September 9, 2015

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Following on the theme of the last Pickings, Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor of WaPo, writes on the president’s Syrian legacy.

This may be the most surprising of President Obama’s foreign-policy legacies: not just that he presided over a humanitarian and cultural disaster of epochal proportions, but that he soothed the American people into feeling no responsibility for the tragedy.

Starvation in Biafra a generation ago sparked a movement. Synagogues and churches a decade ago mobilized to relieve misery in Darfur. When the Taliban in 2001 destroyed ancient statues of Buddha at Bamiyan, the world was appalled at the lost heritage.

Today the Islamic State is blowing up precious cultural monuments in Palmyra, and half of all Syrians have been displaced — as if, on a proportional basis, 160 million Americans had been made homeless. More than a quarter-million have been killed. Yet the “Save Darfur” signs have not given way to “Save Syria.”

One reason is that Obama — who ran for president on the promise of restoring the United States’ moral stature — has constantly reassured Americans that doing nothing is the smart and moral policy. He has argued, at times, that there was nothing the United States could do, belittling the Syrian opposition as “former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth.” …



Jennifer Rubin carries the thought along. 

There is nothing like the spectacle of thousands of refugees pouring into Europe to awaken American politicians and media to the Syrian civil war that has killed more than 200,000 and created millions of refugees, who flooded into Syria’s neighbors before they came to Europe.

As many have pointed out, President Obama bears primary responsibility for refusing to match deeds with his declaration that Bashar al-Assad “must go.” Had Obama acted more than four years ago as critics and his own national security team urged, in all likelihood thousands would still be alive, millions of refugees would not have fled Syria, jihadists would not have found a base of operations (from whence they swarmed into Iraq, resulting in more deaths and refugees) and Russian troops would not know be established in Syria, a sign of how much influence disagreeable powers have and how little we do.

Now, it’s not often that a president gets a second bite at the apple — the perfect opportunity to self-correct a horrible decision. Obama, however, got his when Assad used chemical weapons on multiple occasions. The president could have built a multi-national force, bombed Assad’s military assets and tipped the balance of power away from the Syrian leader. But Obama in 2013 managed to flub that as well, and in the meantime convinced the Iranians and the Russians he was feckless. (One wonders if Vladimir Putin would have invaded Ukraine had Obama exercised muscle in Syria rather than looking for Russian help to bail him out of a conflict he never had any intention of taking on.) …




Matthew Continetti writes more on foreign policy.

… the result of Obama’s foreign policy is to empower America’s adversaries. This has been, in its conduct and consequences, an anti-American White House.

I am not saying that the president or the Democratic Party is anti-American in ideology or rhetoric or intent. What I am saying is that the net effect of President Obama’s actions has been to legitimize, strengthen, and embolden nations whose anti-Americanism is public and vicious and all too serious.

Iran is an obvious example. The anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism of the regime is inescapable. Not even Obama, who has gone out of his way to defend the Iranians as rational actors, can ignore it. How has Iran’s “power position” been affected by this White House? In 2009, when the regime faced its most serious challenge in years, the president was silent. In 2011 and 2013, when urged to act against the regime’s closest ally in Syria, the president did nothing.

Why? To speak out in favor of protesting students, to support the Syrian rebels, to punish Bashar al-Assad for violating red lines the president himself had drawn—these acts would have jeopardized the nuclear negotiations with Iran.

The outcome of those negotiations was a deal in which the Iranians agree to suspend some elements of their nuclear research for about a decade in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief. So a fundamentalist theocracy whose leaders chant “Death to America” and whose self-identity is based on a revolutionary challenge to the United States and Israel has been endorsed as a quasi-member of the “international community,” and will receive an infusion of much needed cash. …

… Experience has taught Obama nothing. The next administration won’t be “building” on his foundation. It will be attempting to reclaim the ground that this anti-American White House has lost.




Rick Richman says Kerry tops Neville Chamberlin.

In his speech yesterday on the Iran deal, Secretary of State Kerry mentioned “Israel” or “Israeli” 26 times – protesting a bit too much about his concern for the ally put at existential risk by the Obama administration’s cascade of concessions. Even eerier was the similarity of Kerry’s words to those of Neville Chamberlain in the British parliamentary debate on the Munich agreement in 1938. … 

… Chamberlain proceeded with a 369-150 vote in Parliament, while the Iran deal will proceed against bipartisan opposition in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, both the Senate and the House as a whole, and the majority of the American people, as expressed in multiple polls. President Obama will use a partisan minority to make an end run around the Constitutional requirement for treaties – a provision the Founders intended to insure that any significant multi-year foreign commitment would not proceed without a national consensus reflected in a two-thirds Senate vote – as his secretary of state employs rhetoric, in prepared remarks, that would have embarrassed Neville Chamberlain. …



Noah Rothman posts on Hurricane Katrina’s most enduring legacy.

For a city as infatuated with its old-world charm as New Orleans, institutional change arrives slowly – if ever. Often, it takes a catalyst, sometimes a horrible one, to create the impetus for shifts and adaptations that appear in retrospect utterly transformative. The disastrous physical and psychological impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans had this catalyzing effect. For all the shocks and displacements that arose from that tragedy, its destabilizing effects also resulted in sweeping progress. The reforms to the city’s education system, which has risen like the phoenix out of the disaster, is the miracle that the left dares not acknowledge. For the nation’s entrenched public education unions, its implications are too terrible to contemplate.

The city of New Orleans did not embark on the most radical education reform experiment in generations out of a sense of altruism or adventure. In the wake of the devastation that followed the flooding of nearly 80 percent of the city, education reform was a project of necessity. After the floods, much of New Orleans’ educational infrastructure had been damaged beyond repair. The city’s tax base had fled. The Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) was reluctantly compelled to ask some 7,000 teachers and staff – many of them displaced themselves — to find new work. In November of 2005, with flood waters still lingering in disadvantaged parts of the city, the OPSB acquiesced to the surrender of four-fifths of the entire New Orleans public school system to the all-charter Recovery School District (RSD). …