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Jewish World Review
April 15, 2014 / 14 Nissan, 5774
In Contests Of Strong, Decisive Policy Obama Comes Up Short
The problem for President Obama, now a lame duck, is that he's increasingly compared with Vladimir Putin and found wanting.
In theory Mr. Obama ought to hold all the cards. Russia is a backward state, whose vodka-soaked population is teetering on the verge of decline. It lacks a modern industrial base, though its vast territories contain ample natural resources, particularly those used for energy. These finance the country and its massive armed forces. But Russia lacks the means and skill to raise its people's standard of living, and every year the gap between their lifestyle and that of the prosperous West widens.
Obama ought to be sitting pretty. The U.S. economy is recovering rapidly from the worst recession in modern history. Unemployment is falling, with millions of new jobs being created. Fracking is giving an immense boost to energy supplies and should make the U.S. energy-self-sufficient before the end of the decade. Yet Obama is not getting credit for these welcome developments. Normally a President's stock rises when the economy prospers, but Obama's ratings continue to stagnate or, on occasion, fall.
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Whatever one may think of Putin's moral posture -- which is deplorable -- he is regarded as strong, decisive and vigorous, pushing Russia's interests at all times, with considerable success. In contrast, Obama is written off as weak and irresolute, with no clear short-or long-term aims. He gets high marks for rhetoric but scores zero for action. In short, he's a windbag.
Two critical areas highlight the differences between these two leaders. In Syria Putin has backed the man who is clearly winning: President Bashar al-Assad. This cynical and merciless ruler is likely responsible for the deaths of more than 100,000 Syrians, but his troops consistently gain ground, and he operates with growing confidence. Putin has supported Assad with arms, diplomatic assistance and all the resources of the old Soviet-style agitprop machinery, which have gradually prevailed.
Obama hasn't even gotten credit for playing the moral card, because his actions have been dithering, contradictory and ineffective. His policy on supplying arms to anti-Assad groups, if it exists, is unclear. He gives the impression that he doesn't care greatly one way or the other, that his emotions aren't engaged.
With the unrest in Ukraine, Putin has again shown strength and consistency, albeit for the wrong side. He is determined to keep Ukraine a part of Russia's sphere and thus backs its government wholeheartedly. The majority of Ukrainians clearly want to become a part of the European community, which to them represents freedom and progress. In the growing division between government and people Putin will support government, even to the point of civil war.
With Ukraine Obama has the opportunity to align himself with popular sentiment in a key country of eastern Europe. Doing so successfully would enormously strengthen the forces of democracy in Europe, while giving the European Community a much needed idealistic cause around which to rally. It would also deal a deadly blow to Putin's foreign policy. But Obama doesn't seem to grasp the importance of the issues at stake or why American support is so vital to the democratic forces in eastern Europe. It's not even clear that Obama actually has a policy. Ukraine's populist leaders claim that all their efforts to move Obama to take action have failed to evoke any kind of decisive response from Washington. President Obama is missing two crucial chances to take a stand for decency and humanity against the forces of evil and is handing Putin an easy victory. History has placed Obama in a position in which he can be held responsible for the freedom or servitude of two peoples. Putin has far fewer resources but has been using them with skill, consistency and determination. It's terribly sad that at this juncture the U.S. is led by a man with so little regard for his nation's role in upholding and extending freedom and that the forces of evil should be winning battles with so little effort.
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02/18/14: In Contests Of Strong, Decisive Policy Obama Comes Up Short
11/26/13: Obama Versus Putin: Can Obama Muster The Right Stuff?
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© 2009, Paul Johnson