Obama Policy On Ukraine May Be Working: “Putin Is Hanging Himself By His Own Rope”

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:

obama putinThe 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 babe ruthwith 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.

 

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Anarchy, The Republicans’ “War On Everyone,” And The Folly Of Beltway Journalists

I watched this morning as John Boehner, not content with leading a GOP war against women, minorities, and LGBT citizens, announced a War on Everyone! House Republicans will, by God, defund ObamaCare or shut down the government or blow up the economy or both! Yippee! say TV and print journalists and pundits everywhere, who love the “gamesmanship” and “brinkmanship” angle of these stories, as opposed to accurately and frequently reporting on exactly who has the dynamite in their hands.

Boehner said:

We’re going to continue to do everything we can to repeal the president’s failed health care law.

Since I have a habit of taking extremists at their word, I believe “everything” means, well, “everything.”

I also had the great pleasure of watching C-SPAN this morning as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid more than once referred to House members as “anarchists,” and also said about “forty percent” of Senate Republicans were anarchists, too. He also said this:

We’re now waiting to see what the House of Representatives is going to do, how absurd it’s going to be, what they’re going to send us. We know it’s going to be something really strange and weird because the speaker has to do everything he can to mold a piece of legislation that will meet the needs of the tea party — the anarchists — and I say that without any equivocation. They do not want government to work on any level.

Finally someone in the Democratic Party leadership has described in one word, one wonderful word, what Tea Party Republicanism is all about.

For his part, although it was lost in all the wall-to-wall (and mostly inaccurate) coverage of the Navy Yard tragedy, President Obama had something to say on Monday about the dangerous strategy that John Boehner today confirmed Republicans would pursue:

Congress’s most fundamental job is passing a budget.  And Congress needs to get it done without triggering another crisis, without shutting down our government, or worse — threatening not to pay this country’s bills.  After all the progress that we’ve made over these last four and a half years, the idea of reversing that progress because of an unwillingness to compromise or because of some ideological agenda is the height of irresponsibility.  It’s not what the American people need right now…

I cannot remember a time when one faction of one party promises economic chaos if it can’t get 100 percent of what it wants.  That’s never happened before.  But that’s what’s happening right now. 

You have some Republicans in the House of Representatives who are promising to shut down the government at the end of this month if they can’t shut down the Affordable Care Act.  And if that scheme doesn’t work, some have suggested they won’t pay the very bills that Congress has already run up, which would cause America to default on its debt for the first time in our history and would create massive economic turmoil.  Interest rates on ordinary people would shoot up.  Those kinds of actions are the kinds of actions that we don’t need…

But in case there’s any confusion, I will not negotiate over whether or not America keeps its word and meets its obligations. I will not negotiate over the full faith and credit of the United States.  This country has worked too hard for too long to dig out of a crisis just to see their elected representatives here in Washington purposely cause another crisis. 

Let’s stop the threats.  Let’s stop the political posturing. Let’s keep our government open.  Let’s pay our bills on time.  Let’s pass a budget.  Let’s work together to do what the American people sent us here to do:  create jobs, grow our economy, expand opportunity.  That’s what we need to do.

Meanwhile, even as Speaker Boehner ignored Obama’s unequivocal, “I will not negotiate over the full faith and credit if the United States,” as well as his plea to “stop the threats,” and with the threat of sabotaging the entire economy hanging over our heads, I have heard and read several political journalists attack the President. Yes, attack the President.

These political journalists, from New York to D.C. and beyond, are strange folks who are fascinated not by policy matters—which affect everyday people in the country—but by process matters—which don’t affect anyone but do provide something for the chattering class to chatter about. They have relentlessly criticized the President for his “messaging problem,” for not winning enough PR victories, for “dithering” and looking “indecisive” over Syria, among other things.

From Andrea Mitchell to Chuck Todd to Mark Halperin to John Heilemann to Ruth Marcus to Maureen Dowd, the columnist other journalists and TV personalities love to quote, I have heard the equivalent of Dowd’s recent claim, which she has repeated frequently, that the President’s style is not up to the job, that he “cannot seem to connect anymore.”

This morning, after Dowd’s ridiculous column was cited on MSNBC several times, I heard the new managing editor of Time magazine, Nancy Gibbs, say that the President seems “off his game.” Huh? This is a game? All this stuff is just a PR sport for Beltway insiders, including journalists and politicians, to opine on, when the Great Black Communicator is perceived as not getting the message just right by Washington, D.C.’s, or Marureen Dowd’s, standards? Oh, Allah.

And we wonder why it is that Republicans feel emboldened, and if you listen to right-wing radio, they now feel giddy and emboldened, to carry out a plot to dynamite the economy in order to destroy Obama and ObamaCare.

Finally, I heard CNN’s John King say today that Boehner has one of the toughest jobs in Washington. Are you kidding? You mean it is tough to decide between blowing up the country and not blowing up the country? Is that tough? Is that a close call?

Apparently it is in the mind of journalists like John King.

Paul Ryan And “Arrested Adolescence”

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd absolutely nails Paul Ryan in her latest column, which is a must read:

He’s the cutest package that cruelty ever came in. He has a winning air of sad cheerfulness. He’s affable, clean-cut and really cut, with the Irish altar-boy widow’s peak and droopy, winsome blue eyes and unashamed sentimentality.

Who better to rain misery upon the heads of millions of Americans?

