This column was originally published in The Washington Times, Sunday, March 20, 2011. It has not been reedited.
By Sol Sanders
President Obama has given new meaning to that epithet “imperial presidency.” It was slung at Richard M. Nixon not only for his extravagant White House “palace guard” — some in kitschy uniforms — but for his more serious unconstitutional overreaching.
But though imperial in his style, Mr. Obama reigns; he does not rule.
Whether on domestic or foreign policy, Mr. Obama abdicates to congressional or bureaucratic control, then spins the resulting muddle as something for which he is not responsible. One sees, for example, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen pontificating far above their pay grades, only to be contradicted either by events or Mr. Obama himself. The president takes a hands-on approach only in maintaining his left-wing political base, be they Wisconsin unionists or Washington lobbies.
This standard operating procedure is reinforced by Mr. Obama’s denigration of historic American accomplishments, often on foreign soil. In the one international arena where he has sought leadership, relations with the Muslim world, the result has been an almost total disaster. Having made what he considered two seminal speeches offering renewed friendship with Islam, he now finds American interests in jeopardy in both locales. Turkey, once a stalwart NATO ally and the site of his first lecture, defies the West on the Iranian nuclear weapons issue, the greatest threat now facing the alliance. His Cairo speech, seemingly falling on deaf ears, was followed by his bemused administration fostering regime change but adding little to the still-undetermined outcome in Egypt.
Of course, Mr. Obama did not create these long-simmering crises. But he contributes to them through his administration’s lack of faith in American power, hard and soft. Favoring multilateralism to American leadership, Ambassador Susan Rice preaches that gospel at the United Nations but neglects reform of the organization’s abysmal corruption and inadequacy. Only when Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi began slaughtering his own people did Washington join the move to redress the charade of Libya’s prominence on the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Aristotle observed nature’s abhorrence of a vacuum — the “horror vacui” — and we are getting a demonstration geopolitically when the world’s paramount power chooses not to lead. Or worse still, when Mr. Obama trumpets a policy without following through. Minor players take the field, exacerbating regional conflicts in an increasingly intertwined world.
Nowhere has that been more apparent than in Washington’s approach to the Egyptian regime’s collapse, the Bahrain religious conflict and now the Libyan civil war, with their attendant threat to world energy supplies.
Like a sick dog to its vomit, Washington returns again and again to the Israeli-Palestinian issue as the magic bullet to cure the Middle East’s troubles. It’s the one international issue where the president enthusiastically commits his prestige. But having chosen Israeli settlements in areas won in the 1967 war as fundamental — it was a subsidiary issue until he came along — Mr. Obama jeopardizes Israel’s basic security, further postponing any agreement. The absurdity of his position is self-evident: In a “two-state solution,” he ignores Israel’s almost 2 million Arabs but insists a Palestinian state must be “judenrein.”
Elsewhere, lack of U.S. leadership — withholding even rhetorical support for Iran’s opposition — has helped extend Tehran’s fanatic and kleptocratic tentacles across the Fertile Crescent. The Persian mullahs have managed to play all sides in “the Arab spring.” Not only does Tehran use Shiite Syrian and Lebanese co-sectarians, but it sponsors Sunni Palestinian terrorism, including Hamas. Iran may well profit from whatever comes of Mr. Obama’s belated moves to oust Col. Gadhafi.
The arguments against American intervention in Libya were strong but, ultimately, Mr. Obama could no more ignore Tripoli than rising oil prices spurred by his administration’s counterproductive domestic energy policies could fail to cripple American recovery.
Thus Mr. Obama and the U.S. have been sucked into a vacuum, in part of the president’s own making.
• Sol Sanders, veteran foreign correspondent and analyst, writes weekly on the convergence of international politics, business and economics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.