The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Testing the Limits

Vladamir Putin is simply the last (and most powerful) in a long line of powerful, thuggish leaders or groups that have made a mockery of Barack Obama's foreign policy as implemented by his past Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Obama's defenders are now confronted with the reality of Crimea, the reality that Obama arrogantly, incorrectly and publicly mocked Mitt Romney's prescient and correct contention that Russia was one of our most serious strategic threats, and the reality that Obama's "soft power" doctrine (if you can call a feckless approach to foreign policy a 'doctrine') has failed in every venue (i.e., Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Venezuela, North Korea, China, Russia). Instead of admitting error and adapting their world view, Team-Obama (1) claims that there's not much they can do, now that Crimea or Syria or Egypt or ... is lost and (2) blames Obama's domestic opponents (e.g., Romney) for not suggesting concrete alternatives to the president's approach.

It is true that Obama has been overtaken by international events and that now, after he has failed, there really isn't much he can do (except look incompetent and weak). But that's missing the point. It is the job of a President to avoid situations like the ones that are now haunting Obama. That happens when a competent president uses a combination of effective diplomacy coupled with the exercise or threat of hard power (by the way, hard power need not be military, but it must be hardball in every other sense—e.g., fomenting unrest by disaffected minorities in countries that oppose us, launching serious and penetrating cyberwarfare attacks, establishing crippling sanctions and punishing allies who do not abide by them).

It is laughable that Obama's defenders want his opponents to suggest alternative approaches—as if this president (you know, the one who demonizes his opponents) would listen to or act on those suggestions. Barack Obama is nothing if not confident, and there is nothing more dangerous than a man with supreme hubris that is also wrong on almost every subject he addresses.

Richard Fernandez reflects on this sad reality when he writes
Obama has lots of confidence. It’s his stock in trade. And now that we’ve all bought his patented elixir and coughed it right up, what is there to say? That Barack Obama will be remembered by history as the man who threw away the victory in Iraq, who threw away Ronald Reagan’s victory in the Cold War and — at the rate he’s going — may eventually succeed in undoing Franklin’s Roosevelt’s victory in World War 2?

The way Mitt Romney [in a Recent WSJ op-ed] described the situation is this: “Why are there no good choices?”
From Crimea to North Korea, from Syria to Egypt, and from Iraq to Afghanistan, America apparently has no good options. If possession is nine-tenths of the law, Russia owns Crimea and all we can do is sanction and disinvite — and wring our hands.

Iran is following North Korea’s nuclear path, but it seems that we can only entreat Iran to sign the same kind of agreement North Korea once signed, undoubtedly with the same result.

Our tough talk about a red line in Syria prompted Vladimir Putin’s sleight of hand, leaving the chemicals and killings much as they were. We say Bashar Assad must go, but aligning with his al Qaeda-backed opposition is an unacceptable option.

And how can it be that Iraq and Afghanistan each refused to sign the status-of-forces agreement with us — with the very nation that shed the blood of thousands of our bravest for them?
There are no good choices because America is in a foreign policy clip-joint. Everything on the menu is bad and all the liquor is bogus. We should be looking for a way back on to the street and not seeking a way to get further in. The word is out: every bad guy within hail knows Obama is a screw-up and worse, one with delusions of grandeur.
That's a strong, but accurate indictment of this president.

Even some in the main stream media are beginning to question the president's approach. David Sanger (an Obama cheerleader and a strong supporter of everything Obama does) now writes:
But so far those foreign policy] tools — or even the threat of them — have proved frustratingly ineffective in the most recent crises. Sanctions and modest help to the Syrian rebels have failed to halt the slaughter; if anything, the killing worsened as negotiations dragged on.

The White House was taken by surprise by Vladimir V. Putin’s decisions to invade Crimea, but also by China’s increasingly assertive declaration of exclusive rights to airspace and barren islands. Neither the economic pressure nor the cyberattacks that forced Iran to reconsider its approach have prevented North Korea’s stealthy revitalization of its nuclear and missile programs.

In short, America’s adversaries are testing the limits of America’s post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan moment.

“We’re seeing the ‘light footprint’ run out of gas,” said one of Mr. Obama’s former senior national security aides, who would not speak on the record about his ex-boss.
"Testing the limits" occurs when adversaries perceive weakness, indecisiveness or fecklessness. "Testing the limits" is how wars start.

