We were at a gathering last week and the discussion moved from the plight of Malaysian Airline Flight 370 to the fiasco in the Crimea. As the discussion evolved and criticism of President Barack Obama rose, someone (probably one of those souls trying to assuage his own misgivings for having voted for Mr. Obama) asked, “Well, what would you do?”
That can be a show stopper because Mr. Obama’s ineptness and naivete have not only brought on the situation in which Russian President Vladmir Putin was emboldened to invade the Crimea but left us with few, if any, options with which to respond. For whatever reason, however, I recalled one of Andy Smith’s favorite retorts: “Your negligence does not create a crisis for me.” Mr. Smith was the legendary head of Pacific Northwest Bell (PNB) when I transferred from Mountain Bell in Montana to PNB in Oregon. His admonition was about personal responsibility. If you caused a problem then own it and fix it.
In this instance the idea that Mr. Obama has, for five plus years, made one mistake after another in the conduct of foreign policy does not mean that those critical of those mistakes have to accept the consequences of his choices. The appropriate question is not what you would do now, but rather what you would have done to avoid the calamity that now presents itself. Quite frankly the only way to avoid a continuation of those mistakes is to examine the onset of the mistakes themselves.
So let’s start at the beginning. I would not have picked Sen. Joe Biden as my running mate. Mr. Obama had no experience in foreign affairs and did not bother to learn anything about them during his brief tenure in the United States Senate. He chose Mr. Biden, then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as his vice president presumably to fill that gap. Unfortunately, Mr. Biden achieved his chairmanship not by knowledge but by longevity under the Senate’s poorly designed seniority system. Mr. Biden was long regarded as one of the dumbest men in the Senate. (He graduated in the bottom ten percent of his college class.) Prior to his selection as Vice-President, Mr. Biden was most widely known for oratorical gaffs and his forced acknowledgement of having plagiarized nearly a third of a law review article and for having plagiarized a portion of his stump speech during an ill fated run for the presidency. And like Mr. Obama, Mr. Biden has learned virtually nothing during his vice-presidency. As noted by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates:
“I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
I would not have picked Sen. Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. We may not ever know all of the intrigue that surrounded the Clintons’ endorsement of Mr. Obama after a particularly nasty primary campaign; however, suffice it to say that one of the elements was the elevation of Ms. Clinton to Secretary of State and the presumed resultant burnishing of her stature for a future presidential run – that now being right around the corner in 2016. Ms. Clinton has received wide praise by the mainstream media for her service. But, when questioned, no one can point to a single accomplishment other than that she traveled more miles than any of her predecessors. Under her watch the Middle East tumbled into further chaos and while she embraced the so-called Arab Spring it became symbolic of her tenure – a catchy slogan and an empty promise. She presided over the terrorist killing of our ambassador to Libya and three of his associates, the alienation of Egypt in the post-Morsi period, and the pandering to a brute like Mr. Putin leading to his invasion of the Crimea. Ms. Clinton spent most of her time promoting herself and precious little promoting our country.
I would not have replaced Ms. Clinton with Senator John Kerry. Despite his stentorian pronouncements, Mr. Kerry is another empty suit so focused on achieving a legacy now that he failed to become president that he is likely to sell out Israel in hopes of achieving a Nobel Prize. In the period surrounding the crisis in the Crimea Mr. Kerry appeared haughty but confused. It is his natural state and one that serves the country poorly.
I would not have abandoned our missile defense shield in Czech Republic and Poland without a verifiable quid pro quo from Russia. I would not have asked former Russian President Dimitry Medvedev to deliver a message to Mr. Putin that he (Mr. Obama) would have “more flexibility to negotiate” on missile defense after 2012 elections. I would not have embarked on an apology tour of the Middle East. I would not have declared a policy of “leading from the rear.”
I would not have dallied in Iraq and Afghanistan kowtowing to a pair of crooks like Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq or President Harmid Karzai of Afghanistan. I would have backed up the lorries long ago and withdrawn all of the troops, supplies and armaments leaving those countries to their interminable civil wars and tribal conflicts. (It makes no difference that it was President George Bush’s initial mistake to engage in nation building – continuing a mistake simply makes it your own.) I would, however, have left a clear message that if either of them reconstituted a threat to the United States or its allies, that we would return with the same “shock and awe” they previously witnessed accompanied by a comparable devastation to their military personnel and infrastructure.
It would take a book at least the length of the Guns of August to catalog all of the mistakes made by Mr. Obama and his administration. And that only applies to the mistakes that were clearly visible at their inception and not just the fates that dog every president. Only in Hollywood does the mailroom clerk become the successful chief executive officer with no intermittent steps. In real life transition from community organizer to President of the United States looks like this.