State of the world, Year Eight of Barack Obama:
▪ In the South China Sea, on a speck of land of disputed sovereignty far from its borders, China has just installed anti-aircraft batteries and stationed fighter jets. This after China landed planes on an artificial island it created on another disputed island chain (the Spratlys, claimed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam). These facilities now function as forward bases for Beijing to challenge seven decades of American naval dominance of the Pacific Rim.
▪ Syria. Russian intervention has turned the tide of war. Having rescued the Bashar Assad regime from collapse, relentless Russian bombing is destroying the rebel stronghold of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, creating a massive new wave of refugees and demonstrating to the entire Middle East what a great power can achieve when it acts seriously.
The U.S. response? Repeated pathetic attempts by Secretary of State John Kerry to propitiate Russia (and its ally Iran) in one collapsed peace conference after another.
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▪ Ukraine. Having swallowed Crimea so thoroughly that no one even talks about it anymore, Russia continues to trample with impunity on the Minsk cease-fire agreements. Vladimir Putin is now again stirring the pot, intensifying the fighting, advancing his remorseless campaign to fracture and subordinate the Ukrainian state. Meanwhile, Obama still refuses to send the Ukrainians even defensive weapons.
▪ Iran. Last week, Iran received its first shipment of S-300 anti-aircraft batteries from Russia, a major advance in developing immunity to any attack on its nuclear facilities. And it is negotiating an $8 billion arms deal with Russia that includes sophisticated combat aircraft. Like its ballistic missile tests, this conventional weapons shopping spree is a blatant violation of United Nations Security Council prohibitions. It was also a predictable – and predicted – consequence of the nuclear deal that granted Iran $100 billion and normalized its relations with the world.
The U.S. response? Words.
Three major “have-not powers” are seeking to overturn the post-Cold War status quo: Russia in Eastern Europe, China in East Asia, Iran in the Middle East. All are on the march. To say nothing of the Islamic State, now extending its reach from Afghanistan to West Africa.
The international order built over decades by the United States is crumbling.
In the face of which, what does Obama do? Go to Cuba.
Yes, Cuba. A supreme strategic irrelevance so dear to Obama’s anti-anti-communist heart.
Is he at least going to celebrate progress in human rights and democracy – which Obama established last year as a precondition for any presidential visit? Of course not. Last month, the regime arrested 1,414 political dissidents, the second-most ever recorded.
No matter. Amid global disarray and American decline, Obama sticks to his cherished concerns: Cuba, Guantanamo Bay and, of course, climate change.
With time running out, he wants these to be his legacy. Indeed, they will be.
Charles Krauthammer is a columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.