Self inflicted wounds are always bad things. The causes of self inflicted wounds usually are either an accident caused by one’s own misconduct or, in some cases, an injury is self inflicted in the hope that the injury will somehow resolve a problem that seems to be too overwhelming to deal with. Given any luck at all, the self inflicted injury only harms the perpetrator. In the case of President Obama’s non- foreign policy both of the causative factors apply. Sadly, the results are harming the entire U.S. not just the President’s fading image as a world leader.
To flashback: There was nothing in his pre-presidential career that showed any knowledge or curiosity about foreign affairs. Community organizing, teaching law and voting "present" 90 percent of the time in the Illinois legislature gave him no experience or training in much beyond how to advance his own career. His first major foreign policy was delivered in Cairo, Egypt, not to Congress or to us, his own people. He apologized to the world for America having been America and playing the lead role in stopping Soviet tyranny from spreading, preventing a blood bath war between the Arabs and Israel, ending the genocidal civil war in the former Yugoslavia and preventing Saddam Hussein’s Iraq from further destabilizing the Middle East. Somehow, Obama saw these things as not good and set about to abandon the leadership role the U.S. had assumed in the 20th century.
His self-inflicted wounds to American leadership seem to come from four sources. One is that he doesn’t believe that the U.S. is a special place that is attempting to maintain a working democracy at home and, at the same time, trying for a balance of power in the world that benefits ourselves as well as other nations. Second, he seems to believe that because he wishes for an outcome the other countries will automatically share his good intentions and go along with him. Third, he does not have a long-range plan. The only thing we do in foreign policy is to react to something someone else has done with little sign of a strategy that connects the current problem with the future.
Finally, Obama’s most egregious mistake is to believe that our enemies are not really our enemies. If we make concessions to them and ask nothing in return, they will reward us with good behavior. The Russians did not ask for a "re-set" of relations. Obama thought this one up all by himself! The rest of the world seems to understand that power is power and a win is a win and plays the game accordingly. Not our leader. Where was the strategy when he told Russian President Medeyev that "after I’m re-elected we can discuss things differently than now?" What did he have in mind? Did he really intend that the U.S. would make the colossal blunder of resigning as a world power with influence and create a power vacuum?
We all learned in school that "nature abhors a vacuum." When one occurs, it is inevitably filled. In the affairs of nations the same principle is equally inevitable. Where there is a powerful nation or group of nations influencing an area, there is stability. From 1950 to 1990 the NATO alliance and the Soviet Warsaw Pact shared power and Europe had 40 years of stability. When the Soviet Union fell apart, NATO was left as the lone stabilizing force. However NATO is only as strong as the U.S. When the U.S. abandoned its leadership role, a power vacuum was created.
We appeased Putin and undercut NATO severely when we cancelled a promised missile defense shield for Poland and the Czech Republic. Then Hillary flew to Moscow with her silly little red and yellow button. A "red line" was proclaimed by Obama in Syria, but was soon forgotten. Assad is still in power and Russia is stronger in the Middle East than it has been for decades. Putin has a plan. We do not. The situation in Crimea is another major step toward his goal of filling the power vacuum in Eastern Europe with Russian influence. NATO and the European Union are off-balance and possibly in retreat. Putin knows that all we can do is bluster. So far, he has played his game skillfully. He is very patient and very opportunistic. He is quick to pounce, and is not likely to overreach. He says nothing except to couch his deeds as nothing but normal Russian patriotic nationalism. No matter how eccentric (wacky?) some of his personal shenanigans may seem, so far Putin has no self-inflicted wounds.
Weiland Ross is a Banner columnist.