Charles Krauthammer: The Obama portfolio seriously lacks gravitas

08/18/2014 3:16 PM

08/18/2014 3:16 PM

“Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff' is not an organizing principle.”

– Hillary Clinton, The Atlantic, Aug. 10

Leave it to Barack Obama’s own former secretary of state to acknowledge the fatal flaw of his foreign policy: a total absence of strategic thinking.

Mind you, Obama does deploy grand words proclaiming grand ideas: the “new beginning” with Islam declared in Cairo, the reset with Russia announced in Geneva, global nuclear disarmament proclaimed in Prague (and playacted in a Washington summit). Untethered from reality, they all disappeared without a trace.

When carrying out policies in the real world, however, it’s nothing but tactics and reactive improvisation. The only consistency is the president’s inability (unwillingness?) to see the big picture. Consider:

1. Russia

Vladimir Putin has 45,000 troops on the Ukraine border. A convoy of 262 unwanted, unrequested, uninspected Russian trucks with allegedly humanitarian aid is headed to Ukraine to relieve the pro-Russian separatists now reduced to the encircled cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. Ukraine threatens to stop it.

Obama’s concern? He blithely tells The New York Times that Putin “could invade” Ukraine at any time. And if he does, says Obama, “trying to find our way back to a cooperative functioning relationship with Russia during the remainder of my term will be much more difficult.”

Is this what Obama worries about? A Russian invasion would be a singular violation of the post-Cold War order, a humiliating demonstration of American helplessness and a shock to the Baltic republics, Poland and other vulnerable U.S. allies.

2. Syria

To this day, Obama seems not to understand the damage he did to American credibility everywhere by slinking away from his own self-proclaimed red line on Syrian use of chemical weapons.

He seems equally unaware of the message sent by his refusal to arm the secular opposition (over the objections of Secretary of State Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and CIA Director David Petraeus) when it was still doable. He ridicules the idea as “fantasy” because we’d be arming amateurs up against a well-armed government “backed by Russia, backed by Iran (and) a battle-hardened Hezbollah.”

He thus admits that Russian and other outside support was crucial to tilting the outcome of this civil war to Bashar Assad. Yet he dismisses countervailing U.S. support as useless.

3. Gaza

Every moderate U.S. ally in the Middle East welcomed the original (week 1) Egyptian cease-fire offer. They were stunned when the U.S. then met with Qatar and Turkey, Hamas’ lawyers, promoting its demands. Did Obama not understand he was stymieing a tacit and remarkable pan-Arab-Israeli alliance to bring down Hamas (a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood) — itself an important U.S. strategic objective?

The definitive evidence of Obama’s lack of vision is his own current policy reversals — a clear admission of failure. He backed the next Egyptian cease-fire. He’s finally arming the Syrian rebels. And he’s returning American military power to Iraq. (On Russia, however, he appears unmovably unmoved.)

Iraq is also very little, very late. Why did Obama wait seven months after the Islamic State takeover of Fallujah and nine weeks after the capture of Mosul before beginning to supply the Kurds with desperately needed weapons?

And why the pinprick airstrikes? The Pentagon admits that the current tactics — hitting an artillery piece here, a truck there — will not affect the momentum of Islamic State or the course of the war.

But then again, altering the course of a war would be a strategic objective. That seems not to be in Obama’s portfolio.

Reach Charles Krauthammer at letters@charleskrauthammer.com.

Videos

Join the Discussion

The Kansas City Star is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Terms of Service