After so much media blather about Paul Ryan’s “earthiness,” his many menial jobs as a kid—how many pics have you seen of that dreadful Oscar Meyer Weinermobile?—Dowd gets the Ryan biography just right:

Like Mitt Romney, Ryan truly believes he made it on his own, so everyone else can, too. He shrugs off the advantage of starting as the white guy from an affluent family, able to breeze into a summer internship for a Wisconsin Republican senator as a college student.

The columnist also mentions a couple of facts that so far, as far as I know, have mostly gone unreported:

Ryan co-sponsored the Sanctity of Life Act enshrining a fertilized egg with the definition of “personhood” and supported a bill Democrats nicknamed the “Let Women Die Act,” which would have let hospitals that get federal money deny women abortions even in life-threatening circumstances.

Have you heard one word about that?

And Dowd neatly distills the essence of the weird libertarianism espoused by Ryan’s ideological Jesus, Ayn Rand:

His long infatuation with her makes him seem even younger than he looks with his cowlick because Randism is a state of arrested adolescence, making its disciples feel like heroic teenagers atop a lofty mountain peak.

Amen.

Finally, Dowd says what I have said about Mitt Romney’s ideological insecurity, which is why I argued that he was the most dangerous right-winger running this year and Democrats must constantly point that out:

The secretive, ambiguous Romney was desperate for ideological clarity, so he outsourced his political identity to Ryan.

This just proves that Romney will never get over his anxiety about not being conservative enough. As president, he’d feel the need to prove himself with right-wing Supreme Court picks.

Yes, among other things. He will always have to prove himself to the yahoos now running the Republican Party. They will watch his every move, always threatening to pull the electoral rug from beneath his feet. And for a man who wants nothing in this world more than to become and remain president, that is a scary prospect.

The last line in Dowd’s column is priceless, but I’ve excerpted too much already. You should get it from the source.

The Revisionism Has Begun: George Bush Is The Hero Of Egypt

Charles Krauthammer wrote this incredible paragraph, which is only a part of the Right’s campaign to revise history and resurrect the political carcass of Bush II:

Today, everyone and his cousin supports the “freedom agenda.” Of course, yesterday it was just George W. Bush, Tony Blair and a band of neocons with unusual hypnotic powers who dared challenge the received wisdom of Arab exceptionalism – the notion that Arabs, as opposed to East Asians, Latin Americans, Europeans and Africans, were uniquely allergic to democracy. Indeed, the left spent the better part of the Bush years excoriating the freedom agenda as either fantasy or yet another sordid example of U.S. imperialism.

It’s as if the preemptive invasion and occupation of Iraq never happened.  All that is left is Bush’s and the neocon’s “freedom agenda,” which according to many on the Right is bearing fruit in Egypt today.

Here is what Elliott Abrams, a deputy national security adviser in the W. Bush administration said recently:

The Bush administration pushed hardest on democracy in Egypt in 2004 and 2005 and got some results. 2005 is when Mubarak, for the first time, actually had a presidential election; prior to that he was selected by the parliament without even a fake election… so there was some movement in Egypt in 2004, 2005 when we were pushing hardest.

See there?  The Bushies are taking credit for fake elections!  But here is what the Brookings Institution wrote in 2009 about Bush’s efforts:

Bush’s bombastic rhetoric alienated the Egyptian president, but produced some small gains in political freedom in Egypt that were quickly reversed when Bush’s pressure on democracy let up in 2006.

Abrams also wrote a column about Bush’s “freedom agenda,” extolling Bush for a speech he gave in 2003, which defended the idea of Arab democracy and self-government. Here’s how the Washington Post presented Abrams’ column on January 29:

Egypt protests show George W. Bush was right about freedom in the Arab world

Let me see.  Why did Bush had taken an interest in Arab freedom in 2003?  What happened that year?  Oh, yeah: We invaded Iraq and took over the country and found no WMDs there, thus instead of a whoops! we got the “freedom agenda.”

In fact, here’s how the Washington Post opened its story on the speech on November 6, 2003:

President Bush today portrayed the war in Iraq as the latest front in the “global democratic revolution” led by the United States.

Those were heady days, I suppose.

Maureen Dowd wrote half apologetically last week:

President George W. Bush meant well when he tried to start a domino effect of democracy in the Middle East and end the awful hypocrisy of America coddling autocratic rulers.

But the way he went about it was naïve and wrong. “In many ways, you can argue that the Iraq war set back the cause of democracy in the Middle East,” Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations who worked at the State Department during Bush’s first term, told me. “It’s more legitimate in Arab eyes when it happens from within than when it’s externally driven.”

All of this is not to say that efforts to stir up democracy in the region by both Bush and Obama—remember the Cairo speech?—were of no effect.  But no one outside of Egypt can take credit for what has happened there and therefore the main responsibility for what happens in the future is on those inside Egypt.

We can and should do all we peacefully can to aid and abet any forthcoming Egyptian democracy, but William F. Buckley was fond of quoting John Quincy Adams in this regard:

…the American people are friends of liberty everywhere, they are custodians only of their own.

It’s just sort of pathetic that apologists for the last administration are setting the Egyptian uprising in the context of Bush’s “freedom agenda,” and using this opportunity to try to make us forget that his agenda had more to do with justifying his disastrous invasion of Iraq than anything else.

[top image from Huffington Post; bottom from Reuters]
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