BY: Thomas Friedman
Obama has been accused of being all three in foreign policy decisions this month.
Barack Obama is surely the first president to be accused of acting in foreign policy like Pollyanna, John Wayne and Henry Kissinger in the same month. Ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s land grab in Crimea, conservatives have denounced President Obama as a man who doesn’t appreciate what a merciless, Hobbesian world this really is. He’s a Pollyanna — always looking for people’s good side.
Meanwhile, liberals have been hammering Obama for what they say is his trigger-happy drone habit, having ordered the targeted killing by air of hundreds of individuals; he’s John Wayne, seeking vigilante justice against those who have harmed, or might be planning to harm, the US. And, just to round things out, Obama has been accused by critics on the left and right of being a Kissingerian hyperrealist who is content to watch the Syrian regime crush its people, because, as tragic as that is, American interests there are minimal.
It can’t be easy being Pollyanna, John Wayne and Henry Kissinger all at once. So who is Obama — really — on foreign policy? I’d say less Pollyanna than his critics claim, more John Wayne and Henry Kissinger than he’d admit, but still undefined when it comes to the greatest leadership challenges in foreign policy, which go beyond Crimea but lurk just over the horizon.
If Obama has been a reluctant warrior in Crimea, it’s because it’s long been part of Russia and home to a Russian naval base, with many of its people sympathetic to Russia. Obama was right to deploy the limited sanctions we have in response to Putin’s seizure of Crimea and try to coolly use diplomacy to prevent a wider war over Ukraine — because other forces are at play on Putin. Do not underestimate how much of a fool Putin will make of himself in Crimea — in front of the whole world — and how much this will blow back on Russia, whose currency and stock markets are getting hammered as a result of Vladimir’s Crimean adventure.
And if Obama has been a Kissingerian realist in his reluctance to dive into the Syrian civil war, or Ukraine, it’s because he has learned from Iraq and Afghanistan that the existence of bad guys in these countries doesn’t mean that their opponents are all good guys.
Too many leaders in all these countries turned out to be more interested in using their freedom to loot rather than liberate. Where authentic reformers emerge in Syria or Ukraine we should help them, but, unlike Senator John McCain, most Americans are no longer willing to be suckers …continued »