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Obama Peace Initiatives

White House Photo: Pete Souza

The neocons are going crazy because Obama hasn’t stopped Russia from intervening in Ukraine. This is after he failed to intervene in Syria, bargained with Iran, didn’t get Karzai to sign for a troop extension in Afghanistan, and had his ambassador killed in Libya. The picture that is being painted is of a completely ineffectual leader on the world stage.

What this storyline misses is that — with the exception of the Benghazi incident in Libya, clearly a failure — Obama’s policy is to avoid getting into new conflicts and to get us out of the ones we’re in. He is not about policing the world. And public opinion polls show consistently that the vast majority is with him on this. Very few people want any new military commitments.

It has been characteristic of this President — in contrast with his predecessor George W. Bush — that he moves very quietly, even deceptively at times, without trumpeting what he’s doing or calling attention to himself.

For example, his objective is clearly to get us out of Afghanistan, but he’s doing it by indirection, negotiating with President Karzai in a way that is almost certain to fail.

Karzai has compelling domestic pressures to repeatedly condemn and frustrate the United States, even though he desperately needs continued U.S. aid. Karzai is probably depending on Obama to ignore the repeated snubs and keep on insisting that the troops stay. Karzai (or his successor) could then magnanimously agree in the end to let the troops stay. But Obama will do what he did in Iraq in 2009: take no for an answer.

Similarly, President Obama surely sees that there are no good guys to support in Syria, and that there is no way the U.S. can do anything to stop the Russians from intervening in the former Soviet Republic of Ukraine, however much we condemn it. Even the most extreme hawks aren’t advocating that we start a nuclear war over this.

Obama’s characteristic style, however, is serving him ill as he tries to defend his political standing within the country. It is not enough to do the right thing, or to end up at the right goal: he has to do a lot more to tell his own story, instead of letting his enemies continue to define him. He can rally public opinion to his side because, as I noted above, the vast majority don’t want any more wars.

He needs to tell us what his vision of American leadership in the world is, and how his strategy and tactics are getting us there.

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He can’t just walk the walk, he’s got to talk the talk.

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