|President Barack Obama, September 10, 2013|
Wow, this last week was confusing, because it felt more like watching a tennis match at the recently concluded U.S. Open in New York than international intrigue. Every morning this week there has been a new twist on the story line. John Kerry is now in Switzerland apparently trying to take credit for what has now evolved into a "grand strategy" after tossing off a one-liner Putin seized upon to call his bluff. Watching Obama and Kerry is more like watching an episode of the old Keystone Cops, while the world waits breathlessly to see the outcome. One wonders after assessing the reactions to his performance if his best days of speech making are behind Obama. I lost interest in his soaring rhetoric a long time ago, don't know about you. Honestly, looking back on it, does anyone yet understand or know what he really intends to do? Is it bumbling amateurism at work here, or part of some diabolical plot against stability in the world?
Sensing accurately there is a gaping void in leadership in America these days, Vladimir Putin has inserted himself into our politics with an op/ed piece that appeared in the unofficial propaganda arm of the new Russia, The New York Times. In it he takes exception with Mr. Obama's characterization of America as "exceptional". How ironic that it was Obama himself during his election campaigns who routinely attacked his opponents on the political right for using such a phrase, and now as recently as his speech to the nation this week he seems to have embraced it again. These are, indeed, strange days. It appears Putin the Communist has the better of Obama the Marxist. Certainly, the body of the text of Putin's piece is much better thought out than Obama's rambling incoherent "call to action" to the nation other night. Here's the concluding paragraph that has given rise to an immediate reaction within the Beltway from both sides:
|President Vladimir Putin|
Imagine a Communist leader (I know, you think the Communist Party is dead, but is it?) invoking the name of God, when for 70 years the regime did everything in its power to advance by brute force the cause of atheism! Ask yourself if Putin can now take center stage as the leader for the nations "still finding their way to democracy". May God grant that we may yet be able to find a leader in America who champions democracy and freedom. One may ask rightly if we have such a leader in Obama, but I would assert the world would not be well-served by looking to Putin for that leadership. We live under an "exceptional" form of government, not because we are "better than", but because we are collectively free and continue to oppose tyranny and despotism.
Peggy Noonan, one of my favorite commentators, summed it up this way in yesterday's column at The Wall Street Journal:
"Clearly he [Putin] is looking at President Obama and seeing weakness, lostness, lack of popularity. His essay is intended to exploit this and make some larger points, often sanctimoniously, about how the U.S. should conduct itself in the world. And so he chided American leadership, implicitly challenged its position as world leader, posited the U.N. Security Council, where Russia has done so much mischief, as the only appropriate decision-making body for international military action, and worried the U.N. will 'suffer the fate' of the League of Nations if 'influential countries' continue to take action without authorization.
"He does not doubt chemical weapons were used in Syria but doubts it was the government that used them. It was probably the rebels, he asserts, in an attempt to 'provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons.'
"Still, in general, Mr. Putin made a better case in the piece against a U.S. military strike than the American president has for it. And he did so, in a way, by getting to the left of the president, who he implies is insufficiently respectful to international bodies. Mr. Putin was candid about his primary anxiety — a spillover from Syria that could threaten Russian stability."
As we remember those who fell with the twin towers in the tragedy of 9/11, victims of a savage attack using jet planes and innocent passengers as missiles, may we never forget our resolve on that day to oppose the evil that attacked us. May we never deny the enormity of the problem of evil we still confront. There is little we can do to change hearts and minds determined to destroy us, but we must oppose it and resist it when it comes knocking at the door.
To continue thinking, however, we can embroil ourselves in the foreign intrigues of other nations, and unilaterally install democracy in the far-flung corners of the globe, particularly in the Middle East, now seems fool hearty at best. Remember the dictoms of the "neo-conservatives" with Dick Cheney at the helm? We now have some experience with those forays, as well-intentioned as they seemed. Now, we must ask, will we ever come to the end of the "tit for tat" mentality that says we must intervene whenever we are abhorred with bad behavior from dictators?
We should learn from what has transpired, not repeat it in yet another experiment with overthrowing Assad. To embroil ourselves in a brutal civil war in Syria that has killed over a hundred thousand in the last two years, is insane. At this writing it is anything but clear about who actually used those weapons against their own people.
Here again, Obama and Putin tell a different story - was it Assad and his military, or was it the rebels attempting to frame the government? So far I haven't seen a definitive answer. And where everyone in Syria involved in the fighting seems to be equally culpable, how does America presume to pick and back a winner from half a world away? One need look no further than the installation of the Shah of Iran for an example of failed policy.
If Putin can succeed in putting our current POTUS back in his box where his political opponents here at home have failed to, I'm asking how would that be a bad thing?
Noonan concludes her piece with this sobering assessment: We're not in a hot war or a cold war with Russians, but there's a definite chill in the air. Since its exceptional founding, America has always led the cause of freedom.
But that was yesterday, and even as I am writing this post, word has come there is a deal in place to rid Syria of its chemical weapons. Assad has one week in which to account for them, with an agreement they will be destroyed under international supervision by mid-2014. The deal was conceived and brokered by Russia with Assad's government. And now Putin is headed to Iran at the invitation of the mullahs there to see if he can intercede with America and blunt the U.S. opposition to their nuclear program.
I told you it was a strange world.