President Barack H. Obama
The White House
The Gulf oil spill opened my eyes.
As with Hurricane Katrina, it happened suddenly. I barked out orders. I pounded my desk. But the oil kept flowing. Worse, the nation watched it all on television and said: “Why doesn’t the President do something? Doesn’t he care?” From then on, I fully understood both the expectations and the limitations of this job.
I ran on “hope and change.” I said I would bring the sides together. The American people, I told Republicans who opposed my stimulus plan, have spoken. And “I won.”
So without any of the bipartisan support you received for your tax cuts, my stimulus passed, and I confidently predicted it would prevent unemployment from reaching 8 percent. It climbed to 10.2 percent.
Without a single Republican vote, we passed “ObamaCare.” But half of the states’ attorneys general filed suit to stop it. And a year after its passage, most Americans want it repealed.
My party lost its House majority and its Senate supermajority. Voters wanted smaller government. Turns out voters wanted to retain the “Bush tax rates” — even for the rich — which I campaigned against. Again, the American people had spoken.
The morning starts, as you know, with an intelligence briefing. My goodness, does America have enemies — hateful, violent, vicious enemies all over the world who are determined to destroy this nation! Our job is to prevent them from succeeding — all of them, all of the time.
I labeled you a cowboy, promised humility and offered enemy countries an “outstretched hand” for their “unclenched fist.” But calling the Global War on Terror an “overseas contingency operation” not only failed to deter the Islamofascists from wanting to kill us, it suggested a weakness that only strengthened their resolve.
Al-Qaida, Hezbollah, Hamas and the mullahs who run Iran, I learned, couldn’t care less that I’m a person of color, born to a Muslim father from Kenya, and who lived in Indonesia. They hate us still.
Guantanamo Bay exists for a reason. It imprisons the worst of the worst. No other country will take these terrorists, and many former detainees have returned to the fight.
Gitmo is among many of your “Bush era” terror-fighting policies that I not only retained but, in some cases, even expanded. What once seemed reckless and wrongheaded, I now see as prudent attempts to strike that difficult balance between safety and freedom.
I came into this job eight years after September 11, 2001. I cannot imagine 3,000 Americans killed on my watch. I cannot imagine polls showing that 90 percent of us anticipated another attack within 12 months of the first, perhaps with chemical or biological weapons. I can imagine how you must have blamed yourself during those long, dark days, and spent every waking hour asking, “What can I do so this never happens again?”
This brings me to the Iraq War, a mission I once called “dumb.”
Seventy-six percent of Americans, at the time, supported your decision. You obtained approval from Congress. By contrast, 47 percent support my actions in Libya, less support than for any military action taken in the last 40 years. Unlike you, I did not seek approval from Congress even though I once said the Constitution requires it.
Thanks to the Iraq War, Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi surrendered his WMD. He poses no direct threat to America and cannot use these terrible weapons on his own people. Saddam Hussein, on the other hand, invaded his neighbors, used chemical weapons on his own people and shot at our planes patrolling the no-fly zones. All 16 of our intelligence agencies thought he possessed stockpiles of WMD, a prospect that threatened to make the 9/11 carnage look small.
I even opposed the “surge” in Iraq and predicted its failure. I now see this unpopular decision for what it was — one of the most courageous decisions ever made by any of the 43 Americans who have sat behind this desk.
I vividly recall shaking my head during the speech you made to make the case for the “dumb” war. A disapproving New York Times wrote: “President Bush sketched an expansive vision….Mr. Bush talked about establishing a ‘free and peaceful Iraq’ that would serve as a ‘dramatic and inspiring example’ to the entire Arab and Muslim world…”
Now I understand why, in 2008, you signed National Security Presidential Directive-58, Advancing the Freedom Agenda: “To protect America, we must defeat the ideology of hatred by spreading the hope of freedom. Over the past seven years, this is exactly what the Administration has done.”
It began with newly liberated Afghans and Iraqis who risked their lives by leaving their homes to vote for the first time. Your Freedom Agenda ignited the promising, historic “hope and change” we are now witnessing all throughout the Arab and Muslim world.
You were right. I was wrong. The nation — and the world — owes you a huge debt of gratitude.
Let’s do lunch and then sneak in a round of golf. The “near beer” is on me.
With respect and appreciation,
April 1, 2011