Lacking Leadership On Ukraine — And Everywhere Else

As of late, there have been a series of scathing criticisms of current US foreign policy, especially concerning our inaction in Ukraine.

The Economist asked, “What would America fight for?” Unsurprisingly, the answer was far from clear. As the editorial team argues, “[T] here will be no vanquishing as long as the West is so careless of what it is losing.”

For all the back and forth over what America’s role should be in Ukraine – and the world more generally – it seems as though it still hasn’t sunk in just how much we are on the precipice of losing. And this isn’t about the fact that we’re going to lose Ukraine to Russia, a fate surely to be avoided. It’s about the fact that Ukraine is just another calamity in a long line of foreign policy blunders that have relegated the US to an international laughingstock.

In a Wall Street Journal editorial, Richard Haass outlined the great challenges to US foreign policy and our subpar response. He writes, “The result is that the U.S. often finds itself with an uncomfortable choice: Either it must back off its declared goals, which makes America look weak and encourages widespread defiance, or it has to make good on its aims, which requires enormous investments in blood, treasure and time. The Obama administration has largely opted for the former, i.e., feckless approach.”

To be known for our “feckless” approach to foreign policy when we used to be in the indispensible nation is embarrassing.

Barack Obama & Vladimir Putin at Putin's dacha... Barack Obama & Vladimir Putin at Putin’s dacha 2009-07-07 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maureen Dowd went after President Obama and his policy of leading from behind – way behind – in a New York Times editorial. She argues, “We understand that it’s frustrating. You’re dealing with some really evil guys and some really nutty pols, and the problems roiling the world now are brutally hard. But that being said, you are the American president. And the American president should not perpetually use the word ‘eventually.’ And he should not set a tone of resignation with references to this being a relay race and say he’s willing to take “a quarter of a loaf or half a loaf,” and muse that things may not come “to full fruition on your timetable.”

There can be no doubt that President Obama is facing particularly troubling times and has since he took office. Disentangling from two wars, unprecedented levels of terrorism and all those “evil guys” Dowd refers to would be a difficult challenge for any president.

But it seems like the White House thinks they got a bum deal. That it’s worse for President Obama than any of the guys who came before him. And, as an extension, that they can use that belief as some sort of justification or excuse for endless policy blunders and a weak international presence.

I know from personal experience in the Clinton White House that President Obama doesn’t have it worse than those who came before him. Not even close.

That isn’t to say that these aren’t challenging times – they most certainly are. But every president faces great enemies and obstacles that keep them up late at night, that shake the American people and the international order.

It is the job of the American president to be stronger than those challenges. It is the job of the American president to rise above and to articulate an American foreign policy befitting of our strong nation and our values.

President Obama has yet to do this.

Every day we delay means we fall two days behind.