Streetwise Professor

August 29, 2014

Obama Channels My Great-Grandfather

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:47 pm

My grandfather told a story about his step-father, Bill Wilcox. Wilcox “shot” oil wells (the fracking of its day) in West Virginia and southeastern Ohio. He lived in very rough coal mining country, and newspapers were something of a rarity.

My grandfather related how one day in what would have been around 1910-1915, Wilcox brought a newspaper from the general store in Glouster, OH to his home in Burr Oak (now submerged under Burr Oak Lake). The headline was about a massive flood in China which killed many and threatened millions with starvation. Wilcox put down the paper, and said: “There’s too much damn information in the world. Now I have to worry about 5o million starving Chinese.”

Fast forward a century or more. At a fundraiser in New York, Obama blamed his current travails on too much information:

The world has always been messy. . . . We’re  just noticing now in part due to social media.” “Second reason people are feeling anxious is that if you watch the nightly news, it feels like the world is falling apart.”

No, actually. Obama is apparently trying to rebut claims that he bears some responsibility for the fraught state of the world, and to resist pressures that he needs to act more decisively against Putin, and ISIS, and Assad, and . . . by claiming that the current world isn’t really that much different than it’s ever been. It’s just that we notice it more because of Twitter and the nightly news. (Aside: who under age 70 watches the nightly news?)

Hardly. At least for the last century, and perhaps more, people even in remote rural areas have had access to world news, and could understand what was going on. Even though if-it-bleeds-it-leads has always been the motto of the media, people could distinguish between the normal mayhem, and truly exceptional times.

Obama is under attack because current circumstances are far more dire than in recent memory-including during the Twitter era; because Obama bears considerable responsibility for some of the chaos (especially ISIS); and because he seems totally overmatched in dealing with the situation (and indeed seems rather disinterested). It is not a matter of perceptions distorted because people are aware of things they wouldn’t have known about before because of new information technology. The perceptions are well-grounded.

Would that Obama deal forthrightly with the reality, rather than suggest that people are overreacting due to information overload. But this is a man who can’t even tolerate criticism of his choice in suits.

One other note about the fundraiser. Obama threw red meat about Republicans to the partisan-and very, very .1 percent-crowd. As described by Mark Knoller of CBS: “Pres again slammed GOP as ‘captured by an ideological, rigid, uncompromising core that won’t compromise & always wants its own way.'” His attacks on Republicans are far more pointed, and far more strident, than his criticism of Putin. He delivers his domestic partisan attacks with zeal and real intensity. His disparaging remarks about Putin are perfunctory and delivered without any passion whatsoever. Attacking Republicans, he speaks from his core: criticizing Putin, he reads from the Teleprompter. In contrast, Putin vents about the US with an intensity similar to Obama’s when he goes after Republicans.

It’s clear what rouses Obama’s passion. And it ain’t world affairs, even when the world is careening towards disaster. This isn’t a Twitter-driven perception. It’s a reality.




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  1. “We continue to look for ways to support the Ukrainian armed forces and the border guards.”

    So damn hard to find, those ways. Uncharted territory.

    Comment by Ivan — August 30, 2014 @ 2:58 am

  2. @Ivan. I know. Such a puzzler, no?

    The model should be Hezbollah’s defense of Lebanon in 2006. Russia (via Syria) supplied huge quantities of Kornet anti-tank guided missiles. A well dug in force, heavily armed ATGMs, would make a Russian invasion prohibitively expensive. Rely on ambushes, hit-and-run raids on supply columns and isolated armor units, supplemented by artillery.

    Since the beginning I have said that the most important thing the US and Europe could supply would be ATGMs. Unfortunately, I think it is now too late.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — August 30, 2014 @ 12:51 pm


    Comment by LL — August 30, 2014 @ 2:40 pm

  4. I would say that fanatical Shiite fighters were a much stronger factor in Hezbollah’s success than Russian Kornet missiles. If only the West could supply some of those to the Ukrainian armed forces.

    Comment by aaa — August 30, 2014 @ 3:27 pm

  5. @aaa-Even if they don’t match Hezbollah for fanaticism, they aren’t fighting the Israelis either. Russian troops don’t come close to matching Israeli soldiers. Consequently, I think that giving the Urkainians a liberal supply of ATGMs would have pretty much the same effect on the relative capabilities of the Ukrainians and Russians as the supply of Kornets did on the relative capabilities of Hezbollah and the Israelis.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — August 30, 2014 @ 5:42 pm

  6. @LL-Fortunately my baseline blood pressure is pretty low, because watching that spiked it. If I was hypertensive to begin with, I probably would have stroked out.

    Obama has been in a position to execute foreign policy, and that’s exactly what he’s done: he has put a bullet in it. Too bad a protective media won’t make him eat those words. The Iraq part is the most damning.

