Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

HBO's Dishonest Obama Documentary Is Fantasy Foreign Policy Puffery

Lots of administration official log-rolling in The Final Year, but little actual analysis

The Final Year. HBO. Monday, May 21, 8 p.m.'The Final Year''The Final Year,' HBO

It is a risky business picking the single most aggravatingly stupid scene in The Final Year, an HBO documentary on Obama administration foreign policy that's suffused in puffery and obfuscation, but let's give it a try.

My choice is the segment on the president's 2016 visit to Laos, the target of something on the order of two million tons of American bombs during the Vietnam War. The point of the visit, explains Obama foreign-policy aide Ben Rhodes in an interview in the documentary, is to demonstrate that those days are over.

"In Washington, there is a kind of default that we've been trying to break," explains the preening Rhodes. "Which is that the way in which we demonstrate that we're serious about a problem is by using military force."

So how did President Obama demonstrate that new American disdain for military force? By announcing his deployments of a Marine strike force to Australia and a missile-defense system to South Korea, and promising that the United States would more frequently butt into disputes between China and its neighbors. Pacifism unchained!

But you'll have to read about that part in The New York Times, because it didn't make it into The Final Year. And though there's plenty of footage of Obama courageously denouncing U.S. bombing raids in Laos by another president more than 40 years ago, his own murderous use of drones in the Middle East—at a rate 10 times as high as that of the foreign-policy cowboy George Bush—goes unremarked, by either Obama or the documentary

This sort of profoundly dishonest manipulation of the facts goes on constantly in The Final Year, ostensibly a report of the conduct of U.S. foreign policy during the final year of the Obama White House.

In reality, it's less a documentary than a wet goodbye kiss to Obama, as well as a personal PR document for a few key members of his foreign-policy brain trust, employing that term loosely.

Those include Rhodes, U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, and to a somewhat lesser extent, Secretary of State John Kerry, all of whom take turns boasting of their foreign-policy acuity and moral superiority. They see no contradiction between their imperious self-regard and Power's admission, as Obama leaves office, that "My world is a world where you have 65 million displaced people … and all the trend lines on democracy—right now, at least—are going in the wrong direction."

How that could have possibly happened with such a brave and astute team of overseers micromanaging the world from Washington is not addressed in The Final Year.

In part, that's because with all the reputational log-rolling going on, there's little time—virtually none, in fact—for the actual nuts and bolts of foreign policy.

The Obama team repeatedly boasts that its three signature achievements are the Paris climate accord, the rapprochement with Cuba, and the Iran nuclear deal. But of how these agreements were reached, or who opposed them and why, there's not a word.

And even less is there an explanation of why, if they were so important, the Obama administration let them stand on a foundation of executive orders, rather than seeking congressional approval to make them law.

The consequence of that decision is that barely a year after he left office, practically nothing is left of what Obama policy-makers regarded as their most important works. President Trump has ditched the Paris and Iran agreements, and the new relationship with Cuba is more like minimalist performance art than diplomacy: Only 10 people, most of them probably spies, are left in the U.S. embassy in Havana after accusations that Cuba has staged, or at least abetted, sonic attacks on American and Canadian diplomats. (Not that this is likely to dismay Rhodes, who declares the Cuba agreement a success because he can "just look at the American and Cuban flags, and be overcome with emotion." Never mind the political prisoners, intelligence moles, and such.

Omission sometimes seems to be the rule rather than the exception in The Final Year. Though scarcely a minute goes by in the documentary without hearing from either Rhodes or Power, there's no mention of the fact that they were often were on opposite sides of administration policy tug-of-wars. (Power is famously a believer in applying that military force that Rhodes so disdains, at least against abusers of ethnic groups, and was one of the key advocates of arming anti-Khadhafi forces in Iraq.)

Nor is there a hint of the wildly entertaining inter-administration soap opera in which Power was one of the stars. An early Obama supporter, she was kicked off his campaign in the 2008 primaries after calling his principal opponent, Hillary somebody-or-other, "a monster." Fortunately, Hillary was a good sport about it and only banned Power from the State Department for four years, coincidentally the exact amount of time Clinton served as secretary of state.

But it's understandable that the Obama guys would forget a thing or two, because they were soooooo busy. Like, the busiest foreign policy geniuses ever, says John Kerry: "We have about as full an agenda as any administration has ever had." And no whining about fighting a three-front world war while dying of cancer and polio, FDR. Buy your own documentary.

Photo Credit: 'The Final Year,' HBO

Contributing Editor Glenn Garvin is the author of Everybody Had His Own Gringo: The CIA and the Contras and (with Ana Rodriguez) Diary of a Survivor: Nineteen Years in a Cuban Women's Prison. He writes about television for the Miami Herald.

Media Contact Reprint Requests

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Wow, those actors look just like the real people.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Hashtag: #MyMountRushmore

  • Pro Libertate||

    Nice. "We love you like gods!"

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Is that Carrie Fisher? RIP.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Her last role.

  • Mickey Rat||

    It is easy when the originals were just cheap plastic anyway.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    and was one of the key advocates of arming anti-Khadhafi forces in Iraq.

    That seems like it wouldn't be very effective.

  • MarkLastname||

    At least it was more effective than the anti-Hussein forces they armed in Fiji.

  • Benitacanova||

    Poor O. Even his hawkier activities win him no respect because he chose not to advertise them, probably because of the pre-earned Nobel.

  • Tony||

    "self-aggrandizement and lack of introspection"

    Thank God that's over with.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    At least it's clumsy and obvious now, and no longer enabled by the vast majority of media outlets.

  • Scotticus Finch||

    Yeah! The way this article slobbers all over Trump is disgusting!

    Wait... what?

