Charles Krauthammer’s most recent column—which continues the weird conservative criticism of the #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign on behalf of those kidnapped Nigerian girls—takes a shot at President Obama for doing little about “Russia’s slow-motion dismemberment of Ukraine,” what Krauthammer says is “the rape of this U.S. friend.” He accuses Obama of engaging in “rhetorical fatuousness.”
The conservative columnist and Fox pundit is among many conservatives who think Obama is to blame for much of the Ukraine crisis and for Putin’s moves there. Senator Ted Cruz, echoing Krauthammer, said President Obama is “hiding behind diplomatic babble.” He told his fellow conservatives earlier this year:
When there is a vacuum of leadership in the world, it is not a good thing for America; it is not a good thing for freedom…What this administration doesn’t understand is weakness and appeasement only invites military conflict.
Hmm. Obama is standing by, weakly, as Russia rapes Ukraine and his weakness invites military conflict. Okay. Except that, so far, as Vox’s Max Fisher tells us, “Obama’s strategy of letting Putin hang himself is working.” Fisher writes:
The official US position has been to threaten broader sanctions that seem unlikely to get the European support necessary to make them hurt, while arguing that Russia’s actions will be so self-defeating that the problem would just sort itself out.
It sounded silly, a shrug of a policy. And maybe it even was. But it also turns out to be working surprisingly well. Russian President Vladimir Putin has over-reached in Ukraine, creating problems for himself so bad that they may force him down as or more effectively than plausible American actions alone might have (although they helped). Putin is hanging himself by his own rope.
This has been so effective, and has apparently taken Putin by such surprise, that after weeks of looking like he could roll into eastern Ukraine unchallenged, he’s backing down all on his own. Official Russian rhetoric, after weeks of not-so-subtle threats of invading eastern Ukraine, is backing down. Putin suddenly looks like he will support Ukraine’s upcoming presidential election, rather than oppose it, although it will likely install a pro-European president. European and American negotiators say the tone in meetings has eased from slinging accusations to working toward a peaceful resolution.
As Fisher points out, “Most of this is economic.” Global investors are backing away and “doing tremendous damage to Putin’s Russia, nudged along by the US and Putin himself.” While that phrase “nudged along by the US” isn’t likely to win President Obama any medals from Charles Krauthammer and Ted Cruz, it appears that Obama’s soberness, his careful nudging, his “hit singles, hit doubles” diplomacy is paying off. At the end of April, the President said this:
In Ukraine, what we’ve done is mobilize the international community. Russia has never been more isolated. A country that used to be clearly in its orbit now is looking much more towards Europe and the West, because they’ve seen that the arrangements that have existed for the last 20 years weren’t working for them. And Russia is having to engage in activities that have been rejected uniformly around the world. And we’ve been able to mobilize the international community to not only put diplomatic pressure on Russia, but also we’ve been able to organize European countries who many were skeptical would do anything to work with us in applying sanctions to Russia. Well, what else should we be doing? Well, we shouldn’t be putting troops in, the critics will say. That’s not what we mean. Well, okay, what are you saying? Well, we should be arming the Ukrainians more. Do people actually think that somehow us sending some additional arms into Ukraine could potentially deter the Russian army? Or are we more likely to deter them by applying the sort of international pressure, diplomatic pressure and economic pressure that we’re applying?
As of right now, Obama was right and his critics were wrong. Let’s hope it stays that way.
And speaking of his critics, not all of them were right-wing cheerleaders for cowboy diplomacy. At least one of them, the left-leaning mega-columnist for The New York Times, Maureen Dowd, offered up some ridiculous criticism of President Obama’s diplomacy. In a piece titled as if to please Obama-haters on the right (“Is Barry Whiffing”), she wrote:
…you are the American president. And the American president should not perpetually use the word “eventually.” And he should not set a tone of resignation with references to this being a relay race and say he’s willing to take “a quarter of a loaf or half a loaf,” and muse that things may not come “to full fruition on your timetable.”
An American president should never say, as you did to the New Yorker editor, David Remnick, about presidents through history: “We’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right.”
Mr. President, I am just trying to get my paragraph right. You need to think bigger.
An American president should never say, as you did Monday in Manila when you got frustrated in a press conference with the Philippine president: “You hit singles; you hit doubles. Every once in a while, we may be able to hit a home run.”
Especially now that we have this scary World War III vibe with the Russians, we expect the president, especially one who ran as Babe Ruth, to hit home runs.
In the immortal words of Earl Weaver, the Hall of Famer who managed the Baltimore Orioles: “The key to winning baseball games is pitching, fundamentals, and three-run homers.” A singles hitter doesn’t scare anybody.
It doesn’t feel like leadership. It doesn’t feel like you’re in command of your world…
What happened to crushing it and swinging for the fences? Where have you gone, Babe Ruth?
Maureen Dowd is one of those lefty pundits who every now and then needs to go against type in order to shock. That’s how she stays relevant, I suppose. But before she applies another baseball metaphor to foreign policy and diplomacy again, she should make sure she understands what she is talking about. She may long for a Babe Ruth Obama, but Ruth struck out 1330 times while hitting his 714 homers. And that doesn’t count all the other outs (4,196) he made in his 8,399 at bats. He failed to get a hit 66% of the time and failed to hit a home run more than 91% of the time.
And the world is just too dangerous a place, the lives of American troops are just too much to risk, on a commander-in-chief home run hitter, when we know that “swinging for the fences” will result in many more failures than successes.