When it comes to the Middle East and the fight against ISIS Vladimir Putin has a plan. He has a strategy for dealing with the problem, and, by the way, for making the Middle East a zone of Russian influence.
Barack Obama does not have a plan. He has never had a plan, beyond disengagement… running home like a coward with his tail between his legs.
According to Benny Avni and Bret Stephens, Obama is offering lots of words. Eloquent words, soaring rhetoric, big ideas… with nothing to back them up.
Perhaps it’s his ideology. Perhaps it’s gross incompetence. Perhaps it’s both. Our president is giving new meaning to concept of the empty suit.
Stephens explains Obama’s grasp of foreign policy. It’s not a pretty picture.
To being with, there’s Obama assessment of the world:
Recall that it wasn’t long ago that Mr. Obama took a sunnier view of world affairs. The tide of war was receding. Al Qaeda was on a path to defeat. ISIS was “a jayvee team” in “Lakers uniforms.” Iraq was an Obama administration success story. Bashar Assad’s days were numbered. The Arab Spring was a rejoinder to, rather than an opportunity for, Islamist violence. The intervention in Libya was vindication for the “lead from behind” approach to intervention. The reset with Russia was a success, a position he maintained as late as September 2013. In Latin America, the “trend lines are good.”
“Overall,” as he told Tom Friedman in August 2014—shortly after ISIS had seized control of Mosul and as Vladimir Putin was muscling his way into eastern Ukraine—“I think there’s still cause for optimism.”
Out of touch with reality, unwilling to accept the facts when they hit him in the face, this same president believes that he can predict to a certainty the state of the climate a century from how. As for today’s reality, he has no idea of what is going on in the Middle East. You would think that he was getting skewed intelligence. Otherwise, you would have to think that he simply does not know enough or is not smart enough to understand it.
What does Obama think he is doing? He thinks that he is occupying the moral high ground, being aloof and above-it-all.
It seemed to have worked in the Cold War, which was won without our having fired a shot—except, of course, in Korea and Vietnam, etc.
Stephens explains that the Cold War ended as it did because leaders had a sense of shame. I am always happy to see one of my favorite concepts used correctly, so I emphasize it.
The president also has an overarching moral theory about American power, expressed in his 2009 contention in Prague that “moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon.”
At the time, Mr. Obama was speaking about the end of the Cold War—which, he claimed, came about as a result of “peaceful protest”—and of his desire to see a world without nuclear weapons. It didn’t seem to occur to him that the possession of such weapons by the U.S. also had a hand in winning the Cold War. Nor did he seem to contemplate the idea that moral leadership can never safely be a substitute for weapons unless those leaders are willing to throw themselves at the mercy of their enemies’ capacity for shame.
In late-era South Africa and the Soviet Union, where men like F.W. de Klerk and Mikhail Gorbachev had a sense of shame, the Obama theory had a chance to work. In Iran in 2009, or in Syria today, it doesn’t.
And then there is Obama’s Hegelianism, another concept that I have had occasion to discuss, on the blog and in my latest book.
Stephens explains it here:
Finally, Mr. Obama believes history is going his way. “What? Me worry?” says the immortal Alfred E. Neuman, and that seems to be the president’s attitude toward Mr. Putin’s interventions in Syria (“doomed to fail”) and Ukraine (“not so smart”), to say nothing of his sang-froid when it comes to the rest of his foreign-policy debacles.
In this cheapened Hegelian world view, the U.S. can relax because History is on our side, and the arc of history bends toward justice. Why waste your energies to fulfill a destiny that is already inevitable? And why get in the way of your adversary’s certain doom?
It’s easy to accept this view of life if you owe your accelerated good fortune to a superficial charm and understanding of the way the world works. It’s also easier to lecture than to learn, to preach than to act. History will remember Barack Obama as the president who conducted foreign policy less as a principled exercise in the application of American power than as an extended attempt to justify the evasion of it.
Of course, we saw it all at the United Nations yesterday. Barack Obama abrogating American leadership and Vladimir Putin picking up the torch.
In Avni’s words:
The baton was officially transferred Monday to the world’s new sole superpower — and Vladimir Putin willingly picked it up.
President Obama (remember him?) embraced the ideals espoused by the United Nations’ founders 70 years ago: Diplomacy and “international order” will win over time, while might and force will lose.
Putin, too, appealed to UN laws (as he sees them), but he also used his speech to announce the formation of a “broad international coalition” to fight ISIS in Syria and Iraq.