Back in Houston, with a few moments to catch up.
I mentioned Obama’s press conference in the Philippines yesterday. It deserves a more detailed treatment, because it is quite an amazing performance.
The incredible petulance-an Obama trademark-jumps out in even a cursory reading. But when you drill down, you’ll see a rather stunning farrago of shoddy reasoning and logical fallacies (with straw men and false choices taking center stage).
Here’s my annotated take on the presser, with my parenthetical comments in bold face:
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, Ed, I doubt that I’m going to have time to lay out my entire foreign policy doctrine. [Because he'd have to think it up first.] And there are actually some complimentary pieces as well about my foreign policy, but I’m not sure you ran them.
Here’s I think the general takeaway from this trip. Our alliances in the Asia Pacific have never been stronger; I can say that unequivocally. Our relationship with ASEAN countries in Southeast Asia have never been stronger. I don’t think that’s subject to dispute. As recently as a decade ago, there were great tensions between us and Malaysia, for example. And I think you just witnessed the incredible warmth and strength of the relationship between those two countries.
We’re here in the Philippines signing a defense agreement. Ten years ago, fifteen years ago there was enormous tensions around our defense relationship with the Philippines. And so it’s hard to square whatever it is that the critics are saying with facts on the ground, events on the ground here in the Asia Pacific region. Typically, criticism of our foreign policy has been directed at the failure to use military force. [Really? This is typical?] And the question I think I would have is, why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force [Everybody? Please name five even moderately prominent national office holders or media figures who espouse this view. OK: Three. OK: One.] after we’ve just gone through a decade of war at enormous costs to our troops and to our budget? And what is it exactly that these critics think would have been accomplished?
My job as Commander-in-Chief is to deploy military force as a last resort, and to deploy it wisely. And, frankly, most [Most? Really?] of the foreign policy commentators that have questioned our policies would go headlong into a bunch of military adventures that the American people had no interest in participating in and would not advance our core security interests. [Again. Name names. As many as Three Finger Brown could count on his pitching hand.]
So if you look at Syria, for example, our interest is in helping the Syrian people, but nobody suggests that us being involved in a land war in Syria would necessarily accomplish this goal. [That's right, actually. No one has suggested a land war in Syria.] And I would note that those who criticize our foreign policy with respect to Syria, they themselves say, no, no, no, we don’t mean sending in troops. Well, what do you mean? Well, you should be assisting the opposition — well, we’re assisting the opposition. [Please. The US assistance is minimal, and explicitly does not include weaponry, especially the kind of weaponry the opposition needs to have a fighting chance. Throughout this answer, Obama avoids addressing head on the specific policies that those criticizing him have advocated. He bashes straw men, attacking things that haven't been suggested, and ignoring the things that have been.] What else do you mean? Well, perhaps you should have taken a strike in Syria to get chemical weapons out of Syria. Well, it turns out we’re getting chemical weapons out of Syria without having initiated a strike. [Intelligence agencies, including those in Israel and the US, believe that Syria has not disclosed all its CW or the facilities to produce them. More to the point: it is Obama that fetishized chemical weapons. Assad is wreaking a humanitarian crisis using conventional weapons and barrel bombs and the old standby of starvation. Obama ignores this, with his obsessive focus on CW. What's more, even from a bloodless, geopolitical perspective, American inaction and indifference is handing a strategic victory to Iran and Russia.] So what else are you talking about? And at that point it kind of trails off. [No. It doesn't trail off, Barry. You just ignore it.]
In Ukraine, what we’ve done is mobilize the international community. [Who you gonna believe? Me or your lyin' eyes? Obama is deferring to the least common denominator, compromised countries like Austria. This mobilization has obviously had a huge impact on VVP. Huge I'm tellin' ya.] Russia has never been more isolated. [And Putin obviously doesn't give a sh*t. To deter someone you have to credibly threaten the ability to damage something they care about, not what you care about. Putin is consciously and publicly attempting to isolate Russia from the west, politically and culturally. In other words, Barry: you are Br'er Fox and Putin is Br'er Rabbit. By isolating him you are throwing him in the brier patch, which is exactly where he wants to be. Well played. Well played. And truth be told, the isolation that Putin might care about-namely cutting Russia off from the world financial system-has been avoided like the plague.] 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 this rejection does what for Ukraine, actually? Putin is moving, through asymmetric means, virtually unopposed. All the moral dudgeon in Europe and the US won't help Ukraine one whit.] 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. [American sanctions are a joke. European sanctions would have to be put in steroids in order to achieve joke status.] 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? [Yes. It's not unreasonable. At all. The "correlation of forces" does not heavily favor Russia, especially when one considers the implications of occupying Ukraine, rather than just attacking it. Even modest increases in Ukrainian military capacity could tip the correlation against Putin.] Or are we more likely to deter them by applying the sort of international pressure, diplomatic pressure and economic pressure that we’re applying? [What? These things are mutually exclusive? Hardly. Why not both? And the opponents of your policy are advocating more robust economic actions against Putin and Russia. Again, you ignore the actual policies that your critics advocate, and wear yourself out attacking things they have never proposed.]
