President Obama’s arm’s length relationship with reality is increasingly problematic. In the Middle East and Europe his rhetoric is so divorced from real world events you wonder how he and his staff ignore so much news.
In the Middle East, the president, as we’ve seen, inveighs against the Jewish state while praising Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. But wait, a news report tells us:
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared that Palestinians “oppose…even holding a discussion” on recognizing Israel as a Jewish state in a speech Tuesday to the Arab League in Kuwait. The remarks, translated by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, suggest that Secretary of State John Kerry’s year-long diplomatic offensive may reach an impasse in the coming weeks as he seeks Israeli and Palestinian approval of a framework agreement for future peace talks. Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state has been a longstanding Israeli requirement for a peace deal and has emerged in recent months as the major obstacle to Kerry’s peacemaking effort.
The president might have a tough time convincing others that when the talks fail it will have been because of settlement building (which Israel previously froze at his request, to no avail). I guess the president will simply slough this off until the next finger-wagging session with the Israeli prime minister.
In Europe the president’s rhetoric has gotten tougher, to be sure. Yesterday, he declared: “So I come here today to insist that we must never take for granted the progress that has been won here in Europe and advanced around the world, because the contest of ideas continues for your generation. And that’s what’s at stake in Ukraine today. Russia’s leadership is challenging truths that only a few weeks ago seemed self-evident — that in the 21st century, the borders of Europe cannot be redrawn with force, that international law matters, that people and nations can make their own decisions about their future.” Better than what we’ve heard before, right?
But it’s less than one would hope at this stage in the Russian invasion. The president quickly backtracked: “Of course, Ukraine is not a member of NATO — in part because of its close and complex history with Russia. Nor will Russia be dislodged from Crimea or deterred from further escalation by military force.” In other words, Russia gets allowances when it comes to former Soviet states and gets to keep Crimea because defending our allies would risk more Russian aggression.
Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams — citing Obama’s comments that “[n]ow is not the time for bluster. The situation in Ukraine, like crises in many parts of the world, does not have easy answers nor a military solution” — wonders why the president would say such things. “Logically, the measures NATO is taking, with Obama’s support, to reinforce Poland and the Baltic nations are precisely that: military force (however slight) is being used to deter further Russian aggression. If Russia invades eastern Ukraine, what are we left with but a military solution: the Ukrainians will fight, and we should supply them. Mr. Obama’s stretch to reassure Putin that we have no military steps in mind undermines his whole pitch. It was superfluous and damaging.”
And sure enough, Russia is unmoved. Today we find out, “Local social media sites have shown numerous amateur videos purported to show Russian tanks and other heavy armored vehicles on the move in the past few days. They are seen either driving along roads or being transported on trains. In one case, vehicles are shown being off-loaded from flatbed freight trains. The vehicles include mobile communication units. The locations include Vornezh, a Russian city northeast of the major Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, and Novozybkiv, a Russian city directly north of Kiev, 50 miles from the Russia-Ukraine border.” So displaying military force would escalate matters, but saying we won’t escalate leaves the Russians to escalate. You see the rhetoric-reality divide.
Even more bizarrely, the president still tries to downplay the Russian threat: “Understand, as well, this is not another Cold War that we’re entering into. After all, unlike the Soviet Union, Russia leads no bloc of nations, no global ideology. The United States and NATO do not seek any conflict with Russia.” Hmm. Is a global ideology necessary or is Russian kleptomania and irrational fear of the West pretty much what’s been motivating that country for centuries? More troubling: Does the president think in the Cold War we sought conflict? The president, try as he might, can’t conceal his fetish for moral equivalency. (And Syria, Russia and Iran are a bloc, by the way.) The president is right in one sense: This is different than the Cold War. Then, both parties adequately funded the military. Then presidents of both parties stood shoulder to shoulder with dissidents and avoided kissing up to despots, knowing that would be interpreted as a sign of weakness. Then, a U.S. president wouldn’t draw lines unless he meant to enforce them. Yeah, it’s not the Cold War, for sure.
The president’s rhetoric is inconsistent with events and with itself. This is not surprising. Most of what the president has believed since his days in support of the nuclear freeze has been proven wrong. Trying to hold his worldview together, deny blame for policy failures, prevent a real catastrophe and present a nonchalant demeanor is quite a strain, you can imagine. But the presidency is not a therapy session and the president should work out his inner turmoil out of sight. In public, it’s time to be unequivocal and align actions with rhetoric, and most of all with reality.