It is a measure of President Obama’s weakness and credulity that we keep waiting for him to have his Jimmy Carter moment. Carter may have begun his presidency chastising our “inordinate fear of Communism,” but when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, he reacted with appropriate outrage and swift action. Consider his speech on Jan. 4, 1980, to the nation (notice that he gave a speech, an indication of his awareness that Americans need to understand the gravity of the aggression):
The United States wants all nations in the region to be free and to be independent. If the Soviets are encouraged in this invasion by eventual success, and if they maintain their dominance over Afghanistan and then extend their control to adjacent countries, the stable, strategic and peaceful balance of the entire world will be changed. This would threaten the security of all nations including, of course, the United States, our allies, and our friends.
Therefore, the world simply cannot stand by and permit the Soviet Union to commit this act with impunity. Fifty nations have petitioned the United Nations Security Council to condemn the Soviet Union and to demand the immediate withdrawal of all Soviet troops from Afghanistan. We realize that under the United Nations Charter the Soviet Union and other permanent members may veto action of the Security Council. If the will of the Security Council should be thwarted in this manner, then immediate action would be appropriate in the General Assembly of the United Nations, where no Soviet veto exists.
In the meantime, neither the United States nor any other nation which is committed to world peace and stability can continue to do business as usual with the Soviet Union.
I have already recalled the United States Ambassador from Moscow back to Washington. He’s working with me and with my other senior advisers in an immediate and comprehensive evaluation of the whole range of our relations with the Soviet Union. . . .
I have asked the United States Senate to defer further consideration of the SALT II treaty so that the Congress and I can assess Soviet actions and intentions and devote our primary attention to the legislative and other measures required to respond to this crisis. . . . We will delay opening of any new American or Soviet consular facilities, and most of the cultural and economic exchanges currently under consideration will be deferred. Trade with the Soviet Union will be severely restricted.
I have decided to halt or to reduce exports to the Soviet Union in three areas that are particularly important to them. These new policies are being and will be coordinated with those of our allies.
I’ve directed that no high technology or other strategic items will be licensed for sale to the Soviet Union until further notice, while we revise our licensing policy.
Fishing privileges for the Soviet Union in United States waters will be severely curtailed.
The 17 million tons of grain ordered by the Soviet Union in excess of that amount which we are committed to sell will not be delivered. This grain was not intended for human consumption but was to be used for building up Soviet livestock herds. . . .
Along with other countries, we will provide military equipment, food and other assistance to help Pakistan defend its independence and its national security against the seriously increased threat it now faces from the north. The United States also stands ready to help other nations in the region in similar ways.
Neither our allies nor our potential adversaries should have the slightest doubt about our willingness, our determination and our capacity to take the measures I have outlined tonight. I have consulted with leaders of the Congress, and I am confident they will support legislation that may be required to carry out these measures.
History teaches, perhaps, very few clear lessons. But surely one such lesson learned by the world at great cost is that aggression, unopposed, becomes a contagious disease.
The response of the international community to the Soviet attempt to crush Afghanistan must match the gravity of the Soviet action.
Not bad, even granting that Carter’s actions and rhetoric leading up to that point arguably invited aggression. But when facts overran his worldview, to Carter’s credit, he shifted (albeit too late) his worldview.
All of this stands in stark contrast to Obama, who has given no speech to the nation, ordered no significant sanctions against Russia and denied Ukraine is about Russia. (Maybe now he’d admit at least the last was wrong.) He won’t even heed Republicans’ pleas to expand extraction and export of liquefied natural gas. Unlike Carter, Obama seems unprepared to let an invasion of an independent country disturb his worldview.
The same can be said of his stance toward Iran: Smuggling arms to terrorists, denying the regime will dismantle any part of its illicit nuclear weapons programs, a surge in executions — none of it has shaken Obama’s conviction that he can do business with the Iranians.
Leon Wieseltier writes, “The lack of preparedness [concerning Ukraine] at the White House was not merely a weakness of policy but also a weakness of worldview. The president is too often caught off guard by enmity, and by the nastiness of things. There really is no excuse for being surprised by evil. There is also no excuse for projecting one’s good intentions, one’s commitment to reason, one’s optimism about history, upon other individuals and other societies and other countries: narcissism is the enemy of empiricism, and we must perceive differences and threats empirically, lucidly, not with disbelief but with resolve.” Mocking the term “interdependent world” used by Obama and right-wing isolationists, he cautions:
The legend of the interdependent world is always attended by the legend of the twenty-first century. Obama, the ambassador from the future, long ago decided that the twentieth century was over, and almost recreationally likes to dismiss its relevance to contemporary vexations. We live in a time that prefers the discontinuities of history to its continuities. We cannot get over how unprecedented we are. In this, of course, we resemble the unprecedented generations who came before us and the unprecedented generations who will come after us. This is always a mistake. The past is not dead, it is merely forgotten; and this forgetfulness, this distraction by the shiny and the new, poorly equips us to confront challenges that have been experienced before, and not too long ago. The Russian outrage in Ukraine is a state-of-the-art twentieth-century crisis.
One can be cynical, believing Obama knows all too well what America’s foes are up to but concocts scenarios to avoid projecting American power, which he is loath to do (as are all men of the left). Hence, his aversion to anything that smacks of the Cold War. Alternatively, one can believe Obama and his advisers believe and mean what they say, even after their “Jimmy Carter moment.” The first assumes mendacity, the latter extreme foolishness. Unfortunately, we must acknowledge in this president that the two are not mutually exclusive. It does, however, rightly place Jimmy Carter as the superior of the two in his (belated) foreign policy vision.