Putin cutting Obama down to size

If the humiliation of the Obama administration continues at this rate, by this time next week you should expect to see Secretary of State John Kerry on all fours at the United Nations, getting paddled by the Russian foreign minister and shouting, “Thank you, comrade! May I have another?”

Jonah Goldberg of the Los Angeles Times.

On Monday, President Obama and Vladimir Putin had a meeting at the United Nations. All Putin wanted from it was a photo of the two men huddling together. The Russian president needed to show his people that he’s still a major player on the world stage, a big man driving events. Obama, who spent much of the last year trying to isolate the butcher of Ukraine, gave Putin exactly what he wanted. In wall-to-wall coverage, Russian media celebrated the big man’s diplomatic triumph and his geo-strategic genius.

What was Obama’s price for granting Putin this PR windfall? The leader of the free world made the Russian autocrat listen to another tedious lecture about how Putin doesn’t understand his country’s interests as well as Obama does. No doubt Putin would have preferred to avoid yet another seminar on how the word should work. But if Paris was worth a mass for Henry IV, no doubt Syria (and not just Syria) was worth yet another sonorous tutorial about the moral arc of the universe doing jobs our president won’t.

While Obama droned on about the importance of cooperation and communication, Putin was probably counting the minutes until he could get back to reviewing Syrian targets for his bombers.

It didn’t take long for Putin to reveal what he thinks of Obama’s sermons on the importance of communication. On Wednesday, a three-star Russian general marched into the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and issued a démarche — a fancy diplomatic word for a formal, non-negotiable declaration. The general reportedly instructed U.S. officials that Russia would commence airstrikes within the hour and that American forces had better clear out. In diplomatic terms, it was somewhere between a white-gloved slap in the face and a spit in the eye.

A State Department spokesman later said, “We’ve seen media reporting that has suggested Russian missions have begun.”

There’s a nice irony here in that Obama has often said that he only learned about the failures of his administration — corruption at the IRS, malfeasance at the VA, etc. — from media reports. So perhaps Putin thought this was the way Obama liked to be informed of unfortunate events.

Regardless, Putin’s planes started their bombing runs. Russia claimed they were targeting the Islamic State, but the bombs landed where intended: on U.S.-backed Syrian rebels. Russia’s confidence was well-founded. Upon hearing the news that our allies on the ground were being slaughtered, Kerry met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the U.N. Lavrov, being the more important figure, spoke first at the press conference.

Then, Kerry issued this less-than-blistering denunciation: “I relayed and reiterated the concerns that I expressed in the course of the U.N. Security Council meeting which was led by Russia today: concerns that we have about the nature of the targets, the type of targets, and the need for clarity with respect to them. And it is one thing obviously to be targeting ISIL. We’re concerned, obviously, if that is not what is happening.”

No doubt our friends are reassured by the news that if Russia bombs them, America will immediately respond by expressing our “concerns.”

At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Ash Carter convened a press conference where he brought all the urgency of a faculty department chair assigning new parking spaces. He did say that he takes the Russians “at their word.”

“My problem isn’t that I don’t understand what they’re doing,” Carter said. “I think my problem is that I think what they’re doing is going to backfire and is counterproductive.”

This is the Obama doctrine in a nutshell. The president’s favorite rhetorical trope is to justify withdrawing from the world on the grounds that the “international community” will fill the vacuum created by our abdication. But the international community’s troops always stay in their barracks. Meanwhile, bad actors — Russia, China, Iran et al. — seize the opening. Our president responds with mournful words that doing so is not in the villains’ interests. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s bombing of his own people demonstrate, according to Obama, that they are on “the wrong side of history.”

Having made his pronouncement, the ostrich buries his head back in the sand.

(Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of National Review. You can write to him in care of this newspaper or by e-mail at [email protected], or via Twitter @JonahNRO.)

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