Friday, August 29, 2014

Obama does damage control on Isis and Ukraine while Isis and Putin keep doing damage.

In a pre Labor Day press conference that he probably wishes he had never called,   fielding questions related to the two most current and pressing foreign policy issues at the moment, Isis and Russia's continued armed invasion of eastern Ukraine Obama announced, as has now been widely reported, that in dealing with Isis in Syria, something that had been called to his attention more than a year ago, he has no strategy. Yet.

That led to a lot of damage control by the White House in trying to explain that statement and almost everything else Obama said in his press conference which reeked of an inadaquacy  that seemed to stun even the usually compliant media, though Jim Acosta at CNN managed to call Obama's announcement of inaction with either Isis or Putin as "cautious".

But for the most part Obama couldn't stop the criticism and head shaking at just how ineffective and tepid his statements were and the more Obama spoke the worse it got as he tried to explain his strategy in dealing with Isis in both Syria and Iraq and with Putin and his continued invasion of Ukraine.

Obama's statement that they haven't decided on a course of action against Isis in Syria was met with incredulity since Obama had been told about the threat more than a year ago even though Isis has now erupted into a full blown crisis.

Syria was where Isis started and where they might have been nipped in the bud had Obama taken Hillary Clinton and then Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta's  recommendation at the time to arm the moderate groups of Syrian rebels.  But that would have meant Obama would have had to make a  decision beyond " dont do stupid stuff". Instead Obama did do stupid stuff by deciding to do nothing and now, Isis has become the threat he was warned against and  is on the march and getting stronger and is now even threatening attacks against the U.S.

In response to that, in Iraq, Obama says his strategy against Isis is to degrade and disrupt Isis as well as protect U.S. assets on the ground.   But in talking about degrading and disrupting,  Obama left out the one word that starts with a "d" that anyone cared about, the one word that starts with a "d" that is the only word that really matters when it comes to Isis. And the only word that amounts to a real strategy of any consequence.  And that word is "destroy". And that word was missing from Obama's strategy even in Iraq.

Which, as Barbara Starr pointed out on CNN was a message Obama sent to Isis that for the moment,  probably made them throw a party thinking they have nothing to fear from the U.S.  That message has also been pointed out and criticized by almost everyone except the most loyal and blind Obama sycophants of which there seems to be fewer and fewer.

A former member of the Joints Chiefs of Staff was quoted anonymously saying Obama's failure to mention "destroy" as part of the strategy against Isis in Iraq  demoralized the U.S. military and it also sent a message to Isis that they have nothing to fear from the U.S. which will only embolden them.

The same not so coincidentally, has been  true for Putin who also knows he has nothing to fear from Obama as he's known from the beginning. In dealing with the Russian insurgence in Ukraine,  it's only been the election of Poroshenko who, once he came to power,  rejected Obama's weak and ineffective approach and did what Obama seems incapable of, taking decisive military action which changed everything and resulted in the Ukraine military retaking much of the territory the rebels were able to seize while the interim government under Obama's guidance, capitulated.

Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark returned from a trip to Ukraine in March and  in an interview at the time said that the interim government had been given "guidance" by the Obama administration in dealing with Crimea to avoid bloodshed at all costs and to do nothing that might provoke Putin into invading. That led to a series of humiliating surrenders by the Ukraine military and ulimtately to the Russian annexation of Crimea. It also led to the expansion of the rebels into eastern Ukraine and a wider war with Putin's interference.

Just as Isis could have been nipped in the bud with decisive action a year ago in Syria, the war in eastern Ukraine could have been avoided with decisive military action in standing up to Putin and the rebel forces in Crimea in the first place -- exactly what Obama advised against.

In his press conference Obama reiterated that there would be no military aid to Ukraine  even as Putin has been sending in more tanks, thousands of troops and the Buk missiles that brought down MH-17. It has resulted in recent heavy losses for the Ukrainian army which is now fighting against Russian troops and heavy weapons supplied by Putin. Obama's head in the sand idea of helping Ukraine has been with "non-lethal aid",  which led a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, disgusted with Obama's response, to call Obama's aid to Ukraine as  " nothing more than camping equipment".  Which, as with Isis, also let Putin know he has nothing to fear from the U. S. in helping  the Ukrainian military.

