The other day I heard a political consultant describe America’s current relations with Russia in light of the situation in Ukraine as a poker game between President Obama and Russian President Putin. “So far,” he said, “Putin is winning.”
While our president voices words of concern and carefully scripted, tele-prompted warnings of “serious consequences,” the Russian president responds with actions– sending troops, tanks and weapons across Ukraine’s sovereign border. So far it would appear that the Russian leader is the one calling the shots. Putin is acting while Obama is reacting. Russia is playing offence while America (and the rest of the world) is playing defense.
In isolation, this situation might not be all that important, but from a perspective measuring America’s standing within the landscape of geo-political relationships, it seems we are on the cusp of serious trouble.
Russia is on the move. It is now engaged in its largest military buildup since the collapse of the Soviet Union and is aggressively expanding its global influence. China’s economy continues to expand and it is drastically ramping-up its military capacity with eyes on Taiwan. Both China and Russia have made significant inroads into Latin America, while America’s influence there has diminished.
In the shadow of what might be gathering clouds of confrontation, President Obama is naïve and appears unsure; his condescending finger-wagging impressing only members of his own party and much of the American press. Not only are our enemies unimpressed, they are emboldened. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad skips over Obama’s “red line,” as he continues to exterminate his own citizens who dare oppose him, and Iran appreciates Obama’s conciliatory tone as it marches on toward its goal of nuclear weapons and the destruction of Israel.
A credible leader only speaks of consequences if he knows what those consequences will be before he speaks. Obama’s obvious scrambling shows that he has TR’s policy of “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” reversed.
Any past progress made toward stability in the Middle East has been negated by Obama’s sorry leadership, as Egypt, Libya, and Syria go up in flames. We are unclear about our loyalties, as we vacillate in defining friend or foe. Israel rightfully feels abandoned by Washington, as do our Eastern European friends, now that they too are discovering that they are on their own.
America’s anemic imposition of “sanctions” in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea only serves to stiffen Russian resolve and invites a return to the cold war. The Russian people cheer for Putin and scoff at the ignorance or arrogance of any American president so oblivious to history—the Russian people hunger for nationalistic pride, not financial security.
Then there is the issue of Edward Snowden. The complete absence of any leverage whatsoever for America to influence Russian cooperation, in what is arguably the most significant intelligence threat in decades, testifies to the Obama Administration’s astounding weakness in national security matters.
Our President’s skill in navigating foreign policy is being tested, and so far he has failed. He appears impotent in the role of Commander-in Chief. The cumulative result of his foundering has left our nation as vulnerable as it was the day before Pearl Harbor.
The stature of America—our influence and the respect other nations apportion us—has declined dramatically. In large measure this is on account of the dismal performance of President Obama. But the American people bear a significant underlying responsibility for how America is perceived by other nations—friends and foes alike.
The spilt blood of assassinated American Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya is a glaring, hideous example to a watching world of Americans’ indifference regarding matters of supreme importance. For the President of the United States to refer to this tragedy as some sort of “phony scandal,” is outrageous and contemptible; likewise, for then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to dismiss the matter (while under oath), with the statement, “With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night decided to go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?”
Other foreign policy failures aside, on account of this tragedy alone, the American people should be holding our leaders to account. Apparently however, most Americans have been too busy updating their Facebook walls and re-tweeting photos from the Academy Awards to be concerned about the Benghazi incident, or to notice that Vladimir Putin and other leaders have been working round the clock building their militaries, as our president has been reducing and softening ours.
While Putin ramped-up for his invasion of Ukraine, U.S. Secretary of Defense Hagel announced the reduction of our military troop numbers, to the lowest levels since 1940. President Obama has been more concerned with the feminization and “trans-genderization” of our military than in its readiness, and as a result, morale in the armed forces has never been lower.
During the debates prior to the last election, there was an exchange between Mitt Romney and President Obama, where the President derided Romney for saying that he believed Russia represented the greatest long term strategic threat to our security. Obama also mocked Romney for being critical of the administration’s cuts to our naval forces, claiming that today’s technology negated the need for a large number of ships. On the first point, as recent events are proving, Romney was right. As for Obama’s flippant critique of Romney’s concern about cuts to our naval forces, the point should have made that regardless of how advanced our new ships may be, they still cannot be two places at once! The point demonstrated Obama’s ignorance, not Romney’s.
A good poker player is not necessarily the one with the best hand, but one who knows how to play a poor hand, well. In the poker game of geo-politics, the stakes are enormous. Freedom or oppression, peace or war, hang in the balance.
America sits at the table, still with the best hand–the most powerful, technologically-advanced military in the world. The problem is, the man holding our cards is a very poor player, indeed.