The next three months are fraught. There are some actions that President Obama is taking with no Congressional support; there are other actions which our adversaries will take, having taken Obama's measure for eight years and fearing what may follow. Some can be rectified by a subsequent President; others cannot. Let's look at a few headlines.
Done deals. The damage is probably irreversible.
1. The Iran nuclear deal. The agreement was signed in August 2015, and the $150 billion in impounded funds was released. Subsequently the public has found that $1.7 billion hostage ransom was paid as a side-deal, and that there were secret "exemptions" which were not made known to Congress. Relevant for the ending of Obama's term, Iran's oil exports are returning to pre-sanctions levels; Boeing and Airbus are competing to supply airliners as trade opens up, ballistic missile tests continue unabated, the centrifuges continue to whirl, and Iran is deploying its forces into Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Game over.
2. Syria. The Russians have obviously played President Obama and John Kerry, talking about a cease-fire while they have assembled enough forces to capture the major rebel stronghold of Aleppo. The next president will be faced with a reality in Syria of an Assad regime in control of most of the country, except for a Kurd/Turk buffer along the Turkish border and whatever territory ISIS continues to hold.
3. Guantanamo. In August, Obama moved 15 of the "worst of the worst" prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to the United Arab Emirates, reducing the prison population to 61 as compared to the 242 when he took office. Hopefully he will stop there.
4. ICANN. On October 1, the Commerce Department gave up their contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, effectively allowing the management of the Internet's phone book to be supervised by a collection of over 100 countries. This was done despite a lawsuit by several states and warnings by numerous security experts that the structure of our government communication could be disrupted (.gov and .mil, for example), and that authoritarian regimes would gain greater influence over the functioning of the internet.
5. Pardons. After a slow start in his first term, Obama has accelerated his pace of commuting prison sentences, particularly for prisoners with mandatory drug-related sentences. As of September, he had issued 673 commutations with some 11,000 under consideration. It remains to be seen whether he follows the Bill Clinton practice of pardoning supporters such as Marc Rich - a $1,000,000 Clinton donor and fugitive who was on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List. Maybe Hillary?
Ongoing deals. A plan has been put in motion, but the actual outcome will be determined by the actions of the next president.
1. The Paris climate agreement. With no discussion with Congress (and no structured Congressional opposition), the administration has advocated for and approved the Paris Climate Treaty which has received enough global endorsements to become effective in November - a surprisingly rapid global acceptance, driven by the impending American change of presidents. The American commitment is to establish targets and release data on emissions; the administration's core approach (supported by Hillary Clinton and opposed by Donald Trump) is elimination of coal-fired utilities and manufacturers who emit carbon dioxide, coupled with major investments in "clean energy".
2. Iraq. The administration has deployed as many as 6000 US military personnel to Iraq in the hope that the Iraqi government could re-capture the major ISIS-controlled city of Mosul before the US election. The timetable is slipping, and the international aid agencies are bracing for hundreds of thousands of refugees. The hope is that friendly historians will note that he drove ISIS out of Iraq, forgetting that he created the circumstances for its emergence in the first place.
3. Refugees. Obama has set a target to accept 110,000 refugees from around the world in FY 2017, (up from 85,000 in 2016) with Congressional funding of $3.1 billion. Of the 12,000 Syrians, 10,000 Iraqis, and 9,000 Somalis in the 2016 total, Christians were under-represented relative to the local populations; many were not adequately vetted. Hillary wants to increase the Syrian total to 65,000; Trump not so much.
4. The Fed. Throughout Obama's two terms as president, the Federal Reserve has maintained unprecedentedly low interest rates - good for the stock market and borrowers, bad for bond holders, savers, and pension funds. A return toward normalcy has "surprisingly" been deferred until after the November election; the next president will be left to deal with the bubbles.
One could add to the list of problems confronting a new president the slow collapse of Obamacare (which Bill Clinton calls "the craziest thing in the world"), the North Korean nuclear program (which cries for a "come to Jesus" discussion with China), and the ongoing influx of illegal immigrants from Latin America. Whether it is Donald or Hillary, the end of the disastrous Obama presidency cannot come too soon.
This week's video - for those who can endure it - is a compilation of the 72 times that Tim Kaine interrupted Mike Pence during the Vice Presidential debate. For those with a lower pain tolerance, here is an MSNBC commentator who was offended by Kaine's cacophony of disjointed jabs and talking over the Latina moderator.
bill bowen - 10/7/16