Obama’s liberals were living in a fantasy world

obamadeskGideon Rachman writes in the FT that Obama’s liberals were living in a fantasy world of expectations. It has taken a long time, but the world’s fantasies about Barack Obama are finally crumbling. In Europe, once the headquarters of the global cult of Obama, the disillusionment is particularly bitter. Monday’s newspapers were full of savage quotes about the perfidy of the Obama-led US.

Der Spiegel, the German magazine that alleged that America’s National Security Agency has bugged the EU’s offices, thundered that “the NSA’s totalitarian ambition … affects us all … A constitutional state cannot allow it. None of us can allow it.” President François Hollande of France has demanded that the alleged spying stop immediately. Le Monde, Mr Hollande’s home-town newspaper, has even suggested that the EU should consider giving political asylum to Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower.

But if liberals wanted to compile a list of perfidious acts by the Obama administration, the case of the bugged EU fax machine should probably come low down the list.

More important would be the broken promise to close the Guantánamo detention centre and – above all – the massive expansion of the use of drone strikes to kill suspected terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, It has gradually dawned on President Obama’s foreign fan club that their erstwhile hero is using methods that would be bitterly denounced if he were a white Republican. As Hakan Altinay, a Turkish academic, complained to me last week: “Obama talks like the president of the American Civil Liberties Union but he acts like Dick Cheney.”

Obama campaigned with the human rights rhetoric of Jimmy Carter but has governed like Henry Kissinger.

It is not entirely Mr Obama’s fault that he became the vessel into which liberals all over the world poured their fantasies. Of course, like any politician, he pumped up expectations when running for office. But when Obama-mania really took off in 2008, it swiftly moved into a realm beyond reason. What was candidate Obama meant to say to the 200,000 Berliners who turned out to cheer him that year – “Go home guys, this is silly”? When the new president was given the Nobel Peace Prize, simply for existing, all he could do was graciously accept.

It is perfectly legitimate to argue that Mr Obama should have done more to cut back the rapidly growing secret state that he inherited when he took office. The combination of a “war on terror” and the new world of “big data” has created possibilities and pressures – and Mr Obama may have made some wrong calls in response. Yet the US president has had to balance a variety of pressures – including the continuing existence of a terrorist threat and the entrenched power of the intelligence world.

Mr Obama was living in a real universe, full of hard choices. It was his overheated critics who lived in a fantasy world. – FT