Whether it’s recognizing a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, negotiating with the Taliban, releasing five Guantanamo Bay detainees or imposing new regulations on carbon emissions, one thing is constant: The inner President Obama is being unleashed.
During his 2008 campaign, there was a lot of debate over whether Obama was more likely to govern from the left, or more moderately. He spoke a lot about breaking with Washington consensus – the type of thinking that led to the Iraq War, made the U.S. government reflexively pro-Israel, shied away from diplomacy, and failed to address the issue of global warming.
When he came into office in 2009, Obama immediately pursued an $830 billion economic stimulus bill that financed a litany of liberal causes and then he spent another year pushing through sweeping health care legislation. But many of his other ambitions were stymied by a combination of logistics, congressional opposition, and his political ambitions.
Like the end of his first term, in his second term, Obama has not been able to move any of his major legislative priorities through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. But now, he’s no longer facing re-election, so he’s been more willing to assert himself in areas where the president typically has more influence – foreign affairs and regulatory policy.
In his first term, Obama fought against Iran sanctions until Congress overwhelmingly passed them and he was forced into changing course.
But in his second term, Obama has engaged in a aggressive diplomatic effort with Iran that has already allowed the radical Islamic regime to pocket significant concessions (such as U.S. acknowledging the Iranian right to enrich uranium), without reducing the likelihood that Iran will be able to reach nuclear capability.
At the start of his presidency, Obama tried to pursue a policy of creating “daylight” between the United States and Israel, but this often clashed with his attempt, in the run up to his re-election, to portray himself as supporting the American ally.
With such political considerations aside, Obama has become more comfortable displaying his true attitude toward Israel.
Obama appointed Chuck Hagel, who infamously lambasted the “Jewish Lobby,” as his Secretary of Defense and John Kerry as Secretary of State -- who went on to describe Israel as an “apartheid” state in the making.
Administration officials publicly and repeatedly blamed Israel for the failure of peace talks that were doomed at the start, even though the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas refused to accept the key tenets of the administration's peace framework.
During the 2008 campaign, Obama repeatedly and emphatically denied he would deal with the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas if elected. "I've been adamant about not negotiating with Hamas," he said at one campaign rally. In an interview with the Atlantic in May 2008, he declared, “I mean what I say: since they are a terrorist organization, we should not be dealing with them until they recognize Israel, renounce terrorism, and abide by previous agreements.”
Yet Hamas has now joined with Abbas in creating a Palestinian unity government, which Obama's State Department has said it would deal with. According to the Washington Post, the administration worked with Palestinians to help them structure the government in a way that would get around U.S. law against funding a government that includes Hamas.
On Wednesday, BuzzFeed reported that Obama administration officials "have been holding secret back-channel talks with Hamas over the last six months."
During Obama’s first term, his pledge to close Guantanamo Bay prison ran into a series of practical problems about what to do with detainees. But by releasing five dangerous Taliban commanders from the prison, Obama has now taken a bold step toward shutting it down.
On the domestic front, Obama wasn't able to get cap and trade legislation passed during his first term, but held off on more aggressive regulatory action through the Environmental Protection Agency. Now, however, the EPA has released a proposed rule that would regulate the carbon emissions from existing coal plants.
Ultimately Obama is acting increasingly like the type of president that liberals hoped for in 2008, and conservatives had deeply feared.