The Irrelevant President

Posted: Sep 10, 2014 9:00 AM
The Irrelevant President

The world has figured out there are no consequences for ignoring Obama. HotAir's Noah Rothman reports for Townhall Magazine. 

On a drowsy Wednesday in mid-July, President Obama appeared with little forewarning in the White House press briefing room to announce that his patience with Russia was at an end.

Putin had flagrantly ignored Obama’s demand to deescalate the situation in Ukraine for months, and the president took to the podium on that distracted mid-summer day to announce the imposition of a new round of long-awaited sanctions on a variety of Russian economic sectors.

“I’ve repeatedly made it clear that Russia must halt the flow of weapons and fighters across the border into Ukraine, that Russia must urge separatists to release their hostages and support a ceasefire,” the president said. “So far, Russia has failed to take any of the steps that I mentioned.”

It was a moment that would come to represent the climax of a grand and failed experiment. The West had sought to prove that the application of “soft power” could impose rationality on a revanchist great power with expansionist aims. Within the next 24 hours, the experiment ended in the most gruesome fashion imaginable when pro-Russian separatists, using sophisticated Russian hardware, killed nearly 300 civilians when they blew Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 out of the sky over Ukraine.

In the wake of the attack, Obama made only one demand: that both sides observe an immediate ceasefire so that independent investigators could access an uncompromised crash site. The fighting continued and the rebels quickly spirited bodies, plane debris, and flight recorders away from the scene of the attack.

America’s last warning for Putin was just one of many Obama had issued over the course of the crisis in Ukraine. None were observed by Russia’s autocratic president or those loyal to him.

Putin is in abundant, if not good, company. America’s allies and adversaries alike are increasingly comfortable ignoring the petitions of the 44th president of the United States and the members of his administration.

In the spring of 2013, former-White House Press Secretary Jay Carney and Secretary of State John Kerry warned Russia and China not to facilitate National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden’s flight from American justice. Both warned of “consequences” and a “negative impact” on bilateral relations if they harbored this fugitive. Their warnings were promptly spurned.

The president warned Syria’s Bashar al-Assad of “enormous consequences” if Obama’s “red line” was crossed and chemical weapons were used in that country’s civil war. That line was crossed and no consequences followed. Conceding to the terms of a deal negotiated in Moscow, Syria surrendered some of its stockpiles of sarin nerve gas while it went on using agents like chlorine on its rebellious civilian population. Eventually, Assad turned the tide and forced anti-government militants to turn eastward into Iraq where they transformed a civil war into a regional one.

Obama warned Egypt’s military in the summer of 2013 not to overthrow the unpopular but nevertheless legitimate President Mohamed Morsi. They did just that. He later warned the coup leaders not to fire on and arrest pro-Morsi demonstrators; another warning that went unheeded.

In 2014, Obama warned outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai that his own personal safety was in jeopardy if American forces were forced to fully withdraw from his country because of his refusal to sign a status of forces agreement. Karzai balked. The administration’s response was to extend the deadline for Afghanistan’s compliance. 

Citing “fundamental changes” to the regional security situation, Japan’s government weakened it’s more than 60-year-old pacifist constitution in July allowing Japanese forces to undertake offensive military operations in defense of allies for the first time since World War II. This shift, a welcome one from Washington’s perspective, came after Obama’s warnings to China not to press its territorial claims in the South China Sea were repeatedly disregarded.

Obama warned both the Israeli government and the Hamas led government in Gaza to not escalate hostilities, which resumed in July for the first time since 2012. When hostilities escalated nonetheless, Obama offered to broker a ceasefire. He was twice ignored. According to reports, the Israeli government did not even bother to inform the president prior to commencing a ground invasion of Gaza.

That bodes ill for Obama’s 2012 warning to Israel that it should not mount a unilateral attack on Iran over that country’s nuclear weapons program. That same year, Obama warned the Islamic Republic that he had grown tired of its government’s tendency to “delay, to stall, to do a lot of talking.” On July 18, 2014, Obama ignored his own warnings when his administration again extended fruitless nuclear negotiations into the late fall.

The world’s self-interested actors cannot be faulted for merely observing that there are no consequences for defying this president. Portending grave threats to the global order, these actors have calibrated their approach to navigating the anarchic international environment accordingly.

Today, and as a result of his own chronic inaction, the president of the United States and the country he purports to lead are virtual nonentities on the world stage. •