It says all you need to know about the current state of the Obama administration that the region of the world in which its greatest opportunities may lie over the next several years is the Middle East. This is not because there are any great opportunities in the Middle East. Quite the contrary, it's perhaps more dangerous, complex, and immune to successful international intervention that at any time in memory. The point is this: on pretty much every other front, a series of missteps, self-inflicted wounds, and worse have damaged President Obama in ways that are likely to limit his options and effectiveness for the rest of his term.
Before the latest flare up regarding Benghazi, before the IRS scandal, before the chilling encroachment on a free press of the AP investigation, the president faced an uphill climb on his domestic agenda. The political environment in Washington is toxic. The president's allies on Capitol Hill are weak or inept, and many are both. His congressional opponents are masters of the art of obstruction.
So Obama already faced near insurmountable obstacles to getting his legislation passed. We had already seen it on gun control. Despite the horror of Newtown and all the gun death tragedies that preceded it -- and the virtually universal wave of public support for basic common sense reforms like background checks for gun buyers -- the president's bill faltered. Much of this was due to the pressure of the gun lobby, merchants of death who continue to pursue profit literally at any cost. But some of it was due to faulty strategy and unsuccessful leadership from the White House, not least of which was the inability of the president to get his own party in line on Capitol Hill.
Progress on fiscal reforms has been halting at best for several years now and despite the hopes that may have emerged that last November's elections would be seen as a mandate for both the president and bipartisan cooperation, we seem ready to enter another game of chicken with the markets on debt limits because little else actually has proven able to effectively mobilize our legislators ... and again, because the White House has not effectively been able to formulate a winning legislative strategy.
Immigration reform was seen as perhaps the last best hope for progress. And as recently as last night in speaking with senior administration officials they expressed hope that even the House of Representatives might pass such measures. But given the current political environment -- and the many weapons that Obama's opponents now have to use against him due to his administration's mismanagement and overreach -- even the comparatively modest, commonsensical reforms being considered by Congress now are at risk.
Besides, soon it will be 2014 and the focus will be on midterm elections. And already, as the attacks on Democratic 2016 frontrunner Hillary Clinton have shown, the next presidential election cycle is weighing on the minds of the American political class. So making progress on anything domestically will grow harder before it grows impossible. The one hope of avoiding that scenario had been the prospect of a big Democratic victory in 2014 that would give the president majorities in both houses of Congress for his last two years. A year and a half is a long time in politics. But how much less likely does such a big Democratic victory look this week than it did last?