March 16, 2016
Nobody Here But Us Chickens, Couldn't Have Been Me
President Barack Obama has accused Britain and France, and unnamed others countries, of being "free riders," unwilling to put "skin in the game."
It was startling to read the article by Jeffrey Goldberg and his candid interview and portrait of President Barak Obama in the issue of Atlantic Magazine of March 10, 2016. It is an unusual criticism, if in less brutal language than that of the Soviet dictator, but nevertheless an unprecedented attack on two supposed allies, Britain and France. The two countries, Obama implied, were trying to involve the U.S. in conflicts in which U.S. interests are not at stake.
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As a candidate in the presidential elections, Obama pledged to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Throughout his presidency Obama has sought to avoid committing U.S. forces in foreign conflicts if possible, though he recognized the danger of al-Qaeda and threats to the State of Israel. As Jeffrey Goldberg reports it, Obama argued that the first task in international affairs of a U.S. president is "don't do stupid s***." Others might more appropriately see this as the rationalization for the refusal by the U.S. to exercise leadership as it has done since 1945.
Obama's international priorities are unusual. For him, ISIS is not an existential threat. But he views climate change as a threat to the entire world, and one that affects all the other problems we face. Seemingly less important, and almost an afterthought, is the long-term problem of "terrorism when combined with the problem of failed states."
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Obama is right that Libya is still a "s*** show." It is a failed state with no real working government, with a large part of the country controlled by a variety of competing militias and terrorist groups. Obama blamed the failure on the degree of tribal division in Libya that was greater than his analysts had expected. Parenthetically, one wonders who these "analysts" were, since the tribal rivalries in Libya have been discussed in all serious commentary on the country.
More important, Obama blamed France and Britain for the present mess.
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Surprisingly, Obama's chestnuts were pulled out of the fire by the decision of President Vladimir Putin to work for the successful removal of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal.
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Obama has given various explanations for his failure to take action, but two are particularly interesting. One is the failure of Prime Minister Cameron to get consent of the British Parliament. Indeed, Cameron did not get the consent of the House of Commons, but this was in part due to the campaign of Labour leader Ed Miliband in August for Labour M.P.s to vote against U.K. air strikes.
The other is his rationale that the scope of executive power in national security issues is very broad but not limitless. This is a surprising argument from the president who has had no hesitation in issuing executive orders, so far 226, in domestic policy.
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It is clear that for President Obama, the Middle East is not an area for U.S. priority. Equally, he does not advocate a leadership role in international affairs, even if it is sometimes expressed, though also sometimes denied, as "leading from behind." None of this excuses his blaming other countries and politicians for problems or deficiencies in the international arena. They are not pulling anyone's chestnuts out of the fire.
March 14, 2016
Obama on Foreign Policy Apocalypse: Don't Blame Me
By Michael Curtis