Monday, August 26, 2013

Real Enemies

When President Obama identifies Russia and Iran as true foes to his domestic agenda, he will strike hard to reverse his image as a dithering pushover before it impacts his ability to push America on to the European Social Democracy path.

Do our foes and enemies think too little of us (tip to Instapundit)?

Just as Nikita Khrushchev concluded that President Kennedy was weak and incompetent after the Bay of Pigs failure and the botched Vienna summit, and then proceeded to test the American president from Cuba to Berlin, so President Vladimir Putin and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei now believe they are dealing with a dithering and indecisive American leader, and are calibrating their policies accordingly. Khrushchev was wrong about Kennedy, and President Obama's enemies are also underestimating him, but those underestimates can create dangerous crises before they are corrected.

I think President Obama accepts being pushed around abroad as the price for focusing on domestic issues. That's the "flexibility" issue he discussed with Medvedev, promising Putin more of it after the 2012 election.

But I don't think President Obama will simply allow himself to be pushed around forever. He did kill Osama bin Laden, after all. And he did kill Khaddafi while flouting the War Powers Act. And he escalated in Afghanistan for a while, and has been willing to drone strike jihadis. So it isn't all retreat, all the time, is it? These things--including escalation in Afghanistan--allowed him to deflect criticism and focus on domestic issues.

As Afghanistan became unpopular (because of time, more casualties from escalation, and a record of publicly defending the war that is worse than Bush's record on Iraq), the president de-escalated without regard to mission accomplishment. But by then he judged fighting would hinder rather than promote his agenda at home.

So when President Obama retreats, it is a tradeoff rather than cowardice or stupidity.

But at some point, being pushed around too visibly diminishes President Obama at home and diminishes his clout for domestic issues.

So I definitely think that President Obama could act very aggressively abroad to shore up his ability to act domestically. Assad might pay the penalty for nudging up presidential popularity numbers. Or maybe the Iranian mullahs will pay.

But I absolutely wouldn't assume that President Obama will always be a pushover. When Iran, Syria, or Russia become enemies as hated as Republicans, President Obama will take them down a notch or two.