Obama Speaks Loudly and Carries a Small Stick
Liberals contend that President Obama's only credible approach to foreign policy is to avoid leading the nation into war. They point to polls showing most Americans are more worried about their country's possible involvement in a conflict than they are about its image in the world. (It is interesting to note that Democrats cite polls only when they serve their purposes.)
Obama ascended to office largely on his ability to inspire through oratory. Yet his tenure thus far has been distinguished neither by inspiration nor perspiration. Aside from ramming through the unpopular Affordable Care Act, President Obama consistently demonstrates an unproductive pattern of allowing his words to speak louder than his actions. To that end, he has perfected a tone of righteous indignation that rings hollow. His rhetoric sounds noble, but no heads roll. And few heads even turn. Threats of punitive action are beginning to sound like a harried parent’s warning: "If you do that once more, you're going to bed without supper."
Even reliable Democrats are beginning to think this may signal weakness. Strobe Talbott, a Russian expert, Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State under Bill Clinton, and now President of the Brookings Institution, said in a recent address at Occidental College, "We need a president to spell out for us a vision for dealing with Putinism for as long as it lasts. [Obama] hasn't done that yet. That's in part because…the American people are weary of the burden of leadership abroad…. But that doesn't relieve him of his own burden of leadership. "
The question is whether any definitive policy statement from this president would even be taken seriously. Angels no longer listen when Obama speaks. And certainly devils do not. His threats have become predictable clichés, like the boy who cried wolf. Along with the art of saying one thing and doing nothing, the Chief Executive has become adept at kicking inconvenient cans down the yellow brick road, including the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline and the implementation of various provisions in the Affordable Care Act. If he puts the right spin on the can, presumably it could sail into someone else's presidency. But even a nudge from a sharp political toe might put it beyond the two upcoming elections.
Putin, on whom President Obama depended to get him out of his Syrian dilemma, knows his adversary's desperation, which gives him the upper hand. The hostile body language between the two world leaders speaks volumes more than any words, however eloquent. Obama looks at the situation in Ukraine and hopes what he always hopes: that it will either go away -- for good or at least for a while -- without the need for any US military entanglement. At least he has refrained from drawing any red lines in this Red conflict. Perhaps he worries that the final nail in the Democrat's campaign coffin would be a military engagement in that part of the world -- or anywhere else, for that matter.
Recently I attended a lecture in which someone in the audience asked the speaker if Putin would be worried about the Obama administration launching drones against Russia. The speaker shrugged and laughed. I suspect Putin's response would be the same -- though maybe taken a notch more seriously than the news that Joe Biden is going to Ukraine to assess the situation.
illustration by Otto Veblin