Last week we discovered that Barack Obama violated his constitutional duty to “preserve, protect, and defend” the United States by doing nothing as Russian hacking targeted American democracy.
As Putin launched an ideological 9/11 attacking the integrity of American elections, Obama cowered. Facing this cyber-Pearl Harbor, Obama, fearing fear itself, dithered, worrying about inciting further hacking.
He admitted: “What I was concerned about in particular was making sure that that wasn’t compounded by potential hacking that could hamper vote counting.”
Shockingly, the week ended with silence from most Obamians and the American Jewish left about this unprecedented betrayal of a president’s basic mission.
Instead, they denounced… David Friedman, Donald Trump’s pick to be America’s ambassador to Israel. Somehow, an American patriot’s support for Israeli settlements more upset these shortsighted ideologues than the Russians’ contempt for American democracy – or the president’s impotence.
Whatever you think of Israel’s settlements, this misplaced fury epitomizes Obama’s failed foreign policy. The outgoing US president has spawned a callow, cowardly series of leadership miscarriages that bullied friends and empowered enemies. He feared Putin’s Russia, wooed Ahmadinejad’s Iran and boosted Castro’s Cuba.
Obama’s ideologically-driven misreading of America and the world enabled the Syrian mass slaughter while reserving special anger for Jews building houses in their ancient homeland.
Former US president George W. Bush’s great foreign policy misfire was unintentional: failing to execute effectively; Obama’s foreign policy crimes were premeditated: failing to see clearly and lead crisply because he disdains American power, sapping American confidence while distorting America’s ethical vision, reducing us all to moral midgets rationalizing the weakness of our musclebound giant. America withdrew – and evil festered.
Even as Democrats mock Donald Trump, justifiably, for minimizing Vladimir Putin’s culpability in the leaked Democratic Party emails that helped derail Hillary Clinton’s campaign, they should criticize the Democratic Party’s titular leader – Obama – for tolerating this intolerable assault against his own party.
Even the New York Times reported in its investigation of Russian cyberwarfare that “Mr. Obama was briefed regularly on all this, but he made a decision that many in the White House now regret: He did not name Russians publicly, or issue sanctions.
There was always a reason: fear of escalating a cyberwar, and concern that the United States needed Russia’s cooperation in negotiations over Syria.”
Obama’s craven admission on Friday that he feared further escalations was a Carteresque cave-in that would be like Abraham Lincoln surrendering Gettysburg out of fear the South might attack Washington DC.
The weaker Obama feels, the more this Harvardian’s eloquent language descends into schoolboy clumsiness.
“Our goal continues to be to send a clear message to Russia or others not to do this to us because we can do stuff to you,” he said.
Eventually, months after learning about the hacking, Obama told Putin in September at a Group of 20 meeting in Hanghzhou, China – hold onto your hats – “to cut it out.”
Meanwhile, consider what Obama’s dithering accomplished, the catastrophe occurring despite “Russia’s cooperation in negotiations over Syria.”
Leon Wieseltier – an opponent of Israel’s settlements but someone with a moral barometer and a sense of proportion – called “Aleppo’s fall… Obama’s failure.”
Warning “you cannot be cold-hearted and high-minded,” furious that the “ruins of the finest traditions of American internationalism, of American leadership in a darkening world, may be found in the ruins of Aleppo,” Wiesltier concluded in The Washington Post that, under Obama, “When they go low, we go home.” Wieseltier says the “Obama doctrine” offers “inconsequential action.”
Obama’s blame-Israel-firstism shows he occasionally adds “self-righteous reaction” – especially if targeting Bibi Netanyahu.
Obama’s foreign flubs, this epidemic incompetence that emboldened Putin, inspired ISIS, protected Assad, while weakening the West and helping Trump win, was preventable, not inevitable. Two years ago Leslie Gelb’s begged for a reset in The Daily Beast but was ignored.
Gelb, a Jimmy Carter State Department official, New York Times reporter, and Foreign Policy establishment pillar, demanded a foreign policy housecleaning after Obama failed to march in Paris against terrorism in January 2015.
Confessing “I’ve never proposed such a drastic overhaul,” Gelb concluded that “the Obama team lacks the basic instincts and judgment necessary to conduct US national security policy…. It’s simply too dangerous to let Mr. Obama continue as is.”
Calling Obama “the key problem,” Gelb hoped new advisers might start facing the “gut challenges to our national security in the Middle East, with Russia and China,” because the “terrorism and cyber warfare challenges in particular imperil our very survival.”
Obama entered the White House believing that wielding American power has historically done more harm than good; he proved that making America look powerless does much harm and no good. He seemed to believe that speaking kind words to historic enemies would soften them. Instead, it hardened them.
Meanwhile, speaking harsh words to traditional friends backfired, alienating them too.
Following Obama’s foreign fiascoes, with Putin crowing, and Syria smoldering, China acting out and Iran sneaking around, we need some sense of proportion.
Worrying about Donald Trump’s ambassador-designate’s approach to Israel’s settlements stance or his Jerusalem embassy position is like an army medic debating what cold medicine might work as soldiers bleed on the battlefield.
America needs a massive foreign policy reset. This isn’t about making America great again – this is about trying to make America – and others who depend on us – safe – and occasionally virtuous – again.
The writer, Professor of History at McGill University and a Visiting Professor at the Ruderman Program at Haifa University, is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, published by St. Martin’s Press. His next book will update Arthur Hertzberg’s