Thursday, May 28, 2015

Jesus Was a Carpenter. Obama is No Carpenter

Michael O'Hanlon rejects the critics' unduly harsh criticisms and rejects using the president's own lofty goals (How's that for balance? O'Hanlon rejects the president's too-high goals and the too-high goals of the president's critics!), but judges the president's foreign policy as perfectly adequate.

Oh, please:

"Obama the Carpenter: The President's National Security Legacy" ...

Gauged by more reasonable and normal standards, however, Mr. Obama has in fact done acceptably well. ...

I do not mean to overstate. Obama's presidency will not go down as a hugely positive watershed period in American foreign policy.

This should be enlightening. Let's explore the president's feats of acceptavosity.

First off:

Most of today's problems were not Obama's creations. Others were mishandled, but generally in ways that could have been far worse. He also managed to avoid a second great recession.

Every president inherits the world from their predecessor. So that's just a silly excuse.

Or is the next president who inherits the president's three-year plan to defeat ISIL off the hook for what happens with that?

If President Obama inherited a financial problem (from Bush and Congressional Democrats), he also inherited the initial response to the crisis that Bush initiated while still president.

And the fact that O'Hanlon had to lead with an economic issue rather than foreign policy foreshadows the strength of the foreign policy judgment.

Let's skip the big picture and go to the top four issues that O'Hanlon judges President Obama to have achieved acceptaquasity.


The so-called pivot or rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, a centerpiece of President Obama's first-term foreign policy in particular, has been generally very sound.

Talk about inheriting a policy. We've been shifting our Navy to the Pacific since shortly after the Cold War saw the Western European region decline as a threat.

So congratulations on not interrupting that existing trend. Really. Bravo. Leg tingles? Commence!

Besides, turning this quiet pivot into speaking loudly and carrying a pivoted stick was actually more about pivoting away from the Middle East.

Acceptable? Okay. I'll generously grant that.

Two, he judges the Ukraine strategy as "reasonable:"

[The] failure to deter the conflict is hard to lay at Obama’s doorstep. Obama's approach to handling the Ukraine crisis—make Putin pay an economic price for what he has done, while signaling that the United States and its allies can increase the economic costs further if need be—strikes a good balance between indifference and risky escalation over a less-than-crucial national security matter.

Obama has resisted arming Ukraine to date, recognizing that Russia enjoys escalation dominance in the region. Thus, any American move could simply elicit a greater and stronger Russian counterplay.

It is true that Putin is responsible for the invasion and not President Obama. Putin might have done it if Reagan was president. Perhaps.

But the reasonableness of the response that rules out weapons to Ukraine on the farcical notion that Russia has escalation dominance ignores that Putin cannot afford endless escalation and endlessly higher costs.

If O'Hanlon's theory in defense of not providing weapons is right, as the most powerful military force on the planet, America has escalation dominance wherever we choose to exercise it.

So why do we face resistance?

And hey, guess what?

Russia's army is massing troops and hundreds of pieces of weaponry including mobile rocket launchers, tanks and artillery at a makeshift base near the border with Ukraine, a Reuters reporter saw this week.

Many of the vehicles have number plates and identifying marks removed while many of the servicemen had taken insignia off their fatigues.

Feel the adequacy as Russia prepares to renew their subliminal offensive!

Acceptable? I think not. At best the approach will win if Russia's weaknesses trip them up regardless of what we do. At worse, we just haven't lost yet. Although a resounding success would reverse my judgment.

But since at best we seem to have forgotten the Russian conquest of Crimea, Putin has changed an international border by invading a sovereign state and no definition of adequacy contemplates that rollback. And I'm not sure how we get Russia out of the Donbas, either, or just get them to stop advancing, with this "adequate" response.


On Iran, President Obama has sought to use various “smart sanctions” and patient diplomacy to induce Tehran to agree to a deal on its nuclear programs. As of Spring 2015, he appears to have a good chance of success.

So President Obama has cleverly negotiated a deal that will pave the way for Iran to go nuclear and gain relief from sanctions? If that's what the President intends, surely on that narrow measure the president has good chance of "success" here. Mission accomplished!

But we should not want this deal, which is merely an exercise in Iran pretending not to want nuclear weapons in exchange for America pretending to believe them.

Acceptable? Potentially catastrophic is more like it.

And there is a very broad four, judged as not fully acceptable:

In regard to the rest of the Middle East beyond Iran, unfortunately, Obama’s disciplined approach has often failed him, and his critics have a stronger case.

O'Hanlon tries to excuse the president's many failures across the Middle East, but ultimately this is the one area that the president's critics have a point on? Fine.

And that "disciplined" comment is amazing. Although it is true that the president is remarkably determined to abandon allies and reward enemies. That's a discipline of sorts, I suppose.

Yes, the one bright spot in this area has been that President Obama has decided to intervene in Iraq after allowing it to nearly collapse. But I don't think we have committed to using sufficient US power and I don't think we have a sense of urgency about getting the fight going. This stinks of a delaying action until the president can hand off the ISIL problem to the next president.

Acceptable? See number 3.

For amusement, O'Hanlon lumped a lot into this "single" failing fourth category to give President Obama barely passing marks in 3 out of 4 areas!

God help us, but President Obama did build this foreign policy record.

This would all be funny if President Obama was in charge of somebody else's country.

Oh, and do stick around for the touching conversation between President Obama Al Bundy and Secretary of State Kerry Kelly.