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President Obama: The kitten that roared

President Barack Obama keeps roaring out deadlines like a lion — only later to meow like a little kitty.

Remember, for example, how he bellowed to cheering partisan crowds that he would close down the detainment facility at Guantánamo within a year? The clock ticks — and Guantánamo isn't close to being shut down.

It once was easy for candidate Obama to deplore George W. Bush's supposed gulag. Now it proves harder to decide between the bad choice of detaining nonuniformed terrorist combatants and the worse ones of letting them go, giving them civilian trials or deporting them to unwilling hosts.

Going back to September 2007, Obama postured about Iraq that he wanted "to immediately begin to remove our combat troops. Not in six months or one year — now!"

On Iraq, candidate Obama also railed that "the American people have had enough of the shifting spin. We've had enough of extended deadlines for benchmarks that go unmet." Talk about "unmet" deadlines and "spin"— here we are in October 2009, and there are still 120,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The reason why Obama fudged on his promised deadline is that the surge worked. Obama cannot quite admit this fact, but on the other hand he does not want to be responsible for undermining it.

This July, our president warned Iran that it had to prove its compliance with nonproliferation protocols by September — or face new consequences. Now it's October, and even the French are exasperated with Obama. And no wonder that Iran and its patron Russia seem to be calculating that Obama will figure that a nuclear Iran is less troubling for him than the consequences of offending Vladimir Putin, spiking oil prices or using force in the volatile Middle East.

The list of what Obama threatens or promises to do, then doesn't, is endless.

Health care: The president warned Congress that it had to pass comprehensive reform by August. August came and went, and we're still waiting.

Afghanistan: This was once Obama's promised war to win — the one we had to refocus on after supposedly taking our eye off the ball to fight in Iraq. Instead, we are suddenly blaming the 8-year-old Karzai government for not being the stable partner we need to finish the job.

Ethics reform: During the campaign, Obama vowed to end lobbyists in government, post legislation on the Internet five days before a presidential signing, and air health-care negotiations and discussion on C-SPAN.

In short, just imagine if Obama were to warn Congress to get health-care done by Nov. 15 — or else; or to give Iran one last chance until the first of the year to stop enriching uranium; or to promise that Guantánamo really will close on March 1. Would anyone take him seriously?

Obama ran on the accusation that Bush missed promised targets and deadlines. Yet when Obama himself proves even emptier in his promises than Bush, he suffers an additional wage of theatrical hypocrisy.

But there is an even greater problem. Overheated rhetoric got Obama into these jams — and he seems to expect that his dramatic flair can always get him out as well. So we all await more of the empty hope-and-change hocus-pocus — as Obama explains how he never really promised to get out of Iraq "now!" or to "take further steps" against Iran in September 2009.

After Jan. 1, I expect the president to say "I can no more shut down Guantánamo than I can ..." By now you know the rest.

E-mail Hanson at author@victorhanson.com.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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