President Obama stressed patience Wednesday with his administration’s foreign policy, saying that it’s alive and well but will take some time to unfold.
“We live in a complex world and at a challenging time,” Mr. Obama said during a late afternoon press conference in the White House press briefing room. “None of these challenges lend themselves to quick or easy solutions, but all of them require American leadership. And as commander in chief, I’m confident that, if we stay patient and determined, that we will, in fact, meet these challenges.”
Obama has said repeatedly that a world in turmoil demands American leadership, but this burst of new challenges is showing the limits of that leadership.
Fresh American economic sanctions on Russia couldn’t stop the missile attack on the Malaysian Airlines plane, which U.S. officials believe was carried out by pro-Kremlin separatists aided by Moscow. Obama was also unable to persuade the European Union to join him in penalties aimed at Russia’s most powerful economic sectors, settling instead for more tepid EU actions that strained efforts to portray a united Western front against Vladimir Putin’s government.
In the Middle East, Israel began its assault in Gaza despite objections by the U.S. and the prospect of mounting civilian casualties.
The urgent international issues add to the pile of foreign policy challenges already causing headaches for the White House: Syria’s persistent civil war, the rise of Sunni extremists in Iraq, China’s increased aggression in territorial disputes in Asia.
Could things get any worse? Well, maybe if the president’s chief spokesman claimed that Obama was bringing “tranquility” to the globe — which is what White House press secretary Josh Earnest did at his daily briefing Monday afternoon.
Fox News’s Ed Henry, citing the Journal report, asked for a reaction to “the notion that the president is a bystander in all these crises.”
Earnest, mentioning the disposal of Syria’s chemical weapons, Secretary of State John Kerry’s mediation of Afghanistan’s electoral dispute and progress in recent negotiations with China, argued that “there have been a number of situations in which you’ve seen this administration intervene in a meaningful way that has . . . substantially improved the — you know, the tranquility of the — of the global community.”
Tranquility? Where, in Iceland?
Why has so much of the global order come apart so fast?
For the same reason that, as a friend reports, on the streets of San Salvador those who will smuggle your child to the Rio Grande have been securing an unprecedented volume of sign-ups. When asked about the chances of the child staying in America once the border is crossed, they tell parents: ‘It has never been easier.’
The current White House doesn’t understand how US fecklessness in Syria can reverberate to Ukraine, and from there to the South China Sea, and the Americas, and Gaza and elsewhere in the Middle East…
It is not just American interests that a flailing White House threatens. It is that of peoples everywhere.
The United States has a position of sorts in each of these arenas, but it’s not powerful in any of them. American influence has faded.
The world’s governments no longer worry as much as they once did about what Washington wants, partly because Washington doesn’t know what it wants. U.S. policy has become erratic and half-hearted, subject to arbitrary change without notice.
Barack Obama, who apparently distrusts American power, personifies this approach. He moves capriciously from subject to subject. One week he’s furious about Syria and announces that Bashar al-Assad has to go. When Assad doesn’t go, Obama loses interest. He seems always to be making a fresh start. When he’s not doing that, he’s “pivoting,” shifting his interest from one continent to another. He seems detached much of the time, then committed, then detached again.
His policies have been alternatively passive (Libya, Egypt), incoherent (Russian reset) and feckless (Syria). But the fact that the current U.S. economic recovery is the slowest in post-WWII history — spanning 70 years — is surely a key factor in Vladimir Putin’s adventurism.
This brings us back to Reagan’s link. Putin may recognize that Russia’s economy is a thin deck of cards. But he surely doesn’t fear the weak American economic position. Ditto for the broken economic dictatorships in North Korea, Iran and Venezuela, and the rising economic dictatorship in China. They don’t fear us.
In fact, America’s economic weakness is so worrisome, one suspects our friends are losing respect for us, too. Whether in Europe, Asia, Latin America or Israel, our allies know that America has been the backstop for freedom. If not us, who?
But can they say that now?
From his perch in the amazingly Obama-centric world in which our President lives, look again at what the rest of us think of as serious problems.
Have any of the 1,000-plus Hamas rockets been aimed at Obama? No. That is why Obama is tranquil.
Have any of the thousands who are crossing the border tried to move into the White House? No. That is why Obama is tranquil.
Is ISIS an immediate threat to the United States that is likely to blow up the next golf course the President is playing at? No. That is why Obama is tranquil.
If you can reduce your presidency to a Starbucks visit, a man with a horse-head mask, shooting pool and visiting Joe Biden’s burger joint for lunch, you can have a successful presidency as you have defined it, even if the world is disintegrating.
If the world were a classroom, America is the star quarterback who’s also the 4.0 class president. He’s not the back-row stoner riding an endless case of senioritis. He’s the kid who gets others involved, by going first. Always going first.
If you want to prevent a fight, you show up with your mates. Strength in numbers, as the saying goes. We’re the only country who can get everyone together, and put on the same jackets, and show up in that alley, ready to do what’s necessary. Which is whatever it takes to guarantee respect for the dead and justice for their families.
But if we don’t get up early, make the calls, and show up, no one else will. And what you’re left with is a field of death, whose stench might never reach your nostrils. Until it does.
The world can go away and sort out its own problems while America cuts back on defence spending, removes missile shields from Eastern Europe (in spite of the rise of imperial Russia), and “pivots” toward Asia largely for trade purposes. Not that that direction is unproblematic either: China is becoming increasingly aggressive toward Japan. Indeed, this is the geopolitical picture as we see it now: with the wilful decline of the West’s influence, the new superpowers – Russia and China – will fill the vacuum. China will become an economic and military force that could subjugate much of Asia, with inevitable consequences for the financial security of the West. Russia will lay claim to as much of the old Soviet territory as it dares, and will deal with Islamist terrorism (because it has its own concerns about Chechnya and the Muslim minorities within its sphere of influence) in its characteristic way – and it won’t be pretty.
At his White House press conference on Friday, Mr Obama had it both ways: he made it repeatedly clear that the US regarded Russia as implicated in this “criminal outrage”. But his demands were all for a “credible international investigation”. Over and over again he insisted that we “don’t know what exactly happened yet”. When asked if this event had changed his calculus on Russia’s actions in Ukraine, he said it again: it was too soon to decide. We would have to wait for the results of the investigation. (“All of us need to take a step back and see what’s happened.”) The US would continue to support Ukraine’s integrity and independence. But we mustn’t get ahead of the facts: “We’ve got to get to the bottom of this thing.”
All right, so when we have the facts, and we’ve got to the bottom of this thing, what then?
Via the Corner.