Slowly, very, very slowly, some within the leftist intelligencia are coming to realize that the man they wanted so desparately for president, the man they supported twice, the man who was supposed to be an gleaming historic figure, may very well make a serious impression on history. But not in the way they believed he would.

An important part of the fantasy ideology of the leftist intelligensia who continue to support Barack Obama is to completely disregard the words—the stated intent—of our foreign enemies and opponents. To paraphrase a comment made by Richard Fernandez in the aforementioned post, when Obama and his supporters hear Putin state that he is going to restore the honor of mother Russia and expand its influence and land, or Iran state that they're going to obliterate Israel and/or turn America into ash, or China declare that they're going to lay claim to most of the islands in the South China Sea, Barack Obama and his supporters think, Nah, they didn't mean that. After all, Putin and the leaders of Iran and China are reasonable people, and if we talk softly, they'll join those us who have evolved into citizens of the world and residents of the 21st century.

The problem is—Russia and Iran and China do mean it, but our current 'leaders' are too deluded to understand its import.


Michael Auslin comments on the situation:
The toxic brew of negative perceptions of Western/liberal military capability and political will is rapidly undermining the post-1945 order around the world. Reduced military budgets, global perceptions of American and European weakness, the outright dismissal of presidential redlines, and memories of total inaction like during the 2008 Georgian invasion or Syrian civil war have set the stage for future opportunism. More than one commentator has noted the similarities between Hitler in 1938 and Putin in 2014. Like Hitler did, Putin is playing a weak hand, though it is relatively stronger than the object of his aggression, and even token opposition by the West could cause him to fold. We now know that Hitler would have pulled his troops out of the Sudetenland in the face of any British or French opposition. Thus, what may matter most to global stability is the reaction of the West, and in the case of inaction, it abets opportunistic aggression.

A world in which dissatisfied powers seek to redraw old maps or restore national “honor” will be immeasurably more dangerous when they correctly gauge that the West can offer only moral outrage and little else. Neither China nor Russia may be so reckless as to act aggressively without any cause, but there are myriad “causes” out there, many of which we dismiss because they don’t fit our definition of rationality or national interest, and onto which Beijing, Moscow, Tehran and others can latch.

Policymakers and analysts too little take account of the poisonous connection between perceptions of Western credibility and the festering disputes that can be used as a casus belli for those seeking advantage. Crimea has been a sore spot for Russia (in recent history) since Nikita Khrushchev transferred it to Ukraine in 1954. It is hard to imagine a scenario whereby Vladimir Putin would be able to get away with fomenting a crisis out of whole cloth. But, as he showed in Georgia, he will respond with military alacrity when given the opportunity. Western capitals, for their part, chose not to believe that he would be so reckless as to press his advantage in Ukraine as forcefully as he has, in no small part because they have few options for opposing him.
Nah ... Putin (or Iran or China) really, really didn't mean that. Did he (they)?

UPDATE-III (3/21/2014):
And this comment from Mona Charen:
Nothing so encourages an aggressor as the perception of weakness in his antagonists. Obama hasn't even processed that he is an antagonist. Why, he means no one any harm (except perhaps Republicans). Didn't he reset relations with Moscow? Didn't he promise in 2012 to show "more flexibility" toward Putin after the election? Didn't he say, over and over again, that a "decade of war is ending" and that we are going to do some "nation building here at home"? Did he not maneuver the United States into "leading from behind" in Libya? Hasn't he pressured allies like Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians while permitting Mahmoud Abbas to skate? Hasn't he let bygones be bygones about the Edward Snowden unpleasantness?

Hasn't he drastically reduced defense spending? Didn't he give Bashar Assad a third chance after drawing red lines? Hasn't he sought to ingratiate himself with China's brutal regime (his family is traveling there this week)? Didn't he permit Putin to oversee Assad's supposed surrender of chemical weapons? How could a leader be more unthreatening?
Outside the fantasy world of the Obama administration, "unthreatening" behavior is perceived (rightly or wrongly) as weakness, and weakness leads to aggression by the hard men and women who populate leadership positions in the real world.