September 30, 2015

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More embarrassment for our foreign policy occurred this weekend at the UN. Bret Stephens writes on the “unteachable president.”

… 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.

From Aleppo to Donetsk to Kunduz, people are living with the consequences of that evasion.




NY Post OpEd says we have “turned Putin into the world’s most powerful leader.”

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.

“Similar to the anti-Hitler coalition, it could unite a broad range of forces” to fight “those who, just like the Nazis, sow evil and hatred of humankind,” he said.

And who’d lead this new coalition? Hint: Moscow has always celebrated the Allies’ World War II victory as a Russian-led fete.

Oh, and if anyone wondered which Syrian players the coalition would rely on as allies, Putin made it clear: “No one but President [Bashar al-]Assad’s armed forces and Kurd militia are fighting the Islamic State.”

That, of course, isn’t Obama’s view. …

… That’s how Putin seized leadership from America.

And that, to borrow from Obama’s speech, is bad for Syria, where the war will continue as long as Assad remains in power. It’s bad for Europe and Syria’s neighbors, which have no idea what to do with that war’s refugees.

And it’s bad for America. Because sooner or later, after more bloodshed and under even worse conditions than now, our next president will be called upon to retake the leadership baton from Putin. And that could prove tricky.





That was the views from the WSJ and the NY Post. How about a man writing for Foreign Policy who worked in Dem administrations?

… Indeed, according to recent reports like this one in the Washington Post, Obama, for his part, is still reportedly trying to figure out what the heck his next halfway measure should be in Syria — should he dial up more tweets from the NSC or perhaps give another speech about how bad the options are in that country? Certainly, his U.N. address on Monday did not offer any clear answers — about anything. (For those of you who missed it, here is a summary of Obama’s U.N. remarks: “Good morning. Cupcakes. Unicorns. Rainbows. Putin is mean. Thank you very much.”) 

Perhaps I am being unfair. Despite the fact that our efforts against IS are clearly not working, cooked intelligence notwithstanding, and that the extremist group is actually gaining strength in important ways (see this weekend’s New York Times story), it may be that this is all part of a grand plan on the part of the U.S. president. He wanted out of the region. He did not want to put U.S. boots on the ground. He wanted someone or a group from the region to pick up the slack. 

And that’s exactly what he’s getting. … 

… When my guests at Foreign Policy’s most recent Editor’s Roundtable podcast discussed which world leader had done the best job of advancing his or her country’s international influence during the Obama years, it was a near dead heat between Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Putin for the top spot. The No. 3 position went to the head of a quasi-state, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In other words, the big winners were U.S. adversaries who took advantage of the lack of resolve, vision, and unity among the leaders of the West to enhance their own standing and that of the state or aspirant state they represented. 

But this was not a partisan podcast hit job. Two members of the panel (myself and Rosa Brooks) served in Democratic administrations. Instead our conversation, for what it’s worth, was more a recognition of what is perhaps the moral of the more troubling elements of the Obama foreign–policy tale to date: In geopolitics, as in physics, nature abhors a vacuum.





Anne Applebaum makes the point that the Russian people suffer because of the victories our weak president has handed to him.

… In fact, Putin does not have the military muscle to project genuine influence into the Middle East. He won’t be able to build up his forces stealthily, as he did in Ukraine. Nor does he get anything of material or strategic importance out of his alliance with the embattled Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad. But he will attain the appearance of influence, and that’s all that matters. It could certainly be useful abroad: Together with his appearance at the U.N. for the first time in a decade and his long interview with Charlie Rose, it might — indeed, almost certainly will — help draw U.S. and European attention away from the humanitarian disaster he has created in eastern Ukraine, and help lift the sanctions that are dragging down the Russian economy and hitting the wallets of some of his closest friends.

But the appearance of influence is even more useful at home. You and I might assume that the prospect of a Russian street revolution is far-fetched, but Putin, having watched what happened in East Germany in 1989 from his KGB office in Dresden, and having then watched what happened to Moammar Gadaffi in 2011, clearly worries about it quite often. To stave off this fate, his state-controlled television rumbles on constantly about the fecklessness of Europe and the corruption of America — just in case any Russians are tempted by the lure of democracy — as well as the total chaos that his policies have helped foment in Syria. The arrival of Russian troops, some in transit directly from the Ukrainian border, is designed to reinforce this message: Putin is ready to help another dictator reestablish dictatorship, reassert control and imprison all of his enemies, in Syria and, if needed, in Russia too. …

… Of course, the Syrian people aren’t really the point here — and the Russian people aren’t either. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has been bad for his countrymen and bad for his country — for its economy, its image, its influence — and a tragedy for Ukraine. Expect the same kind of outcome from his incursion into Syria too.




Another intellectual lightweight is providing cover for presidential weakness, vacillation and fecklessness. Richard Epstein writes on the “cardinal sins of Francis.”

During his whirlwind tour of the United States, Pope Francis used his speeches to the U.S.Congress and the United Nations to articulate his views on the family, human life, violence, the environment, social justice, and many other issues. No one doubts the sincerity of the Pope’s pursuit of goodness. And surely no one disagrees with his condemnation of aggression and hatred against the young, the vulnerable, and the poor. But too often, his political naiveté got the better of him. As a result, many of his controversial pronouncements, if rigorously implemented at the policy level, would pose a threat to overall human welfare. Specifically, his ideas about violence, the environment, and markets deserve a critical look.

The Pope responded tepidly to the epidemic of violence rocking the world today. These are not good times. The massive slaughter of Muslims, Christians, and others in Syria and across the Middle East has spawned a refugee problem of unparalleled proportions, along with the systematic destruction of cultural artifacts and religious shrines in Palmyra and elsewhere. It is all well and good for the Pope to demand that the more fortunate aid refugees in their time of need. But the reality is that the refugee crisis will never be solved unless resolute action is taken to fix the problem at its source, which could mean developing a coherent military program to meet force with force.

Here, though, the Pope goes wobbly by saying that the use of force against the Islamic State might be justified if done on a multilateral basis—a sure recipe for impasse and drift, even as thousands more are killed or sent packing until some collective response is found. …