By Monday, interestingly enough, the Russian invasion of Syria was receding as a topic of public concern. Apparently there no longer seemed anything explosive in the tidings of Vladimir Putin’s slam-bang entry into that remote theater of conflict. This was notwithstanding those Russian airstrikes against the anti-Assad rebels whom the United States, supposedly, has been encouraging.
When President Obama went before the TV cameras late last week, it was chiefly to flog anyone unable to fall in with the Absolute Necessity of Common-Sense Gun Control. “Russian planes, what Russian planes?” our Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader might as well have said. Donald Trump shrugged off the whole episode: Putin would get bogged down in Syria, just wait and see. The whole thing would take care of itself.
That confident declaration had some appeal for Americans in view of the absence of realistic options for making Czar Vladimir cry uncle. When has Putin obliged with demands — or Obama with a foreign policy measure (if he even deems it worth noticing)? I imagine Putin’s admiration of Obama, on a scale of 1 to 10, comes in somewhere around negative 5.
Should that concern us? The question is larger than the purely subsidiary question: What ought we do about Syria, to which the obvious answer is — ah, well, let’s, ah, think about that one just a bit. The moment for doing anything “about Syria” came a couple of years back, just before Obama’s famous “red line” against Syrian use of chemical weapons against the rebels mysteriously vanished from view.
That subsidiary question comes on for analysis only within the context of the grand question: What do Americans suppose their country’s role in the world to be? And who’s going to make their idea, if there is an idea, stick?
That the United States, with only 5 percent of the world’s population, can’t control the world is obvious to anyone with half a brain cell. That this reality suggests evasion as the best strategy when it comes to “foreign” issues (you know — excepting climate change) is a notion as brainless as the first one: however popular it may seem to a people tired of boots-on-the-ground interventions in “other people’s” affairs. It turns out that “other people’s” affairs have a direct bearing on own affairs, and those of people in whose well-being we have a stake — say, the European nations flooded with refugees from the Syrian war in which we appear to have only a marginal interest.
Ah, if only the British lion could again keep the world’s peace, as in the comfortable days of yore! But that ol’ lion, to adapt a Texanism, won’t hunt. And hasn’t for 50 years. Like it or not, no other country has the power and the moral resources, such as they are, that the United States possesses to restrain the worst (not all, just the worst) of humanity’s enemies. I miss the lion’s old-time roar; but here we are, with enemies glaring directly at us, if we ever took the time to notice.
What snared that very premature Nobel Peace Prize for Obama was the perception — one he likely shared — that his commitment to words over deeds would soon have even the bad guys beating swords into plowshares.
We see how that’s worked out. We have a president who loves to talk — mostly about himself — and hates to act (see, for example, the way he scuffed out the red line over chemical weapons in Syria). He’s all talk and no action, our president, and malignant foreign types know they can do pretty much what they like without provoking him.
Continued backlash against the Iraq War keeps renewing Obama’s license to golf while Syria and Ukraine burn — which is a pity, because no other issue deserves as much campaign-year reassessment as what we think this country should be doing in the world. A laggard economy (yes, thank you for that, too, Mr. President) can empty your pockets. A blubbery, incoherent devotion to talk over action when foreign dangers loom — well, that can kill you.
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