Finally, a red line that’s red.
In cancelling his summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Obama finally put his money where his mouth is. After hinting and hinting and hinting that Russia’s refusal to extradite Edward Snowden might cause a serious break in U.S.-Russian relations, Obama acted. The summit is off.
In truth, I would have bet otherwise. Obama is given to red lines that somehow fade to a weak pink as the deadline approaches. He articulated a red line if and when Syria used chemical weapons against the insurgents. That red line came and went without the Obama administration doing anything more than offering the rebels some small arms of the type they already have plenty. Meanwhile, the killing continues — well over 100,000 dead and a refugee calamity that threatens to sink neighboring Jordan.
A good deal of the time Obama’s foreign policy seems to consist of no policy at all. This is the case with Syria, and it seemed to be somewhat the case with Putin’s Russia. The Russian leader has sucked the air out of what was Russian democracy, restoring the authoritarian swagger of the czars and later the commissars. It is now downright dangerous to oppose Putin — or, as seems to be the case, not to take the regime as a partner in a successful business venture. To all of this, the Obama administration has offered the most muted of protests.
Snowden, however, seems to have gotten under Obama’s skin. The president has long been hard on leakers — his administration will prosecute on the proverbial dime — and while there is no doubt that Snowden has committed a crime (his virtual admission) he also has committed a public service. The current debate over the extent of the government’s eavesdropping program was triggered by none other than Snowden. Before he blew his whistle, most Americans were comfortably ignorant about the various snooping programs.
Snowden, I sense, not only ran afoul of the law, but also of Obama’s penchant for control. This is president who plays everything close to the vest and whose foreign policy has been run out of the White House, not the State Department. The administration has seemed both opposed and in favor of the coup in Egypt, unable to figure out what American interests are. When Secretary of State John F. Kerry recently said that the Egyptian military coup had restored democracy to that country — a triumph of Orwellian rhetoric — he was exhibiting the vertigo of a man in search of a policy. He will, I aver, never find it.
But with Putin, the president has stood firm. He has radiated clarity. The president was dissed. This was personal. The summit is off.