  • lap83||

    If only those qualities had been the worst part of the Obama administration

  • Flinch||

    "Rapprochement" of Cuba? Carter's administration used a different term for losing on purpose: detente. Thank God it's over indeed. There are certain things that should never be recycled.

  • Mickey Rat||

    So is this a "fake news" documentary, Mr. Garvin?

    It is amazing the level of outrage can be brought out when the selective and dishonest reporting is on something near and dear to your heart.

  • Migrant Log Chipper||

    Not that I'm a fan of Bolton's war boner but these fucktards really were rank amateurs.

  • Flinch||

    "Rank amateurs" assumes they [the Obama administration] had decent goals in mind regardless of talent. I would suggest they were pro's, and the goal was vandalizing the nation and the world. In that light, they were a fantastic success and at the top of their field: virtually anything that could be screwed up [while avoiding impeachment], was. From the Cairo speech green lighting the Muslim Brotherhood to delivering cash to Iran for terrorism, from an unwritten zero growth policy to making health care so expensive that medical tourism looks good to somebody making minimum wage... we would be hard pressed to do worse in pursuing objectives with a minimal military component.

  • BYODB||

    What, you didn't like the propagan...err movie? Sir, could you please step into the line leading up to these boxcars? We have a...different movie that you need to watch at the...recreational facilities outside of town.


    These burley men in uniform will ensure your safety en route.

  • Flinch||

    I recall being subjected to HBO long ago. Such dreck that to this day I refuse to pay for cable - they need to pay me if anything, especially since most "basic" packages have forced it down everyones throat. All I want is 15 channels [that I pick], with an option to change once a month. Until then... I remain a cheap bastard and the cable stays cut.

  • BYODB||

    HBO's formula is beautiful in it's simplicity: puts tits on the screen as often as you can, sometimes a dick, and say 'fuck' as much as humanly possible. Also, lots of violence even if it makes no sense to either the characters or the situation.

    That's it. That is the total sum of HBO's writing philosophy. Their shows are otherwise unwatchable daytime drama's, and the fact my generation doesn't notice this is...depressing.

    Or, maybe that's just what people want: pointless interpersonal drama without end or any semblance of rationality or humanity.

  • JoeBlow123||

    Uhhh... I like Game of Thrones.

  • BYODB||

    Don't get me wrong, HBO knows their audience. I'm just not it.

  • damikesc||

    That's the same for me. I've not liked any HBO Original series that come to mind (I got some heat, years ago, for saying "At the very least, the Sopranos is in focus" since I was big on not doing totally negative reviews).

    Yes, they are a woke network that shows tits in virtually all of their shows. And while I am a fan of tits, to say the least, to pretend that most of the shows' lavish praise isn't their "It's like porn, only respectable" motif is silliness.

  • ThomasD||

    Rome was pretty good.

  • Nardz||

    Time was amazing.
    And Veep is the best show on TV

  • Tony||

    The president of the United States bragged about his dick size on national TV.

  • MarkLastname||

    Are you suggesting he should be on HBO?

  • Freddy the Jerk||

    WTF you retarded leprechaun. Did that just dribble out or was there some kind of bizarre thought process behind your comment?

  • Ben of Houston||

    Two words: Fraggle Rock.

  • Sevo||

    Do not watch TV, but did they cover this?

    "N.Y. Times confirms Obama spied on Trump
    Operation 'Crossfire Hurricane' began days after Clinton probe ended"
    [...]
    "The report, noted the blog Legal Insurrection, said that at least one "government informant" met several times with Trump campaign volunteers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos.
    The Times also said the FBI was worried that disclosure of its surveillance of the Trump campaign would "only reinforce his claims that the election was being rigged against him."

    Read more at http://www.wnd.com/
    2018/05/n-y-times-confirms-obama
    -spied-on-trump/#RbcyES1Qds1vlXT4.99

    I'm sure they must have, since they're honest, right?

  • Mezzanine||

    If by spying on the Trump Campaign you mean a legally initiated investigation into several members of his campaign. An investigation that has led to 4 members of his campaign being indicted for various Federal crimes and 3 of them pleading guilty to various Federal crimes. Along with guilty pleas for 2 people who weren't directly working for his campaign but were involved with the people who were.

  • MarkLastname||

    "Various federal crimes?" You mean 'lying to the FBI,' meaning, crimes only committed as a result of the investigation. Hardly proof of the investigation's merit inthe first place.

  • damikesc||

    You mean the same legally initiated investigation that seems to be on the verge of getting several of the investigators with criminal charges over it?

  • Mudhen||

    Remember when Democrats thought domestic spying was wrong? Turns out they only meant it was wrong when they were the ones being spied upon.

  • No Longer Amused||

    An honest assessment of Obama's foreign policy would clearly stating that said foreign policy consisted almost entirely of 1) "What can I do to hurt the USA the most in this situation?" and 2) "How can I benefit Muslims the most in this situation?"

  • Árboles de la Barranca||

    "really good at killing people" braggart Obama killed more black Africans than all other American presidents combined.

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    Our culture has generally relied on historians to provide a more-or-less objective review of individuals and events (though history is littered with the exact opposite). I won't be around to see if I'm right or not, but I hereby predict that there will NEVER be an honest evaluation of the Obama presidency on either domestic or foreign policy. What historian will ever dare dissecting "Cash for Clunkers", the "green energy" bailouts that gave us Solyndra et al., or the racial divisiveness he provoked from the very beginning of his administration. Nor will we ever get an analysis of the invasion of Pakistan to kill bin Laden, Obama's use of drones or the still-unexplained series of "decisions" that led to the assassination of the entirety of Seal Team Six. The pass that the MSM gave him on these and myriad other failings and no historian who wants to keep a job will ever pierce those veils.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online