Strategic Paralysis

From Charles Krauthammer:

His secretary of defense says “the world is exploding all over.” His attorney general says that the threat of terror “keeps me up at night.” The world bears them out. On Tuesday, American hostage Kayla Mueller is confirmed dead. On Wednesday, the U.S. evacuates its embassy in Yemen, cited by President Obama last September as an American success in fighting terrorism.

Yet Obama’s reaction to, shall we say, turmoil abroad has been one of alarming lassitude and passivity.

Not to worry, says his national security adviser: This is not World War II. As if one should be reassured because the current chaos has yet to achieve the level of the most devastating conflict in human history. Indeed, insists the president, the real source of our metastasizing anxiety is . . . the news media.

Russia pushes deep into eastern Ukraine. The Islamic State burns to death a Jordanian pilot. Iran extends its hegemony over four Arab capitals — Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad, and now Sanaa.

And America watches. Obama calls the policy “strategic patience.” That’s a synonym for “inaction,” made to sound profoundly “strategic.”

Take Russia. The only news out of Obama’s one-hour press conference with Angela Merkel this week was that he still can’t make up his mind whether to supply Ukraine with defensive weapons. The Russians have sent in T-80 tanks and Grad rocket launchers. We’ve sent in humanitarian aid that includes blankets, MREs, and psychological counselors.

How complementary: The counselors do grief therapy for those on the receiving end of the T-80 tank fire. “I think the Ukrainian people can feel confident that we have stood by them,” said Obama at the news conference.

Indeed. And don’t forget the blankets. America was once the arsenal of democracy, notes Elliott Abrams. We are now its linen closet.

Why no anti-tank and other defensive weapons? Because we are afraid that arming the victim of aggression will anger the aggressor.

Such on-the-ground appeasement goes well with the linguistic appeasement whereby Obama dares not call radical Islam by name. And whereby both the White House and State Department spend much of a day insisting that the attack on the kosher grocery in Paris had nothing to do with Jews. It was just, as the president said, someone “randomly shoot[ing] a bunch of folks in a deli.” (By the end of the day, the administration backed off this idiocy. By tweet.)

This passivity — strategic, syntactical, ideological — is more than just a reaction to the perceived overreach of the Bush years. Or a fear of failure. Or bowing to the domestic Left. It is, above all, rooted in Obama’s deep belief that we — America, Christians, the West — lack the moral authority to engage, to project, i.e., to lead.

Before we condemn the atrocities of others, intoned Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast, we shouldn’t “get on our high horse.” We should acknowledge having authored the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery, etc. “in the name of Christ.”

In a rare rhetorical feat, Obama managed to combine the banal and the repulsive. After all, is it really a revelation that all religions have transgressed, that man is fallen? To the adolescent Columbia undergrad, that’s a profundity. To a roomful of faith leaders, that’s an insult to one’s intelligence.

And in deeply bad taste. A coalition POW is burned alive and the reaction of the alliance leader barely 48 hours later is essentially: “Hey, but what about Joan of Arc?”

Obama’s Christians-have-sinned dismissal of the West’s moral standing is not new, however. It is just a reprise of the theme of his post-inauguration 2009 confessional world tour. From Strasbourg to Cairo and the U.N. General Assembly, he indicted his own country, as I chronicled at the time, “for arrogance, for dismissiveness and derisiveness (toward Europe), for maltreatment of natives, for torture, for Hiroshima, for Guantánamo, for unilateralism, and for insufficient respect for the Muslim world.”

The purpose and the effect of such an indictment is to undermine any moral claim to American world leadership. The line between the Washington prayer breakfast and the Ukrainian grief counselors is direct and causal. Once you’ve discounted your own moral authority, once you’ve undermined your own country’s moral self-confidence, you cannot lead.

If, during the very week Islamic supremacists achieve “peak barbarism” with the immolation of a helpless prisoner, you cannot take them on without apologizing for sins committed a thousand years ago, you have prepared the ground for strategic paralysis.

All that’s left is to call it strategic patience.

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The Ultimate Self-Referential Presidency

From Bret Stephens:

George Washington did not shake hands as president and would grip the hilt of his sword to avoid having his flesh pressed. The founding father understood that leadership in a republic demanded a careful balance between low populism and aristocratic lordliness. Personal comportment, the choice of clothes and carriage, modes of address: these things mattered. And so we have “Mr. President” as opposed to “His Highness.” Or “George.”

With Barack Obama —you won’t mind, Señor Presidente, if we call you Barry?—it’s another story. Dignity of office? How quaint. In this most self-infatuated of presidencies, the D-word is at best an accessory and more often an impediment to everything Barry has ever wanted to be: Cool. Chill. Connected.

