Friday, October 25, 2013



The recent overriding debate in the Congress over the issues of budgets, Continuing Resolutions (CRs) that keep government operating, and yet another debt limit increase will soon rise  from the dead again like one of the entertainment industry’s popular zombies .  The last stand-off was described as a “crisis” waiting to happen, but was resolved in the final hour after a 17 day government shutdown caused by the lack of appropriations for operating funds.  But the Obama Administration seems stuck in a thundering cascade of crises in both foreign and domestic affairs that makes one wonder “Who’s in charge?” and “What are they thinking?”

In just recent months, Obama has found himself in a self- manufactured diplomatic and political crisis over the Syrian civil war.  In 2012 he demonstrated his lack of diplomatic acumen by making an unscripted challenge to the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad not to “cross the red line” of use of chemical weapons in the conflict.  This was essentially political grandstanding on Obama’s part, as he never expected that Assad would actually use such weapons, and was combined with naiveté with respect to the importance of every public utterance of the President of the United States as well as the need to consult/inform regional players prior to important initiatives, especially military operations. 

The crisis occurred when the unimpressed Assad actually did use poison gas mounted missiles against a civilian population not far from the Syrian capital of Damascus.  This action either “forced Obama’s hand or “called his bluff” depending on how sympathetic one might be to his ineptitude.  Obama tried to build a case for a cruise missile attack on Syria as punishment for his defiance and a claim that the international community, not he, had created the “red line”. The case quickly achieved diplomatic crisis magnitude when the President found himself without supporters either abroad or in the Congress.  Normally dovish Democrats awkwardly assumed sycophantic  positions and tried to defend Obama’s threats but NATO allies and the broader EU, joined by the UN Secretary General, the Pope, and selected Middle Eastern governments usually in line with U.S. policies in the region, all voiced opposition, undermining Obama’s claim that the international community demanded accountability on the part of Assad. 

Obama and his supporters began a dance like response, claiming that the planned strike would not endanger civilians; would not be an attempt to influence the outcome of the Syrian civil war and would not target the chemical weapons themselves out of fear that such an attack would spread the poison gas indiscriminately. Such assertions naturally led to the questions; “What then is the purpose of the strikes?” and “What U.S. national interests will be served?”

In an act of special irony, Russian President Vladimir Putin, no friend of the U.S.,  came to Obama’s rescue and scored a significant diplomatic coup by convincing his Syrian client to agree to release his chemical weapons to UN inspectors.  Thus Putin looked like a peace maker and elevated his stature in the region and Obama simply looked inept irrelevant and foolish.

On the home front, the much heralded coming out party for the President’s single legislative “achievement”, the Affordable Care Act i.e. Obamacare, was a flop of huge proportions.  The incredibly expensive website created for “easy” application for health care insurance through government exchanges simply doesn’t work.  Since there is a deadline for the uninsured to buy insurance and a penalty for failure to do so, a festering political problem has been created.  Democrats in the Congress who just weeks ago opposed a proposed delay for the mandatory enrollment provision by Republicans in the House, are now calling for exactly such a delay. All of this is occurring in the context of nation -wide lack of support for the health care act itself.  Obamacare has never achieved majority support in the country.  Currently polls show only 41% approval and health insurance premiums are going up as insurance companies take on the extra burdens of the legislation.  This is a domestic political crisis for the Administration and for Democrats in moderate states who are facing reelection in 2014.  Republicans and Democrats alike are expressing outrage at the incompetence demonstrated by those in charge of program but so far no one in the Administration has been held accountable.

Coming on the heels of the Obamacare fiasco, which is still ongoing, are the revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) which is the Administrations electronic intelligence agency, has been eavesdropping (the media calls it “spying”), on America’s European allies.  Particularly outraged is Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who sources say has had her personal cell phone conversations monitored.  The scale of the NSA’s monitoring has been vast, with the governments of Mexico, and Brazil also being identified as the subjects of electronic surveillance. 

All of these revelations are made worse by the fact that they were made public by Edward Snowden the young civilian employee of a private contractor and current fugitive hiding out in Moscow, who inexplicably had access to an enormous amount of classified data that he had no “need to know”.  This security failure following a similar breach of national security by then 23 year old, emotionally disturbed Army Private Bradley Manning, makes the executive branch look to be out of control of its own operations 

Some European leaders are so incensed that they are talking about lower levels of cooperation in intelligence matters with the Obama Administration and others are considering cancelling trade talks even though they are unrelated to the eavesdropping allegations.

The Administration had already created a chill in relations with Israel by not including it in overtures to Iran regarding suspension of its nuclear weapons development.  Saudi Arabia is threatening reduced levels of cooperation over its lack of inclusion in U.S. policies toward Iran, Syria and the partial suspension of military aid to Egypt. 

Essentially the Obama Administration’s foreign policy is in multi-regional crisis.  The political impact of these problems, both foreign and domestic could be significant.  Obama is trying to change the subject away from them by demanding a push to achieve immigration reform legislation but the crises diminish his political clout and embolden immigration reform opponents in both houses. 

Most of the foreign policy issues occurred during former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s tenure.  She of course is being widely touted as the presumptive Democrat presidential nominee and “certain winner” in 2016.  She is already carrying the burden of the as yet unexplained Benghazi attack on the U.S. Consulate facilities that resulted in the deaths of four U.S. citizens including the American Ambassador.   The outcomes of the current diplomatic crises will surely come back to haunt her as well  if she indeed chooses to try for the White House again.