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Charles Krauthammer: Does Obama think foreign policy is working?

  • Washington Post
  • Published Saturday, May 3, 2014, at 12 a.m.

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Barack Obama’s 949-word response on Monday to a question about foreign-policy weakness showed the president at his worst: defensive, irritable, contradictory and at times detached from reality.

It began with a complaint about negative coverage on Fox News when in fact it was the New York Times front page that featured Obama’s foreign-policy failures, most recently the inability to conclude a trade agreement with Japan and the collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry’s Middle East negotiations.

Add to this the collapse of not one but two Geneva conferences on Syria, American helplessness in the face of Russian aggression against Ukraine and the Saudi king’s humiliating dismissal of Obama within two hours of talks – no dinner – after Obama made a special 2,300-mile diversion from Europe to see him, and you have an impressive litany of serial embarrassments.

Obama’s first rhetorical defense, as usual, was to attack a straw man: “Why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force?”

Everybody? Wasn’t it you, Mr. President, who decided to attack Libya under the grand Obama doctrine of “responsibility to protect” (helpless civilians) – every syllable of which you totally contradicted as 150,000 were being slaughtered in Syria?

And wasn’t attacking Syria for having crossed your own chemical-weapons red line also your idea? Before, of course, you retreated abjectly, thereby marginalizing yourself and exposing the United States to general ridicule.

Everybody eager to use military force? Name a single Republican (or Democratic) leader who has called for sending troops into Ukraine.

The critique by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and others is that when the Ukrainians last month came asking for weapons to defend themselves, Obama turned them down. Obama even denied Ukraine such defensive gear as night-vision goggles and body armor.

Obama retorted testily: Does anyone think Ukrainian weaponry would deter Russia, as opposed to Obama’s diplomatic and economic pressure? Why, averred Obama, “in Ukraine, what we’ve done is mobilize the international community.... Russia is having to engage in activities that have been rejected uniformly around the world.”

To think this will stop Putin – liberator of Crimea, champion of “New Russia” – is delusional. In fact, Putin’s popularity has spiked 10 points since the start of his war on Ukraine. It’s now double Obama’s.

Behind Obama’s actions, explained the New York Times, is a major strategic idea: containment.

That’s a rather odd claim when a brazenly uncontained Russia swallows a major neighbor one piece at a time – as America stands by. After all, how did real containment begin? In March 1947, with Greece in danger of collapse from a Soviet-backed insurgency and Turkey under direct Russian pressure, President Truman went to Congress for major and immediate economic and military aid.

That means weaponry. It was the beginning of the Truman Doctrine. No one is claiming that arming Ukraine would have definitively deterred Putin’s current actions. But the possibility of a bloody and prolonged Ukrainian resistance to infiltration or invasion would surely alter Putin’s calculus more than Obama’s toothless sanctions or empty diplomatic gestures, like the preposterous Geneva agreement that wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.

Or does Obama really believe that Putin’s thinking would be altered less by anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons in Ukrainian hands than by the State Department’s comical Twitter campaign #UnitedforUkraine?

Obama appears to think so. Which is the source of so much allied anxiety: Obama really seems to believe that his foreign policy is succeeding.

Charles Krauthammer is a columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.

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