So it was that, hours after the U.S. confirmed the murder of Kayla Jean Mueller at the hands of Islamic State, Mr. Obama filmed a short video for BuzzFeed, striking poses in a mirror, donning aviator shades, filming himself with a selfie stick and otherwise inhabiting a role that a chaster version of Miley Cyrus might have played had Hannah Montana been stuck in the White House after a sleepover with the Obama girls.

Ostensibly, the point of the video was to alert BuzzFeed’s audience to the Feb. 15 deadline for ObamaCare enrollment. If communicating with 20-somethings as if they are 11-year-olds is a way to get them to behave like grown-ups, then maybe the White House has at last found a way to make good on its make-believe enrollment numbers.

But that’s not what the BuzzFeed clip is chiefly about. What it’s about is showing just how totally relatable and adorably authentic and marvelously self-aware is this president of ours. “Can I live?” the president says when caught shooting imaginary hoops in his study by a young visitor. “You do you,” the visitor gamely replies before walking off.

Yes, you do you, Barry: It’s what your political career has always been about, from your myth-memoir “Dreams From My Father” to your well-nurtured cult of personality to the coterie of flatterers with whom you have surrounded yourself in office to the supine and occasionally complicit news media that have seen you through six years of crisis, failure and scandal.

“You do you” is the ultimate self-referential slogan for the ultimate self-referential presidency. It’s the “be yourself” piety of our age turned into a political license by Mr. Obama to do as he pleases. It’s what drives his political choices: the immigration amnesty; arbitrary rewrites of the Affordable Care Act; the Environmental Protection Agency’s coal rules; the $128 billion in settlements the administration extorted from six banks convicted of no wrongdoing.

It is also what seems to explain the president’s insistently passive foreign policy. In its 2015 National Security Strategy, unveiled earlier this month, the administration underscored the importance of what it called “strategic patience,” a high-toned euphemism for doing as little as decently possible in response to crisis. Invade Ukraine: You do you, Vladimir Putin. Build a robust nuclear infrastructure: You do you, Ali Khamenei. Continue gassing your own people: You do you, Bashar Assad.

In other words, let 1,000 you-do-yous bloom. In the end, the president and his advisers seem to believe, events will take their course and history will provide its verdict. Kremlin adventurism will fall afoul of Russia’s economic limits, Iran will evolve from evil theocracy to responsible regional player, and Syria will continue to bleed until it sorts itself out.

As for Islamic State, the president told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that “it has no governing strategy,” that it cannot “sustain or feed people or educate people or organize a society that would work,” and therefore that it is not “an existential threat to the United States or the world order.”

You do you, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi! But if you can’t provide your people with high-quality affordable health care, world-class educational opportunities and a decent minimum wage, it will all come to naught.

There’s a sense in which the president’s foreign policy reminds me of Francis Fukuyama ’s “End of History” thesis, though it is typically associated with American neoconservatives. Following the publication of Mr. Fukuyama’s book in the early 1990s, the argument was attacked for ignoring all the history—the breakup of Yugoslavia, genocide in Rwanda, and so on—that continued to take place after he had declared it over.

Mr. Fukuyama’s rebuttal was that none of that really counted, at least in the dialectical, Hegelian, capital-H sense of “History.” History had ended because there was no plausible ideological competitor to liberal, democratic capitalism, and sooner or later everyone would get the point.

Maybe that’s even true. Yet in the words “sooner or later” lie the great political questions of our day, matters of life or death for the Ukrainian soldiers encircled by Russian troops, or Western hostages held by Islamic State, or everyone threatened by Iran’s slow and steady march toward regional hegemony.

President You Do You has all the time he wants to film BuzzFeed clips while surfing the arc of history. Not everyone is so fortunate.

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Obama: Grievance-Monger-in-Chief

From Thomas Sowell:

In his recent trip to India, President Obama repeated a long-standing pattern of his — denigrating the United States to foreign audiences. He said that he had been discriminated against because of his skin color in America, a country in which there is, even now, “terrible poverty.”

Make no mistake about it, there is no society of human beings in which there are no rotten people. But for a President of the United States to be smearing America in a foreign country, whose track record is far worse, is both irresponsible and immature.

Years after the last lynching of blacks took place in the Jim Crow South, India’s own government was still publishing annual statistics on atrocities against the untouchables, including fatal atrocities. The June 2003 issue of “National Geographic” magazine had a chilling article on the continuing atrocities against untouchables in India in the 21st century.

