Posted on August 9, 2014 by Scott Johnson Obama Foreign Policy
Obama’s map of misreading
It’s not unusual for Obama to regale us with his deep thoughts. He does it all the time. Not for him the adage (I think it’s Mark Twain’s) that “it’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt.” No, Obama speaks on matters great and small with “the calm confidence of a Christian with four aces” (Twain again).
Obama called in one of his most prominent apostles to record his thoughts on current events this week. That would be New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Friedman now gives us “Obama on the world.”
Obama thinks in progressive clichés that fail to contemplate the predictable consequences of action or inaction, let alone the predictable consequences of his own words. Here we go:
Obama made clear that he is only going to involve America more deeply in places like the Middle East to the extent that the different communities there agree to an inclusive politics of no victor/no vanquished. The United States is not going to be the air force of Iraqi Shiites or any other faction. Despite Western sanctions, he cautioned, President Vladimir Putin of Russia “could invade” Ukraine at any time, and, if he does, “trying to find our way back to a cooperative functioning relationship with Russia during the remainder of my term will be much more difficult.” Intervening in Libya to prevent a massacre was the right thing to do, Obama argued, but doing it without sufficient follow-up on the ground to manage Libya’s transition to more democratic politics is probably his biggest foreign policy regret.
Obama superimposes his own bad faith on his lack of sapience:
At the end of the day, the president mused, the biggest threat to America — the only force that can really weaken us — is us. We have so many things going for us right now as a country — from new energy resources to innovation to a growing economy — but, he said, we will never realize our full potential unless our two parties adopt the same outlook that we’re asking of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds or Israelis and Palestinians: No victor, no vanquished and work together.
“Our politics are dysfunctional,” said the president, and we should heed the terrible divisions in the Middle East as a “warning to us: societies don’t work if political factions take maximalist positions. And the more diverse the country is, the less it can afford to take maximalist positions.”
While he blamed the rise of the Republican far right for extinguishing so many potential compromises, Obama also acknowledged that gerrymandering, the Balkanization of the news media and uncontrolled money in politics — the guts of our political system today — are sapping our ability to face big challenges together, more than any foreign enemy. “Increasingly politicians are rewarded for taking the most extreme maximalist positions,” he said, “and sooner or later, that catches up with you.”
I wouldn’t want you to miss this these timely if patronizing reflections:
Asked whether he should be more vigorous in pressing Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, to reach a land-for-peace deal, the president said, it has to start with them. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “poll numbers are a lot higher than mine” and “were greatly boosted by the war in Gaza,” Obama said. “And so if he doesn’t feel some internal pressure, then it’s hard to see him being able to make some very difficult compromises, including taking on the settler movement. That’s a tough thing to do. With respect to Abu Mazen, it’s a slightly different problem. In some ways, Bibi is too strong [and] in some ways Abu Mazen is too weak to bring them together and make the kinds of bold decisions that Sadat or Begin or Rabin were willing to make. It’s going to require leadership among both the Palestinians and the Israelis to look beyond tomorrow. … And that’s the hardest thing for politicians to do is to take the long view on things.”
Friedman gives us Obama’s strategery in the matter of ISIS:
So, I asked, explain your decision to use military force to protect the refugees from ISIL (which is also known as ISIS) and Kurdistan, which is an island of real decency in Iraq?
“When you have a unique circumstance in which genocide is threatened, and a country is willing to have us in there, you have a strong international consensus that these people need to be protected and we have a capacity to do so, then we have an obligation to do so,” said the president. But given the island of decency the Kurds have built, we also have to ask, he added, not just “how do we push back on ISIL, but also how do we preserve the space for the best impulses inside of Iraq, that very much is on my mind, that has been on my mind throughout.
“I do think the Kurds used that time that was given by our troop sacrifices in Iraq,” Obama added. “They used that time well, and the Kurdish region is functional the way we would like to see. It is tolerant of other sects and other religions in a way that we would like to see elsewhere. So we do think it’s important to make sure that that space is protected, but, more broadly, what I’ve indicated is that I don’t want to be in the business of being the Iraqi air force. I don’t want to get in the business for that matter of being the Kurdish air force, in the absence of a commitment of the people on the ground to get their act together and do what’s necessary politically to start protecting themselves and to push back against ISIL.”
The reason, the president added, “that we did not just start taking a bunch of airstrikes all across Iraq as soon as ISIL came in was because that would have taken the pressure off of [Prime Minister Nuri Kamal] al-Maliki.” That only would have encouraged, he said, Maliki and other Shiites to think: ” ‘We don’t actually have to make compromises. We don’t have to make any decisions. We don’t have to go through the difficult process of figuring out what we’ve done wrong in the past. All we have to do is let the Americans bail us out again. And we can go about business as usual.’”
Lord help us.
More here, all of it worth reading (the Times also embeds videos with Friedman’s column). Warning: Friedman’s article may be hazardous to your health. I can feel brain cells dying as I read it.