Otto von Bismarck may never have said what’s often ascribed to him: “There is a special Providence for drunkards, fools, and the United States of America.” But he could have, and it probably sounds even better in German. In any case, one can certainly see, looking back, why the apparently apocryphal quotation became famous. It’s true, after all, that America has seemed providentially fortunate at times. It’s true that we’ve managed to survive some near misses, and to flourish despite a fair amount of folly.
For example: If Franklin Roosevelt had died a year earlier, or if he hadn’t decided to change running mates in 1944, we would have had his woolly-headed, soft-on-communism vice president, Henry Wallace, as commander in chief. Who knows how World War II would then have ended, how many more countries Stalin would then have gobbled up, and even whether we would ultimately have won the Cold War? The whole second half of the century could have unfolded in a very different and far more ominous way.
Now we have an admirer of Henry Wallace as president. In December 2007, Barack Obama, campaigning in Iowa, was informed he was in Wallace’s home county. He responded, “We’ve got some progressives here in Adair. I’m feeling really good now. That’s quite a lineage there. . . . It’s a blessing.”
However blessed those Iowans may have been to live in the proximity of so illustrious a predecessor, having a president in the lineage of Henry Wallace has not been a blessing. We (and the world) are now living with the consequences of our having twice chosen Barack Obama as president.
Consider what President Obama told us in his State of the Union address:
We are fifteen years into this new century. Fifteen years that dawned with terror touching our shores; that unfolded with a new generation fighting two long and costly wars. . . .
But tonight, we turn the page.
Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over. Six years ago, nearly 180,000 American troops served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, fewer than 15,000 remain. . . .
The shadow of crisis has passed.
Really? Is al Qaeda (never mentioned by Obama in the speech) in retreat? Does radical Islam (never mentioned by Obama) look like a weak horse? Has Iran lessened its support (never mentioned by Obama) for terrorism? Have the achievements (never mentioned by Obama) of the American troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan been secured? Do we have a defense budget (never mentioned in the speech) sufficient to secure our interests and shape a safer world?
No. But not to worry. President Obama has decided to “turn the page.” He’s tired of living “in the shadow of crisis.” No doubt it’s tiresome to live in such a shadow. That’s not what President Obama wanted his presidency to be about. So he’s decided we can all move on.
There are still problems, to be sure. Some cartoonists and journalists and Jewish shoppers were recently killed by “violent extremists” in Paris. So the president assures us that “we stand united with people around the world who’ve been targeted by terrorists—from a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris.” And sure enough, many members of Congress, mostly of the president’s party, rose to their feet, waving pencils to show support for free speech and express solidarity with the victims of the Paris attacks.
Who are dead. As are victims of Boko Haram (another group not mentioned in the State of the Union). Somehow hashtag diplomacy—even a #BringBackOurGirls placard held by the first lady—hasn’t convinced Boko Haram that it’s time for them to turn the page on “violent extremism.” Nor is pencil-waving going to deter Islamic terrorists.
Barack Obama will be president for two more years. A lot is riding on that “special Providence.” Two years is a long time to be saddled with a president foolish about the world and drunk on self-regard, turning pages with the conceit that he is writing history for the ages, when he’s actually making up a fairy tale, one that’s unlikely to have a happy ending.