Early Wednesday morning, reports began streaming in that Russia had begun launching air-strikes in Syria, just minutes after demanding that U.S. planes immediately leave Syrian airspace. In what has become an unmistakable pattern over the years in the midst of significant acts of international aggression, the White House was caught totally unaware and unprepared for the situation.
Struggling to catch up with the escalation of events, Secretary of State John Kerry tepidly voiced that he wouldn’t object to the Russian airstrikes as long at they targeted ISIS forces (Russia’s stated intent), but said that strikes beyond that, intended to strengthen the hand of Syrian President Bashar Assad (in defiance of U.S. policy on Syria), would be “worrisome.”
Hours later, it was confirmed by Defense Secretary Ash Carter and several news reports that the Russian strikes were, in fact, not targeting ISIS forces (despite Russia’s claims), but rather pro-Western, pro-United-States rebel groups that pose a threat to the Assad government. One of the strikes even took out a top officer who America had been supporting.
What makes this incident even more humiliating is that Russian president Vladimir Putin met personally with President Obama just this week, and apparently saw no point in divulging his plans. According to White House press secretary Josh Earnest, the leaders’ discussion had revolved around “political transition” inside Syria.
In other words, our country has become so weak, and our interests have become so meaningless in the era of Obama, that embarrassing the United States on the world stage is now an international sport.
One can hardly blame Putin for treating us like a chump. He watched our country forfeit a long, hard-fought victory in Iraq just so our president could fulfill a bumper-sticker campaign promise and project national humility as if it were a virtue. He watched us sit back and do nothing while ISIS conquered city after city in Iraq, filling the vacuum we created there with our needless withdrawal. He watched us negotiate a deal with Iran that gave them everything and us nothing (other than a bullet point on a presidential legacy).
It’s not hard to imagine how ecstatic Putin was over President Obama’s over-willingness to end our missile defense system in Poland in 2009, in exchange for absolutely nothing. And God only knows what Obama delivered to the Russians behind closed doors after the 2012 election, once he had the proper “flexibility.”
Still, I’m guessing it was our president’s mopish, politically-expedient retreat from the “red line” he laid down for the Assad regime a while back that finally convinced Putin he could work any strategy he wanted with Syria and Iran without consequence. After watching John Kerry’s pathetic joint statement with Russian diplomat Sergey Lavrov that capped off the day, it appears he was right. We’ve been reduced to writing off our country’s disgrace as a simple, logistical road-bump in order to try and save some face (which no one’s buying).
It was clear even before Barack Obama was sworn into office, of course, that he wanted his presidency to be defined by domestic policies, and not our country’s dominance on the world stage. Long ashamed of the perception of American imperialism, the president has favored a naive “lead from behind” approach to foreign policy that has often guided him away from the advice of his military advisers. He believed an America less involved in international affairs would earn us the respect of the global community. Instead it has made us incredibly weak in the eyes of not only our enemies, but also our allies.
Some countries may like us more than they did during Bush’s tenure, but none of them respect us as much. I don’t think any intellectually honest person would disagree.
Whoever the next president is will inherit a world far more dangerous than the one President Obama inherited, and the absence of American leadership in foreign affairs is the primary reason for that. Voters might want to consider this when evaluating presidential candidates in this election season.