In the wake of the murderous assault on Charlie Hebdo and other attacks in Paris, President Obama was been robustly criticized for his failure to attend the rally of solidarity in Paris, or even to send a high level representative. We believe that the criticism was justified. Indeed, even the White House Press Secretary, Josh Earnest, acknowledged that a mistake had been made, a remarkable admission for a White House from which mea culpas do not escape easily. Earnest, however, did not offer any credible explanation of how or why the mistake had been made. It may be plausible to claim that adequate security for the President could not be provided on short notice, but presumably the security needs of Vice President Biden could have been satisfied by the arrangements put in place for forty world leaders. And one of the more curious footnotes was the unexplained failure to attend even by Attorney General Holder who was already in Paris. […]
As readers of RINOcracy.com are doubtless aware, much has been written about President Obama’s approach to foreign policy and what appears to many, both here and abroad, to have been a projection of weakness. President Obama’s approach to foreign policy—reliance on allies with minimal direct intervention by the United States—is just that, an approach. In the abstract, there is something to be said for Obama’s approach (just as there was to the approach George W. Bush’s in the 2000 campaign when he promised humility in a foreign policy unburdened by nation building.) But an approach to policy is not a policy itself, much less a strategy (a plan to achieve specific goals), and it must be flexible enough to respond to changing threats. Does Obama’s approach have that flexibility? Back on March 16, David Sanger wrote a perceptive analysis in The New York Times, “Global Crises Put Obama’s Strategy of Caution to the Test.” Since that time, as the crises have grown more urgent, the tests have only gotten tougher and it is far from clear that Obama’s “strategy” (more accurately, approach or instinct) is passing them.
At the moment, events in Ukraine have forced the President into engagement and leadership. Considerably aided by the tragic downing of the Malaysian airliner with its many Dutch passengers, he has been successful in persuading European countries to adopt stronger sanctions against Russia than many had thought possible. Nevertheless, effectiveness of the sanctions remains to be seen, and the extent of the Europeans’ commitment, the President’s–and ours–remains uncertain. Equally uncertain are the outlines of an overall strategy for Ukraine and more broadly, Europe. What will Europe and the United States do if the sanctions fail to have the desired result or, worse yet, if Russia takes even more aggressive actions. Is providing Ukraine with arms and other military support a good idea or bad idea? If Putin persists in his apparent attempt to revise the post Cold War map of Europe, do the EU and NATO have the resources and the will to resist? These and related questions will be addressed in a subsequent post, but here we will focus on a crisis that, for the moment, has lost prime attention from the media: ISIS.
Despite the continuing indignities of airline transportation, modern travel abroad does offer one compensation. It is no longer necessary to scurry about looking for an International Herald Tribune in order to learn what’s going on back home and around the world. Wi-Fi is ubiquitous and even American televised news is available in the better hotels. So it was not difficult from afar to follow the apparent train wreck of our government’s ever-changing positions as to Syria. And it was interesting to do so while traveling in territory – from Istanbul to Athens – that had been the scene of endless conflicts, and the rise and fall of various civilizations, for over three millenia. Those surroundings were a sad reminder that improvements in technology, including the technology of killing, have far outstripped improvements in the human skill of conflict resolution.
On June 5, a British newspaper, The Guardian, reported the existence of a National Security Agency program active in collecting data on telephone calls made within the United States. The report was based on documents and information provided by one Edward Snowden who also furnished information and documents for a story in The Washington Post the following day on a second NSA program, PRISM, that intercepts communications of overseas internet users. The stories created sufficient uproar that on June 7, that President Obama felt obliged to address the matter while attending a healthcare conference in California. […]
Drone Strikes. President Obama’s May 23 speech announced new criteria for drone strikes. Although the previous criteria had not been disclosed, he made it clear that the new criteria were significantly narrower. According to the President, a targeted terrorist must now pose “a continuing and imminent threat to the American people,” and “before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured.” Taken literally and applied conscientiously, those are narrow criteria indeed. But as The New York Times reported, “Even as [Obama] set new standards, a debate broke out about what they actually meant and what would actually change.” […]
On May 23, President Obama gave a major speech on what has commonly been referred to as the War on Terror. The New York Times hailed it as “the most important statement on counterterrorism policy since the 2001 attacks, a momentous turning point in post-9/11 America.” The Wall Street Journal took a symmetrically negative view, but described it as “one of the more memorable speeches of [the Obama] Presidency… or for that matter any recent President.” Yet only a few weeks later, the speech has been swept from not only the front pages, but the editorial and op-ed pages and, no doubt, from most of the public consciousness. […]