Ethics & Public Policy Center

Nations Swinging Away at the Obama Pinata

Published in Commentary magazine on June 25, 2013



White House press secretary Jay Carney, in responding to Hong Kong and China allowing National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden to flee to Moscow, said “The Chinese have emphasized the importance of building mutual trust. And we think that they have dealt that effort a serious setback. If we cannot count on them to honor their legal extradition obligations, then there’s a problem.” He added, “We are just not buying that this was a technical decision by a Hong Kong immigration official. This was a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant, and that decision unquestionably has negative impact on the U.S.-China relationship.” Mr. Carney went out of his way to express “our frustration and disappointment with Hong Kong and China.”

To which the Chinese must be shrugging their shoulders and asking, “Who cares?”

I wonder if it has begun to dawn on the administration that nations are lining up to demonstrate their indifference to, or contempt for, President Obama’s wishes. A headline in the Washington Post today, for example, reads this way: “Through Snowden, Ecuador seeks fight with U.S.” Fine, but only after Hong Kong, China, and Russia get their chance to swing at the Obama piñata. And the Snowden debacle is only the latest, and in some respects the least important, example of this.

“Nobody’s afraid of this guy,” Professor Eliot Cohen told the Post. “Nobody’s saying there are any real consequences that would come from crossing him – and that’s an awful position for the president of the United States to be in.”

It is indeed; but that is where we find ourselves in the Obama Era.

If there is anything good that might emerge from what has happened to America during the Obama presidency, it might be that we have tested in the real world the theories and ideas that animate Mr. Obama’s progressive foreign policy vision. They include the belief that American power is the source of animosity against us; that serial apologies for America’s past would win us the favor of our adversaries; and that “leading from behind” would increase America’s influence in the world. Each of those myths has been exploded by events. So, too, has Mr. Obama’s belief that placating our enemies would win us their favor (it hasn’t) and that losing wars is the same thing as ending wars (it is not).

Over and over again during the 2008 campaign, and early in his presidency, Barack Obama said he would “restore America’s standing in the world” and make us more “respected.” He has done neither. America today, under Obama, is viewed as feeble, supine, and enervated.

I am reminded of what Ronald Reagan said (in 1980) about America under Jimmy Carter. “Adversaries large and small test our will and seek to confound our resolve,”according to Reagan:

but the Carter Administration gives us weakness when we need strength; vacillation when the times demand firmness. Why?  Because the Carter Administration live in the world of make-believe.  Every day, it dreams up a response to that day’s troubles, regardless of what happened yesterday and what will happen tomorrow.  The Administration lives in a world where mistakes, even very big ones, have no consequence. The rest of us, however, live in the real world.  It is here that disasters are overtaking our nation without any real response from the White House… Who does not feel a growing sense of unease as our allies, facing repeated instances of an amateurish and confused Administration; reluctantly conclude that America is unwilling or unable to fulfill its obligations as leader of the free world? Who does not feel rising alarm when the question in any discussion of foreign policy is no longer, “Should we do something?”, but “Do we have the capacity to do anything?”

Reagan went on to describe the Carter years as “years of weakness, indecision, mediocrity and incompetence.”

What once was, is again. And America, now as then, is paying a high price for the irresolution and weakness of its commander in chief.

Peter Wehner is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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