President Obama is now passing through what one must hope for both his sake and ours are the worst moments of a presidency no longer young. Abroad, the intervention in Libya has not had the quick and clear results he had hoped. While things may still go well, and one devoutly hopes that they do, US prestige is deeply engaged in a confused civil war in which all NATO’s firepower has been unable to turn the tide. As British and French advisers on the ground struggle to mold the rebels into an effective force and the allies thrash around to develop a politically responsible and accountable rebel leadership, the military’s lack of confidence in the civilian strategy is palpable.
At home, the President has been wounded both by his successes and his failures. Colin Powell referred to the US victory against Saddam Hussein as a “catastrophic success”; President Obama now has a couple of those of his own. The economic stimulus package aroused a fear on the hustings and, increasingly, in the bond markets about the looming fiscal catastrophe. The health care bill, an achievement the President expected and believed would cement both his place in history and a new era of liberal Democratic hegemony in American politics, continues to weaken the administration; the patient is not (yet) accepting the transplant.