During his Wednesday press conference, President Obama made three comments on foreign policy that deserve attention, because they are inadvertently revealing.
First, when asked about the Petraeus scandal, he replied “I have no evidence at this point, from what I’ve seen, that classified information was disclosed that in any way would have had a negative impact on our national security.”
The assumption we all make, and that the law makes, is that unauthorized disclosure of classified information is wrong. Because Mr. Obama is a lawyer who prides himself on his mastery of English, we have to assume he deliberately acknowledged here that classified information has been disclosed. He just doesn’t want to admit it flat out, or admit that what was disclosed was would have a “negative impact” on national security.” Watch for future news, then, about disclosure of classified information.
Second, when asked about Benghazi he replied “I don’t think there’s any debate in this country that when you have four Americans killed, that’s a problem. And we’ve got to get to the bottom of it, and there needs to be accountability. We’ve got to bring those who carried it out to justice. They won’t get any debate from me on that.” He added that:
As I said repeatedly, if people don’t think that we did everything we can to make sure that we saved the lives of folks who I sent there, and who were carrying out missions on behalf of the United States, then you don’t know how our Defense Department thinks or our State Department thinks or our CIA thinks. Their number one priority is obviously to protect American lives. That’s what our job is . . . I can tell you that immediately upon finding out that our folks were in danger, that my orders to my National Security team were do whatever we need to do to make sure they’re safe.
Mr. Obama continues to try to play down the murders in Benghazi. During the campaign, he said it was “not optimal” that 4 Americans were killed; now it’s “a problem.” As to “accountability,” he is obviously referring here to the murderers. That’s all well and good — except that “getting to the bottom of it” and restoring “accountability” should also mean finding out who in his administration failed in their duties. Americans want to know what he and his team did wrong, not just how the killers achieved their goal. The issue isn’t the false one he raises — whether CIA or State Department or DOD people cared, and tried to help — but whether his appointees acted with competence. Accountability isn’t primarily about reading their minds and hearts, but determining whether people their jobs properly.
Third, he gave a long answer to a question about Syria:
You know, I was one of the first leaders, I think, around the world to say Assad had to go in response to the incredible brutality that his government displayed in the face of what were initially peaceful protests. Obviously the situation in Syria’s deteriorated since then. We have been extensively engaged with the international community as well as regional powers to help the opposition. You know, we’ve committed hundreds of millions of dollars of humanitarian aid to help folks both inside of Syria and outside of Syria. We are constantly consulting with the opposition on how they can get organized so that they’re not splintered and divided in the face of the onslaught from the Assad regime.
I’m encouraged to see that the Syrian opposition created an umbrella group that may have more cohesion than they’ve had in the past. We’re going to be talking to them. My envoys are going to be traveling to, you know, various meetings that are going to be taking place with the international community and the opposition.
We have seen extremist elements insinuate themselves into the opposition. And you know, one of the things that we have to be on guard about, particularly when we start talking about arming opposition figures, is that we’re not indirectly putting arms in the hands of folks who would do Americans harm or do Israelis harm or otherwise engage in — in actions that are detrimental to our national security. So we — we’re constantly probing and working on that issue. The more engaged we are, the more we’ll be in a position to make sure that — that we are encouraging the most moderate, thoughtful elements of the opposition that are committed to inclusion, observance of human rights and working cooperatively with us over the long term.
Alas, this is a message that help is not on the way. The president doesn’t seem to realize that he has just told us he delivered an early call that Assad must go, and then did next to nothing. What did we do? We “extensively engaged with the international community,” gave “humanitarian aid,” were “constantly consulting with the opposition.” Now — this is especially exciting — his “envoys are going to be traveling to, you know, various meetings that are going to be taking place.” Mr. Obama acknowledges that the more engaged we are the more influence we’ll have, but he talks down the one form of “engagement” the opposition wants and needs: weapons with which to defend themselves and fight Assad’s forces.
Add up these comments and it seems the president’s second-term foreign policy will not change at all. Never admit error, obfuscate, change the subject, talk and talk and talk, “engage,” and claim all is well. Mr. Obama noted that in Syria the situation has “deteriorated” since he demanded that Assad go — in the summer of 2011. That’s the truest thing he said: There are now 40,000 dead, 400,000 refugees, many more displaced persons, and a really dangerous jihadi presence. As Mr. Obama might say, that’s not optimal — and he remains unable to draw the connection between his own policies and those disastrous developments.