In the movie, Young Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein was puzzled by his creation’s behavior and asked his assistant, Igor, “Who’s brain did I put in?” Igor, misunderstanding the ‘abnormal’ label on the jar that previously held the brain, replied, “Abby Normal”. That pretty much also describes Obama’s international strategy. He pulled it right out of the Abby Normal jar on Igor’s foreign policy shelf.
To the maelstrom of criticism following his empty threats over the Ukraine invasion, Obama’s supporters respond that he’s doing everything he can. To them, that’s the beginning and end of the discussion. Therein lies the problem. The pro-Obama camp assesses Obama’s actions by the actions themselves, which is to say by nothing at all. There is no attempt to use an objective measuring stick or even suggest that something else might be done. It’s a tacit acceptance of the inadequate, the unsatisfactory, the Abby Normal.
Obama’s deficiency in both policy and performance should first shock and then enrage American voters. In the shrinking world where accomplishment still counts, there are several things that Obama should have done. They’re not brain teasers, either. If Sarah Palin, in 2008, could accurately predict the Ukraine invasion, which she did, then it had to be blindingly obvious to Obama’s foreign policy luminaries.
The very first thing President Obama should have done was permit the completion of the Keystone pipeline. Attacking Russia economically is the surest and safest long-term play. The Russian economy depends on foreign trade, including oil exports to the EU and Eastern Europe. The pipeline would allow the U.S. to displace Russia as a source of oil to strategic locations. Instead, Obama allowed the pipeline to be taken hostage by his uber-liberal base. Today, five years later, it remains at a standstill despite the green lightgiven by his own State Department.
The second thing Obama and his people should have done was craft responses to challenges in much less bellicose terms. Drawing red lines that disappear and promising consequences when none follow do not deter. But, they do underscore an impotence that encourages increasing challenges, both in frequency and degree. When it’s nothing but amateur hour in the Oval Office, the professionals come out to play.
Not only do Obama’s responses embolden belligerent countries, they create significant doubts in our allies. Vice President Biden is now on a quickie tour of Poland and Lithuania, trying to placate fears of Russian aggression against them. He’s having a rough time of it. His “we’re in this together” pitch is not particularly convincing. Obama’s promised “bedrock commitment” seems much more like quicksand.
Obama did send twelve F-16s to Poland in early March. Some of them went as part of standard rotations, others as saber rattling. Regardless, the show of force was a bust as the Crimea referendum and Russia’s annexation proceeded apace thereafter. Sending the aircraft may have had the desired effect if Obama had not repeatedly demonstrated his lack of follow-through on the international stage.
EU countries have also criticized the Crimea annexation. However, despite Biden’s assurances to the Poles that the Russians face additional sanctions by the EU, those countries are not in agreement. For example, they cannot even agree to Russia’s ouster from the G-8. They are even more divided regarding any economic reprisals, fearing a retaliation in kind from Putin.
Obama’s incompetence in foreign policy matters was not discovered just this year or even in August 2012 when he used his red line eraser. It first came to light during his extended international apology tour in 2009. He could not wait to denounce his country’s place on the world stage and begin its erosion. That is when he first took Abby Normal off the foreign policy shelf. For that, and his long line of subsequent blunders, he earns this week’s Lame Spin Award.