Politics & Policy

Obama, Check Your Answering Machine

(Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Because the 1980s called — and so did a lot of other threats.

I’m glad that you recognize that al-Qaeda’s a threat because a few months ago when you were asked, what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia — not al-Qaeda, you said Russia. And the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.

President Obama to Governor Romney, October 22, 2012

Over the past few months, that comment, from the second presidential debate between the two, has found new life in the media.

Less attention has been paid to what President Obama said next:

Governor, when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s. . . . You say that you’re not interested in duplicating what happened in Iraq, but just a few weeks ago you said you think we should have more troops in Iraq right now.

Now consider the president’s concluding comment: “I know you haven’t been in a position to actually execute foreign policy, but every time you’ve offered an opinion, you’ve been wrong.”

I would love to know the president’s definition of “wrong.” Consider his record now:

In Ukraine, facing timid U.S. sanctions and President Obama’s failure to shame Europe into tougher action, Vladimir Putin has rubbed his hands with glee. As I’ve noted over the past few months, Putin’s strategy has taken a predictable course. First, he launched disruption operations against Ukraine’s government. Then he conquered Crimea, without riposte. Then he began a full-fledged covert-action campaign in eastern Ukraine. Today, Russian forces are engaged in an overt invasion.

Even with certain full-sector economic sanctions and limited U.S. military deployments to Europe, Putin has had little reason to hesitate. Some say that President Obama has had no other options, that his policy represents sensible diplomacy. They’re wrong: History proves Mr. Putin can be constrained. Opposing Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia (under the figurehead of then President Medvedev), Mr. Bush used symbolic U.S. military flights to force a peace deal upon the KGB maestro.

Why did this work? Because Mr. Bush spoke to President Putin in terms he understood.

In contrast, while the situation in Ukraine is undeniably complex, Obama’s response has been clearly deficient, and even delusional. Back in May, the president used his West Point “doctrine” speech to claim tacit victory in Ukraine.

But Mr. Obama’s failure isn’t just about Ukraine, or Russia.

It’s about the world. It’s about a Chinese imperium that bullies its neighbors and threatens Americans without answer. It’s about allies insulted by this administration’s political cronyism. Most of all, it’s about the Middle East.

Today, President Obama’s preference for domestic politics over Middle Eastern entanglements has let extremists proliferate. On one side are the Salafi fanatics of the Islamic State, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and many others. On the other side are the Iranian revolutionaries and their allies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere. Witnessing America’s diminished leadership, our allies are resorting to the worst of political impulses: mistrust, hatred, and fear. The Sunni Arab monarchies turn a blind eye as their oil riches flow to terrorists and new alliances beyond America. Consider last week’s bombing raid by Egypt and the UAE against Libya-based extremists. This raid, which took place against the Obama administration’s expressed wishes, was an alarm bell about America’s influence in the Middle East. And the alarm hints at a disastrous future: Syria shows what happens when politicized sectarianism runs amok.

Of course, President Obama didn’t down MH17 and didn’t create the Islamic State. Nevertheless, whether he likes it or not, as America’s president, he is the irreplaceable leader of the free world. That’s not a platitude, it’s a fact proven in specific and necessary ways. “We don’t have a strategy yet” is not the language of a leader — Iraq has been disintegrating for at least a year, and Syria for longer.

This isn’t to say that the president should contemplate new invasions or accept the burden of international security for the U.S. alone. But he must learn from his mistakes: The world isn’t static, and newly evolving threats loom. Yet sometimes those threats seem to be calling from the past, and they too demand solutions.

It’s time for the president to check his answering machine. It’s overflowing.

Tom Rogan is a columnist for the Daily Telegraph and the Tony Blankley Chair at the Steamboat Institute. He is based in Washington, D.C., and tweets @TomRtweets.

Tom Rogan — Tom Rogan is a columnist for National Review Online, a contributor to the Washington Examiner, and a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group. Email him at TRogan@McLaughlin.com

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