    But what is most striking is the overbearing arrogance. And despite the litany of failures, unleavened by any success whatsoever (and no, icing Osama does not matter), he is as arrogant today as he was 2 years ago.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — August 30, 2014 @ 5:46 pm

  7. +++Russian troops don’t come close to matching Israeli soldiers +++

    No, they don’t. They have different specialization/

    Comment by LL — August 30, 2014 @ 9:16 pm

  8. Allegedly Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Cyprus are blocking expansion of EU sanctions against Russia. Cyprus is a separate story, but the rest, they don’t even need to guess how many hours it takes for Russian tanks to reach Budapest or Prague from Ukraine’s western border: they can look it up in their fricken newspaper archives. If this is anywhere near true, it’s not just Putin who is insane, it’s a pandemic.

    Comment by Ivan — August 31, 2014 @ 2:35 am

  9. Yeah, we do have social democrats (Leftists) leading our government right now in Czech Rep., so its the usual: world can burn, as long as our country does not. And heaven forbid sanctions that would lead to us losing a few millions in trade with Russia. But then again, right-wing government would likely not be any better.

    It is not like everybody is this clueless – our security forces have a very good idea what Russia is, highlighting the threat of the GRU and SVR operating in our country in every single annual report they published in the last 10 years -, but most certainly are. The average Czech would not mind being occupied by Russians again, if he could save his life that way.

    Have to say our country does not really deserve the independence it got thanks to the Western Powers after WWI. We have not defended it once – we surrendered without a shot fired to both Nazis and Communists. There were (then) Czechoslovaks who bravely fought against both, but doubt these people made even a single percent of the entire population. It is utterly disgusting…

    Comment by deith — August 31, 2014 @ 6:45 am

  10. I would like to see an official statement from the US, be there the State Department, the White House, the Congress… whatever that would read something like this: “the borders between the former Soviet republics have been set in 1991 and can be changed ONLY by mutual agreement. No exceptions”.

    Comment by LL — August 31, 2014 @ 8:11 am

  11. @LL-well, the UN Charter and the Helsinki Final Act both enshrine the principles of territorial integrity and the inviolability of national frontiers. It should go without saying that this applies to former Soviet republics too.

    This is precisely what is so dangerous about Putin, and so outrageous about Western refusal to confront him. He is undermining the entire structure of the postwar order that people like Obama and Merkel claim to support. Their talk is cheap. Which is why such an official statement would mean nothing unless backed by concrete action.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — August 31, 2014 @ 9:18 pm

  12. A top Putin aide says that the recent surge in Russian invasion is about convincing Poroshenko that he cannot win and so has to negotiate with whoever Putin tells him to. Lo and behold, Merkel is repeating the same message almost literally:

    Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, speaking early Sunday after the meeting broke up, said that Germany “will certainly not deliver weapons, as this would give the impression that this is a conflict that can be solved militarily.”

    They are even delaying an export license for delivery of 20000 sets of body armour to Ukraine:

    Putin called his invasion of Georgia “принуждение к миру”. This time, it’s clearly a joint op “принуждение к миру/Zwang zum Frieden”.

    Comment by Ivan — September 1, 2014 @ 4:37 am

  13. Ukraine in the Shadow of Molotov-Ribbentrop
    Michael Rubin | @mrubin1971
    08.31.2014 – 7:25 AM

    The 75th anniversary of the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, in which Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union pledged non-aggression toward each other and shortly thereafter divided Poland, passed with little comment on August 23. It should not have, for its ghosts loom large in Ukraine.

    First, there were reports that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was negotiating secretly with Russian President Vladimir Putin in order to trade territory for Putin’s promise to continue the gas flow into Ukraine. That she proposed paying off Putin with Ukrainian territory was a fact she shrugged off, as was the fact she sought to change Ukraine’s borders permanently for the simple promise of a man who has repeatedly shown himself not to be trustworthy.

    Then, there was the ill-considered Carnegie Corporation-sponsored “Track II” meeting in Finland with Russian officials in which both the American and Russian sides excluded any Ukrainian participation. One chapter of my recent book, Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogues Regimes, is dedicated to these so-called people-to-people meetings and showing that when constructed the way Carnegie did, they do far more harm than good. In this case, the American do-gooders handed a victory to the Kremlin from the start by acquiescing to Ukraine’s exclusion. That the resulting conclusions treated Ukraine and Russia and moral equivalents, no matter that Russia is the aggressor and occupying force, underlined the academics’ collective tin ear.

    Any compromise that formalizes Russia’s occupation and annexation of Ukrainian territory effectively treats Ukraine the way that Germany and the Soviet Union treated Poland three-quarters of a century ago. The belief that treaties of non-aggression can restrain the most aggressive, revisionist powers is a notion that should have been dispensed with after, 75 years ago, such an agreement contributed to a cascade of events which ultimately claimed well over 50 million lives.

    Comment by Peter M Todebush — September 1, 2014 @ 7:04 am

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