensive regarding this incident is that a main task of the Benghazi consulate/CIA post has been to maintain relations with al-Qaeda death squads, especially for the purpose of moving them through Turkey into Syria to wage war against the Assad government. Any serious inquiry into the Stevens assassination thus risks exposing his role as an ambassador to al- Qaeda.
In the case of Syria, the United States has now extended full diplomatic recognition to the Syrian National Coalition, a collection of front men for the al-Qaeda fighters who provide most of the military potential of the so-called Free Syrian Army. In an attempt to camouflage this scandalous state of affairs, the State Department has also officially branded the principal striking force of the FSA, the Jabhat al Nusra brigades, as a terrorist organization. Al-Nusra includes 29 of the principal death squads, which have been doing most of the recent fighting against the Syrian army.
During the late 1940s and 1950s, the question of “Who lost China?” became a tremendous political liability for Democrats because of the Truman administration’s de facto support for Mao’s Communist rebels. The questions of “Who lost Libya?” and “Who lost Syria?” may yet prove to be the nemesis of Obama – perhaps followed by “Who lost Egypt?”
Any second term president must reckon with the rage of the opposition party, which he has succeeded in keeping out of power for four more years. That frustrated opposition, unable to prevail through the ballot box, is always tempted to use scandal and intrigue to oust the tenant of the White House.
Hillary ducks photo ops with al-Qaeda front men
Recent maneuvers by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggest that she is aware of how close the Obama administration’s al- Qaeda policy may now be to exploding in the form of a Watergate-style earthquake. Last week, Hillary declined to attend the Friends of Syria conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, citing a stomach ailment. Hilary is running for president in 2016, and is no doubt aware that, if the so-called Free Syrian Army should prevail against the Assad government, Syria is likely to become the scene of one of the most horrendous massacres in modern history. The fanatics of the NATO-backed death squads are preparing to exact a terrible toll among the Alawites, Shiites, and Druzes, as well as among foreigners and Christians of all sorts – Maronites, Melkites, Syriacs, Greek Orthodox, and others. Perhaps Mrs. Clinton has made a political calculation that it is not wise to be too closely identified with the public protagonists of this looming massacre, and developed a diplomatic ailment.
In the last couple of days, Mrs. Clinton has allegedly suffered a brain concussion as a result of a fall caused by fainting due to dehydration. But observers note that this new medical problem may conveniently allow her to escape interrogation by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during the last few weeks of her tenure in office, before her likely replacement by Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. Kerry is getting the job because of the blowback against Obama’s previous favorite, UN Ambassador Susan Rice. Ms. Rice’s candidacy collapsed after her attempt to — among other things — hide the overwhelming presence of Al Qaeda terrorists in the Benghazi area of Libya in a series of television interviews.
Wilson and Obama: the refusal to cultivate congress
The so-called “second term curse” can be traced back to the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, who secured re-election on a war avoidance platform in 1916, but then demanded a declaration of war against Germany in the following year in response to a demand from the Morgan interests that he prevent a looming British collapse. (Obama was reelected based on a promise to defend entitlements which he may already be about to break.) Wilson’s catastrophic second term was marked by the refusal of the U.S. Senate to approve the Versailles treaty and the League of Nations. Part of Wilson’s problem was his refusal to cultivate good relations with powerful Republican figures like Henry Cabot Lodge, William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt, Elihu Root, and Charles Evans Hughes. Obama has a similar weakness in that he has notoriously failed to establish close personal relations with congressional Democrats, seldom inviting them to the White House or for flights on Air Force One. Obama’s recluse-like lifestyle could have become a serious problem during his reelection campaign, but did not. If he comes under serious attack now, his lack of close friends on Capitol Hill may well come back to haunt him.
Wilson also suffered a debilitating stroke during his losing battle to get the Versailles treaty ratified. Obama is already showing the tremendous stress of the office, and, according to some reports, is still a heavy cigarette smoker. Health complications cannot therefore be ruled out.
Even such a masterful political practitioner as Franklin D. Roosevelt experienced problems in his second term, when a group of right-wing Southern Democratic senators began obstructing New Deal programs. They were joined in their efforts by a reactionary clique of Supreme Court justices known as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. If Obama is politically weakened by scandal, he may have an unpleasant encounter with the present day RATS cabal ( Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia) in the Supreme Court, unless he can appoint some friendly justices first.
