The dismal story of President Obama’s fumbling approach to diplomacy with Russia took another lurch downhill yesterday: the White House appears to finally be losing its ability to pretend to itself that Putin takes it seriously as a negotiating partner. Secretary of State John Kerry:
“Yesterday, as most of you saw, the United States announced our decision to suspend the bilateral discussions with Russia on the re-institution of the cessation of the hostilities agreement. A decision that, believe me, does not come lightly,” Kerry told an audience in Brussels, Belgium, while speaking on Transatlantic relations.
Kerry stressed that the US would continue to pursue diplomatic initiatives to curb the violence in Syria that has sprung from the civil war there.
But has a bigger lesson been learned? A State Department spokesman last week gestured to the possibility of using “non-diplomatic” option, but never clarified what was meant. And that veiled threat has not been followed up upon. Having telegraphed in a million ways to Putin that he had no intention of intervening in Syria, and that he saw no alternative to negotiating with Russia no matter what, Obama has been subjected to a series of ritual humiliations as he vainly chased after agreements he lacked the leverage to get.
The Obama Administration has been acting on the misguided belief that to utter eloquent statements condemning Russia will somehow make a good impression on the world—or at least on the historical record—rather than simply underlining the profound fecklessness and weakness of its entire approach. So with good intentions and high ideals, the Obama administration has landed in a moral and political quagmire in its Middle East policy—and more generally in its relations with Russia. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who the Obama Administration predicted would end up in a quagmire in Syria, has been in large part successful in achieving his goals.
The press does its best to avert its eyes from this dispiriting spectacle, but Obama’s foreign policy legacy is withering away before our very eyes, even as the clock runs down on the most disastrous American foreign policy presidency since World War II. One hopes that he’ll take some stands; even now, President Obama could help his successor by reversing course on some of his key decisions and laying the foundation for a revival of American power and prestige. But it seems more likely that, much like President James Buchanan who dithered in the White House as the Confederacy rose in the South, Obama just wants to run out the clock, and is hoping that nothing catastrophic happens on the world stage before he can get back to the more congenial realm of thought leading and oratory.
Obama prided himself on the power of his ideas to renew America and reshape the world. Aleppo is just a foretaste of what awaits us unless we change course.