“The President…shall have the power, by and with the consent of the Senate, to make treaties…to appoint Ambassadors, other Public Ministers and consuls…” — US Constitution, Article II, section 2.
It surprised me too: the president is actually in charge of our country’s foreign policy. From current events, one could be forgiven for thinking that Joe Biden — the administration’s Inspector Clouseau — was running things. Or John Kerry, everyone’s favorite nagmiester.
On their watch the world continues to seethe. Bashir Assad is accelerating his butchery, to the undoubted delight of his masters in Moscow and Tehran. The latter have just announced that, international agreements to the contrary they will not dismantle any of their nuclear facilities — thereby blowing holes in the much-heralded “breakthrough” talks with the U.S. and EU on restraining their nuclear ambitions. Our response to both? A minor round of finger wagging by midranking Administration officials.
Memo to Deputy White House Spokesman Josh Earnest, scold-in-chief: nobody cares what you say.
It may also be a shock to the wilfully uninformed that two large and important countries are in the process of melting down, potentially spawning instability and violence across two troubled areas of the world: Eastern Europe and Latin America.
Venezuela is closer, sadder and potentially of greater concern. For 16 years it has been ruled by a doctrinaire Socialist thugocracy, with predictable results: shortages of everything, save want. A country with abundant natural resources and a once-booming oil economy now can’t successfully import toilet paper. The moribund economy and accelerating authoritarianism of Hugo Chavez’ hand-picked successor have touched off massive political unrest across the country; the regime has responded by jailing opposition politicians and arming goon squads who deal with protests by firing indiscriminately into crowds.
What’s our attitude about all this? After three U.S. diplomats were expelled from the country last week, the State Department issued a statement to the effect that “they weren’t spies.” A week previously, Secretary of State Kerry peevishly expressed our “alarm” that opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez had disappeared into the Venezuelan Army’s judicial system. Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro could be forgiven confusion: this is the same secretary of state who congratulated Venezuela for electing him last March.
Equally remarkable is our reaction to events in Ukraine. Although the European Union and Russia seem to have negotiated a temporary truce between the government and its people, when hundreds of protesters are shot for preferring closer ties with Western Europe and greater human freedoms to reincorporation into a Russian Empire ruled by Vlad the Terrible, their deaths cry out for comment by leaders of the country who would “bear any burden … to ensure the success of liberty,” to quote John Kennedy. But that was then. Now, Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s bloody-handed president, gets a phone call from Joe Biden. President Obama will probably chat with him later. Meanwhile, Prince Vlad still lusts after Ukraine, so this problem will persist.
At least the president is consistent. His responses mirror those to the unrest in Iran following its 2009 elections: anodyne words and low-level hand-wringing. Ditto the butchery in Syria, which featured talk of red lines and deadlines, quickly abandoned in the face of challenge.
This self-imposed impotence has done much to create the world that candidate Obama described during the campaign of 2008: a world in which the United States is not even one of the principal voices on our turbulent planet. He responds to crises with words everyone now recognizes as empty; flights of rhetorical fancy worthy of Neville Chamberlain.
But his dreams of a “new international order” are thwarted by men like Vladimir Putin, who has proven himself far more capable — because he lives in the real world of conflict, national interest and discrete and measured application of force. He and those like him know to whom attention must be paid, and who they can safely ignore. We are the latter, and that is not a safe thing to be.
Getting ourselves out of this hole will take time and effort. We need to remind ourselves that we are the world’s best bulwark of liberty — and we need to act as such, defending human freedom with word, and deed. This needn’t involve war; in cases like Venezuela and the Ukraine consistent defense of those struggling for freedom, coupled with economic and political quarantines and — in Ukraine’s case — constant vigilance might be sufficient. But no “red lines” unless the decision has already been made to enforce them, come what may. We cannot stand another surrender of that sort.
This is challenging but necessary work; without it, there will be more Ukraines, Syrias, Irans and Venezuelas. The world will be poorer and more dangerous, not better.
No, Hillary’s not up to the job either. Failure is no recommendation.
Summit County resident Morgan Liddick pens a Tuesday column. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.