Hated White House figures from Sherman Adams to Valerie Jarrett
Dwight D. Eisenhower’s second term was marred by the scandal which enveloped his all-powerful White House Chief of Staff, Sherman Adams, who was forced to resign in 1958 because he had accepted the gift of an expensive vicu?a fur coat and an Oriental rug. Sherman Adams had made numerous enemies during his six years of running the White House. A comparable figure in Obama’s entourage might be Valerie Jarrett, a top aide who is widely resented in Congress because of her arrogance, lack of deference to lawmakers, and idolatry of Obama. Another possible target is Michelle Obama, who has a reputation for spending huge amounts of taxpayer money on vacations for herself, her daughters, and her cronies.
Richard Nixon’s second term was marked by the classic Watergate scandal. Watergate was primarily the result of CIA and intelligence community orchestration, in somewhat the same way that the Benghazi incident was arranged. Just like Benghazi, the Watergate break-in by CIA and FBI veterans nominally working for the Nixon White House occurred in the summer before the election that would decide whether there would be a second term. Nixon had to resign in 1974 to escape impeachment, and a number of officials went to jail.
From Oliver North to the Arab Spring
The main scandal of Ronald Reagan’s second term was Iran-Contra, a series of illegal operations piloted by White House officials Bud McFarlane, John Poindexter and Oliver North. This was once again largely a CIA operation. The current White House has contrived to leak a series of stories about “terror Tuesdays,” when candidates for assassination by Predator drones and other means are evaluated by Obama personally — quite possibly to distract attention from the administration’s massive complicity with Al Qaeda in Yemen, Libya, Syria, Pakistan, and elsewhere. The role of Oliver North in some scandal of the near future might fall to White House officials like terror czar John Brennan, National Security Council Director Tom Donilon (widely held in contempt as a political hack), or NSC officials like Samantha Power or Michael McFaul, who organized the ouster of Egypt’s President Mubarak. State Department official Robert Ford, from the Negroponte school of irregular warfare, might also find himself in the net.
The star of Bill Clinton’s second term was of course Miss Monica Lewinsky, who reported her meetings with the president to her friend Linda Tripp of US Army intelligence, who worked closely with Iran-contra figure General Richard Secord and had been a partner in a shell company controlled by Oliver North of Iran Contra fame. A wide array of personal peccadilloes have been attributed to Obama. Equally important is the fact that a second term administration has been around long enough to be penetrated by hostile operatives and to offer them the opportunity to collect damaging material. How many such moles are now working in the Obama White House?
After Benghazi: A “get Obama” cabal may be operational
Clinton was also targeted by a reactionary clique which included special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, Justice Department official Theodore Olson, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, federal appeals court judge Laurence Silberman, former Judge Robert Bork, and Wall Street Journal editor Robert Bartley. Is a similar coordinating committee in operation today?
Clinton’s experience may be relevant to Obama in another way. Like Obama, Clinton was an anti-New Deal, pro-Wall Street Democrat devoted to increased austerity and the dismantling of the established economic rights of the American people. In his first term, he demolished the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) or welfare component of the Social Security Act of 1935. According to Stephen Gillon’s recent book The Pact, Clinton and his White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles – the same Morgan Stanley official demanding deadly austerity today – were planning a further attack on Social Security and Medicare in Clinton’s second term. But, when the Monica Lewinsky scandal led to Clinton’s impeachment, he was forced to give up his austerity program for fear of antagonizing the remaining progressive or New Deal Democrats, who otherwise might have allowed him to be removed from office.
It is also true that Nixon increased his own vulnerability to Watergate by a series of unpopular austerity programs in the wake of his August 15, 1971 demolition of the Bretton Woods world monetary system. These included wage and price controls and went under the names of Phase 1, Phase 2, and Phase 3. Nixon’s lowering of the US standard of living and his clashes with organized labor were certainly factors in his ejection from the presidency. Obama needs to be reminded that his current attack on the so-called entitlements and social safety net might fatally weaken the congressional support he could require in case of future scandals.
Obama would therefore be well advised to shift away from his reliance on al-Qaeda as a means of destabilizing his international targets, while at the same time giving up his current dedication to austerity.