Then  in response to a question about Russia's military intervention in Ukraine and the lack of U.S. military help,  Obama's answer, incredulously, were that  the sanctions were working. This is an answer which can only be described as either self deluded or selling snake oil from the back of a horse drawn wagon.  The sanctions had only one purpose. To deter Putin from annexing Crimea, to deter Putin from massing troops on Ukraine's border, and to deter Putin from sending Russian troops and heavy armor and weapons into Ukraine to help the rebels. That's how well the sanctions have been working. The sanctions have done none of those things because Putin doesn't care about the sanctions. He wants Ukraine. And sanctions aren't going to stop him. Putin has dreams of reconstituting the old Soviet Union. He has sent Russian troops into Ukraine who have been killed in the process and is sending more. Does anyone think he cares if interest rates go up, unemployment goes up or the ruble goes down?

Yet for Obama, the sanctions are working. Leading anyone to conclude that Obama is unable to grasp the difference between sanctions having some effect on the Russian economy which to a small degree they are, and having any effect on Putin and his actions which to a total degree they aren't.

What's needed for Ukraine as Wesley Clarke pointed out,  is military help from the U.S. and other NATO countries in the form of weapons both offensive and defensive, intelligence capabilities, and any other help, including advisors on the ground, to help the Ukrainian military trying to defend the freedom of 45 million Ukrainians from Russian dominance. And to let Putin know that if he continues arming the rebels NATO will view that as a threat to Europe and begin military aid to Ukraine. Instead Obama talks about the obvious,that  Russian military aid is streaming into Ukraine but offers nothing else.

It was clear from the beginning that Putin was using Hitler's strategy of taking the Rhineland and the Sudetenland by concocting a phony need to defend  German speaking people and used the same pretext for invading Crimea and then successfully annexing it, thanks to Obama's weakness. Having steamrolled, intimidated and essentially bullied Obama in Crimea,  Putin, predictably, has been moving on eastern Ukraine again counting on Obama's weakness and inability to stand up to him. And so far Obama has not disappointed. And we know from Syria and Assad's use of chemical weapons, that if Obama draws a line in the sand he will draw it at the water's edge where even a low tide will wash it away. It has only been Poroshenko's resolve and use of his military that has kept Putin from overrunning eastern Ukraine.

There is no doubt that Putin wants Ukraine and has dreams of re-creating the old Soviet Union. He is counting on Obama and NATO which is U.S. led, to let it happen and not have the backbone to stand up to him militarily. So far he's been right with Obama, sounding more like Neville Chamberlin every day, proclaiming " the sanctions are working".  They are not working.

There is that old adage that those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Putin has invaded eastern Ukraine as surely as Hitler invaded the Rhineland and the Sudentland. And with a U.S. president who has already proved he can't or won't stand up to Putin (or anyone else for that matter)   and a NATO alliance and EU not doing any better, it's now an open question as to whether they will  let Putin take Ukraine the way Hitler took Poland. Because sanctions will not stop it.

But  when you're a president that has been as ineffective as Obama has been on all fronts, with his actions as well as his statements on Isis and Putin making him look clueless, maybe being able to say anything is working is an achievment. Even if its the plumbing.

NOTE: Days after being mocked, not only here but in congress and around the world for his weak, tepid,  almost antiseptic statements about what to do about Isis, Obama changed his tune at the NATO summit and is now freely using the "D" word about Isis that he managed to miss in the first place - "destroy". 

1 comment:

Marla said...

Obama does not seem to understand that sanctions may work in the long term, but Ukraine needs military assistance now.

It's also a problem that Obama said once again that there is no military assistance forthcoming to Ukraine which essentially gives Putin a "green light" to continue an invasion.

It has been frustrating to see the media use words such as "pro-Russian separatist" instead of saying Russian mercenary.