Nothing that happened to Barack Obama when he was attending a posh private school in Hawaii, or elite academic institutions on the mainland, was in the same league with the appalling treatment of untouchables in India. And what Obama called “terrible poverty” in America would be called prosperity in India.

The history of the human race has not always been a pretty picture, regardless of what part of the world you look at, and regardless of whatever color of the rainbow the people have been.

If you want to spend your life nursing grievances, you will never run out of grievances to nurse, regardless of what color your skin is. If some people cannot be rotten to you because of your race, they will find some other reason to be rotten to you.

The question is whether you want to deal with such episodes at the time when they occur or whether you want to nurse your grievances for years, and look for opportunities for “payback” against other people for what somebody else did. Much that has been said and done by both President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder suggests that they are in payback mode.

Both have repeatedly jumped into local law enforcement issues, far from Washington, and turned them into racial issues, long before the facts came out. These two men — neither of whom grew up in a ghetto — have been quick to play the role of defenders of the ghetto, even when that meant defending the kinds of hoodlums who can make life a living hell for decent people in black ghettos.

Far from benefitting ghetto blacks, the vision presented by the Obama administration, and the policies growing out of that vision, have a track record of counterproductive results on both sides of the Atlantic — that is, among low-income whites in England as well as low-income blacks in the United States.

In both countries, children from low-income immigrant families do far better in schools than the native-born, low-income children. Moreover, low-income immigrant groups rise out of poverty far more readily than low-income natives.

The January 31st issue of the distinguished British magazine “The Economist” reports that the children of African refugees from Somalia do far better in school than low-income British children in general. “Somali immigrants,” it reports, “insist that their children turn up for extra lessons at weekends.” These are “well-ordered children” and their parents understand that education “is their ticket out of poverty.”

Contrast that with the Obama administration’s threatening schools with federal action if they do not reduce their disciplining of black males for misbehavior.

Despite whatever political benefit or personal satisfaction that may give Barack Obama and Eric Holder, reducing the sanctions against misbehavior in school virtually guarantees that classroom disorder will make the teaching of other black students far less effective, if not impossible.

For black children whose best ticket out of poverty is education, that is a lifelong tragedy, even if it is a political bonanza to politicians who claim to be their friends and defenders.

The biggest advantage that the children of low-income immigrants have over the children of native-born, low-income families is that low-income immigrants have not been saturated for generations with the rhetoric of victimhood and hopelessness, spread by people like Obama, Holder and their counterparts overseas.

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Tearing at the Very Fabric of the Constitution

From The Patriot Post:

Barack Obama claims to be a “professor of constitutional law,” but a genuine constitutional scholar, George Washington University’s Jonathan Turley, a self-acknowledged liberal Obama supporter, has offered severe criticism of Obama’s “über presidency,” his abuse of executive orders and regulations to bypass Congress.

When asked by Fox News host Megyn Kelly how he would respond “to those who say many presidents have issued executive orders on immigration,” Turley responded, “This would be unprecedented, and I think it would be an unprecedented threat to the balance of powers.”

In July, Turley gave congressional testimony concerning Obama’s abuse of executive orders: “When the president went to Congress and said he would go it alone, it obviously raises a concern. There’s no license for going it alone in our system, and what he’s done is very problematic. He’s told agencies not to enforce some laws [and] has effectively rewritten laws through active interpretation that I find very problematic.”

He continued: “Our system is changing in a dangerous and destabilizing way. What’s emerging is an imperial presidency, an über presidency. … The president’s pledge to effectively govern alone is alarming but what is most alarming is his ability to fulfill that pledge. When a president can govern alone, he can become a government unto himself, which is precisely the danger that the Framers sought to avoid in the establishment of our tripartite system of government. … Obama has repeatedly violated this [separation of powers] doctrine in the circumvention of Congress in areas ranging from health care to immigration law to environmental law. … What we are witnessing today is one of the greatest challenges to our constitutional system in the history of this country. We are in the midst of a constitutional crisis with sweeping implications for our system of government. There could be no greater danger for individual liberty. I think the framers would be horrified. … We are now at the constitutional tipping point for our system. … No one in our system can ‘go it alone’ – not Congress, not the courts, and not the president.”

Turley reiterated this week: “[Obama has] become a government of one. … It’s becoming a particularly dangerous moment if the president is going to go forward, particularly after this election, to defy the will of Congress yet again. … What the president is suggesting is tearing at the very fabric of the Constitution. We have a separation of powers … to protect Liberty, to keep any branch from assuming so much authority that they become a threat to Liberty. … The Democrats are creating something very, very dangerous. They’re creating a president who can go it alone – the very danger that are framers sought to avoid in our Constitution. … I hope he does not get away with it.”

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