President Barack Obama’s final weeks in office seem dedicated to setting foreign and domestic policy on fire to make life as difficult as possible on his successor, Donald Trump. Here are some of the biggest mousetraps Obama scattered across the White House floor on his way out:
Betraying Israel at the United Nations: Obama’s refusal to block a United Nations vote against Israel, his administration’s shadowy machinations to bring that ugly motion to the floor, and Secretary of State John Kerry’s long-winded broadside against Israel will leave President Trump with a massive political crisis in the Middle East, and quite possibly a security crisis, if terror groups and their “political wings” are emboldened by the rebuke of Israel.
Obama’s Israel maneuver also damages American credibility, teaching would-be allies that the United States is not the best friend to have. America’s erstwhile battlefield allies in Syria can teach the same lesson, assuming any of them are left alive to take the podium. This comes at the very moment aspiring hegemons in China and Russia are showing their allies how Beijing and Moscow will go to the mat for them.
Obama’s team thinks it was clever to saddle Trump with an international edict the U.S. president cannot easily reverse. They might not have thought this all the way through, because some of the options that are available to Trump could leave internationalists, and Palestinian leaders, cursing Barack Obama’s memory.
Note that even some commentators friendly to Obama, and sources within the Obama Administration itself, have described the Israel vote as a deliberate act of sabotage aimed at Trump, because Obama is “alarmed” by some of Trump’s appointees.
A new Cold War with Russia: After eight years of relentlessly mocking anyone who said Russia was a major geopolitical threat to the United States (most famously including his 2012 presidential opponent, Mitt Romney) Barack Obama suddenly realized: “You know what? Russia is a major threat!”
He also awoke to the dangers of cyber-warfare, after an entire presidency of treating electronic espionage as a purely political problem to be minimized and spun away, because taking it seriously made him look bad. Who can forget how Obama left victims of the OPM hack twisting in the wind for weeks, because the administration didn’t want to admit how serious the attack was?
But then a top Democrat political operative fell for a crude phishing scam, and the Democratic National Committee got hacked, so Obama… well, he still didn’t take cyber-espionage seriously. He slapped the snooze bar again, because as one anonymous official put it, they thought Hillary Clinton was a cinch to win the 2016 election, “so they were willing to kick the can down the road.”
No, it was Hillary Clinton’s loss in the election, and the desperate push to damage President-elect Trump’s legitimacy, that made the president who politely ignored China hacking 25 million American citizens’ private data get tough on information security. Until now, states involved in cyber-espionage never got anything worse than a few carefully-chosen words of sour disapproval from the expiring administration, but the Russkies received a sprinkling of sanctions, and 35 diplomats were expelled.
Presumably Obama thinks he’s maneuvered Trump into a position that will make whatever rapprochement he might have entertained with Moscow more difficult, or at least more politically costly for the new President. The end result might be easier relations between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and a lingering memory of how little Barack Obama cared about cybersecurity until it was politically expedient for him to freak out.
Ban on oil drilling: An overt act of sabotage directed at the American economy itself, leaving an especially heavy bootprint on Alaska. Smug administration flacks spent the past couple of weeks assuring media talking heads that Obama’s unprecedented abuse of an obscure law was impossible for his successor to reverse. It’s like they stayed up all night, looking for executive actions that can’t be undone by the new President four weeks later. (Amusingly, Obama dropped this bomb on our energy sector just a few weeks after publicly advising Trump not to abuse executive orders.)