Rough spring for Obama

Barack Obama is having a rough spring, to say the very least. The scandal in the Veteran’s Administration, foreign problems and the outing of a CIA Station Chief in Afghanistan have, so far, marked 2014. For Democrats the alarm bells for the fall are in full sound. Despite placing the Affordable Care Act on a firmer foundation, almost nothing has gone right. Obama’s administration appears to be diffident, unengaged, looking every bit like what Benjamin Disraeli described as an “exhausted volcano.”

Perhaps the greatest decline has been in diplomacy. After Russia and China signed the $400 billion dollar natural gas agreement it became clear that things had hit rock bottom. John Kerry lectured Vladimir Putin for almost two months over Crimea and the Ukraine, while ignoring more important matters. While keeping the United States in the good graces of Estonia, Lithuania and Poland the Secretary of State cheerfully conceded China. Under Kerry, as with Hillary Clinton, the policies pursued are not much different than those advanced by George W. Bush.

Obama would be well advised to shift his focus and enunciate a vision which reflects the world as it is rather than the one he “hopes” for. Russia’s relationship with the Ukraine is far more important then it is to the United States. But within the State Department the neo-conservative or neo-liberals, take your pick, for ideologically they are dogs of the same breed, push a notion of “American exceptionalism.” This is the tie that binds Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, a belief that because United States history and cultural influences are so rich it is a national mission to impose it on the rest of the world.

There may be a kernel of truth in this idea, but for international purposes it is irrelevant. Suddenly the United States is hectoring and lecturing, finger fully pointed. Whether it is the Sudan, Nigeria, Ukraine, China, you name it, we have the universal right to poke our noses in affairs which are not directly tied to the natural interest. No wonder Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai stood up Obama during his visit to Bagram Airbase. He perhaps wanted to avoid the lecture.

This preachy, moral style has no credibility. Like Woodrow Wilson, Obama wants to teach the world to “elect good men.” In Egypt, overthrow an elected government, Ukraine overthrow an elected regime, if you don’t like it, replace it – this is the new American creed and the diplomatic best practices of the 21st Century. Any excuse can be provided, a local dispute, boxing the ears of an unruly citizen; as Tom Lehrer sang, “send the marines.” It is zigzaggy and dangerous and the results prove it. Everywhere there is discord: Libya, Hillary’s project is the new Somalia, Afghanistan does not want us and Asia is locking us out. Maybe they are not willing to concede their sovereignty for the benefit of universal quasi-democracy.

The ideologues within the State Departments need to be replaced with the hard-headed serious people of business, not airy dreamers.