With President Obama, always read the fine print and listen for the out. On the Islamic State, he vowed to degrade and destroy it, but with a hitch. “We know that if we are joined by the international community, we can continue to shrink ISIL’s sphere of influence, its effectiveness, its financing, its military capabilities to the point where it is a manageable problem.” But what if the international community does not join? The “cancer,” as Obama dubs it, remains in the center of the Middle East. What if waiting around for political stability is folly? As The Post editorial board points out and as we learned in the Iraq war, political reconciliation is often the result, not a precondition for aligning ourselves with anti-jihadists and destroying malignant forces. One formulation — “to the point where it is a manageable problem” — is especially curious. Is “manageable” sort of like the Iranian nuke deal Obama appears to aim for (i.e. they keep what they have and we lose interest)? And then what happens, after it’s “manageable”? (The idea that the barbaric forces that slaughtered two American journalists and sought to eradicate Christians from Iraq could be “manageable” struck many Republicans as absurd, and they issued a slew of statements blasting what is essentially a plan for containment of terrorists.)
Obama’s habit of talking on and on with no real idea how to deal with a direct threat to the United States (he hasn’t called it that, it should be noted) is akin to a kid’s book report on a book he didn’t read. He seems to be vamping, throwing out catchphrases and lacking any determination to destroy a ruthless foe.
Finding the loophole on Obama’s formulation for Russia and Ukraine is much easier. He announced from Estonia: “Just as we refused to accept smaller European nations being dominated by bigger neighbors in the last century, we reject any talk of spheres of influence today. And just as we never accepted the occupation and illegal annexation of the Baltic nations, we will not accept Russia’s occupation and illegal annexation of Crimea or any part of Ukraine.” Well, we don’t accept its occupation of part of Georgia, but accepting and doing something to stop it or reverse it are two different things for Obama. It’s a bit unseemly to use the Baltics as an example, since they were occupied for decades by the Soviet Union. Who cares if Obama doesn’t “accept” Russia’s new empire? He has no intention of undoing it, nor the will to halt its expansion.
Then there are allies and there are allies. He declared, “First, we will defend our NATO Allies, and that means every Ally. In this Alliance, there are no old members or new members, no junior partners or senior partners — there are just Allies, pure and simple. And we will defend the territorial integrity of every single Ally.” But, of course, Ukraine is not in NATO, so this is of little comfort to Ukraine, which gave up its nukes at the end of the Cold War in exchange for our promise of defense. That promise went by the wayside a long time ago. But never fear: “We must continue to stand united against Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Keep in mind that, repeatedly, President Putin has ignored the opportunity to resolve the crisis in Ukraine diplomatically.” In other words, what we have done has been totally ineffective. He asserted, “The United States, the European Union, our partners around the world have all said we prefer a diplomatic solution. But in light of Russia’s unwillingness to seize that opportunity, we have come together to impose major sanctions on Russia for its actions. And make no mistake, Russia is paying a price. . . . In short, Russia’s actions in Ukraine are weakening Russia. Russia’s actions are hurting the Russian people.” Unfortunately, that price doesn’t get Ukraine its unified country back.
For months and months, Obama issued empty threats and meaningless condemnations. Action was absent or half-hearted. Putin took his opening and ran with it. This, you will notice, is the anti-interventionist trap. Refusing to get involved early on when deterrence is possible gives your opponent its objective by default. It becomes a fait accompli. “What, you want to go to war for Ukraine!?” the White House would demand to know. Actually, what critics wanted was compelling action when it mattered and provision of critical military assistance for Ukraine.
Having seen the Obama misdirection (Ha — you thought we were going to do something?!) in two hot spots, one can appreciate the Iran problem more clearly. It is “unacceptable” for Iran to get a bomb. Hmm, just like we won’t accept Russia in Ukraine. We have Israel’s “back,” but then we are also “standing united with Ukraine.” A lot of good it does them.
Forget what Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry say (“A bad deal is better than no deal”). Recall what the Obama crew has done: extended the interim deal and given up another $2.8 billion in sanctions relief; put a sunset clause in the interim deal envisioning a time when Iran would have no restrictions; conceded Iran’s continued enrichment (the so-called right of enrichment) will be mutually agreed upon; and worst of all threatened to veto sanctions that would have contained consequences for Iran if it failed to reach a deal at the end of the initial six months (which is precisely what occurred.) Hmm. This sure looks like a lot of rhetoric cloaking a move to not contest (but we don’t accept!) a threshold nuclear state. That’s what “containment” is, even though Obama said containment was not our policy. (It is, however, the inevitable result.)
Obama talks himself in circles to get out of bad news cycles. But when it comes to reading the international tea leaves and taking timely, meaningful action, he is out of his depth. He is unwilling to project U.S. power, and bad actors around the globe know it. Hence, we see the world more chaotic, violent and unstable than when he took office.