The point is that for some reason many who were proponents of what I consider to be a disastrous decision to go into Iraq haven’t really learned the lesson of the last decade, and they keep on just playing the same note over and over again. [What a slur. Just who is advocating this, actually? Indeed, one major lesson of Iraq-the challenge of occupation-favors arming the Ukrainians. The Russians have no doubt studied Iraq, and realize that a well-armed irregular force would make any attempt to occupy hell. So why not do it?] Why? I don’t know. [There's a lot you don't know, Barry.] But my job as Commander-in-Chief is to look at what is it that is going to advance our security interests over the long term, to keep our military in reserve for where we absolutely need it. There are going to be times where there are disasters and difficulties and challenges all around the world, and not all of those are going to be immediately solvable by us.
But we can continue to speak out clearly about what we believe. Where we can make a difference using all the tools we’ve got in the toolkit, well, we should do so. And if there are occasions where targeted, clear actions can be taken that would make a difference, then we should take them. We don’t do them because somebody sitting in an office in Washington or New York think it would look strong. That’s not how we make foreign policy. And if you look at the results of what we’ve done over the last five years, it is fair to say that our alliances are stronger, our partnerships are stronger, and in the Asia Pacific region, just to take one example, we are much better positioned to work with the peoples here on a whole range of issues of mutual interest.
And that may not always be sexy. That may not always attract a lot of attention, and it doesn’t make for good argument on Sunday morning shows. But it avoids errors. You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run. But we steadily advance the interests of the American people and our partnership with folks around the world.
Obama came to prominence as a critic of the Iraq War. That’s how he made his mark, and it is clear that is how he defines himself. He is the un-general, un-fighting the last war. He has Iraq Syndrome, which is like Viet Nam Syndrome, except worse.
In his mental universe, the US policy establishment is populated with mouth-breathing warmongers who see only military solutions to strategic and geopolitical problems. In his mind, Obama is Horatio at the Bridge, holding back these barbarian hordes. This is profoundly insulting to those of goodwill who happen to disagree with Obama. But Obama cannot possibly conceive that anyone who disagrees with him is of goodwill. His is a truly Manichean worldview: those who agree with him are good, those who disagree are evil.
In fact, many of his critics have argued consistently that his deference to the Assads and Putins and Khamenis of the world has made military conflict (and conflict waged on terms unfavorable to the US) more likely, not less. With respect to Putin in particular, the critics have argued that acquiescing to South Ossetia and Abkhazia, terminating missile defense in eastern Europe, signaling a willingness to be “flexible” after re-election, and most notably, utterly caving in Syria has greatly emboldened Putin, thereby increasing not reducing the risk of military conflict. (When Obama took office, who was seriously discussing the credibility of our commitment to enforce Article 5 of the Nato Charter in the event of a Russian attack on Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania?)
But Obama either will not or cannot see this. He is completely convinced that he is enlightened and good, and that his critics are benighted and evil. Seeing the world in these harsh contrasts, he is incapable of change in response to reality.
Bush was criticized, and rightly so, for his black-and-white view of the world. But Bush was capable of making mid-course corrections in response to incontrovertible evidence of failure.
By contrast, Obama makes Bush look like a paragon of subtlety and flexibility.
In The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner wrote: “For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863 [i.e., the moments before Pickett's Charge].” Obama is far worse. In his mind, every instant, it is Iraq, circa March 2003. He sees everything through that prism. This is a crippling limitation. And a crippled United States unleashes the most reprobate actors in the world, the most notable of whom at present is Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.