March 3 2014
When something really matters to President Obama, he is able to send a powerful message. He made it very clear, for example, that gay issues are important to him when he was careful to highlight gay athletes in picking a delegation to the Olympics. Message sent and received.
So it was painfully clear from his brief and perfunctory remarks last week that he’s just not into the Ukrainian situation. Fox showed the president, who had sleepwalked through his statement on Russia and the Ukraine, coming alive later that afternoon at a Democratic fundraiser.
The world has not behaved the way President Obama expected it would, and it’s unclear if he even recognizes how seriously inadequate was his worldview. But, oddly enough, the Washington Post editorial board appears finally to be coming to the unpleasant truth that President Obama may not be all that he was cracked up to be on the international front:
For five years, President Obama has led a foreign policy based more on how he thinks the world should operate than on reality. It was a world in which “the tide of war is receding” and the United States could, without much risk, radically reduce the size of its armed forces. Other leaders, in this vision, would behave rationally and in the interest of their people and the world. Invasions, brute force, great-power games and shifting alliances — these were things of the past. Secretary of State John F. Kerry displayed this mindset on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday when he said, of Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine, “It’s a 19th century act in the 21st century.”
That’s a nice thought, and we all know what he means. … Unfortunately, Russian President Vladimir Putin has not received the memo on 21st-century behavior.
Ironically, what has made President Obama such a disastrous player on the international stage is the very thing that endeared him to so many “enlightened” voters, especially in 2008: he is the quintessential projection of the values of our academy.
Walter Russell Meade suggests that the president and Washington’s current crop of policy “experts” simply were not prepared by their studies in the nation's top schools for the harsh reality of the world as it, alas, is:
Nobody, including us, is infallible about the future. Giving the public your best thoughts about where things are headed is all a poor pundit (or government analyst) can do. But this massive intellectual breakdown has a lot to do with a common American mindset that is especially built into our intellectual and chattering classes. Well educated, successful and reasonably liberal minded Americans find it very hard to believe that other people actually see the world in different ways. They can see that Vladimir Putin is not a stupid man and that many of his Russian officials are sophisticated and seasoned observers of the world scene. American experts and academics assume that smart people everywhere must want the same things and reach the same conclusions about the way the world works.
How many times did foolishly confident American experts and officials come out with some variant of the phrase “We all share a common interest in a stable and prosperous Ukraine.” We may think that’s true, but Putin doesn’t.
We blame this in part on the absence of true intellectual and ideological diversity in so much of the academy, the policy world and the mainstream media. Most college kids at good schools today know many more people from different races and cultural groups than their grandparents did, but they are much less exposed to people who think outside the left-liberal box. How many faithful New York Times readers have no idea what American conservatives think, much less how Russian oligarchs do? Well bred and well read Americans live in an ideological and cultural cocoon and this makes them fatally slow to understand the very different motivations that animate actors ranging from the Tea Party to the Kremlin to, dare we say it, the Supreme Leader and Guide of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
As far as we can tell, the default assumption guiding our political leadership these days is that the people on the other side of the bargaining table (unless they are mindless Tea Party Republicans) are fundamentally reasonable people who see the world as we do, and are motivated by the same things that motivate us. Many people are, of course, guided by an outlook not all that dissimilar from the standard upper middle class gentry American set of progressive ideas. But some aren’t, and when worlds collide, trouble comes.
Too much of the Washington policy establishment looks around the world and sees only reflections of its own enlightened self.
So it turns out that the credentialed ones are actually the insular ones.
There are many things President Obama could do to thwart Putin without firing a shot. Don’t hold your breath. As House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers memorably observed yesterday:
Well, I think Putin is playing chess, and I think we're playing marbles.
Candidate Obama proclaimed himself a “citizen of the world.” It has become quite obvious that the American Icarus hadn't the foggiest what that meant.