Obama Fiddles While the World Burns

December 19, 2013 1:56 am 0 comments

President Obama addressing the nation about the Iran nuclear deal. Photo: White House.

Nero “fiddled,” so they say, while Rome burned. Today, this epigram all too accurately describes President Obama’s approach to U.S. national security. For five years, he has resolutely consigned foreign and defense issues to the bottom of his policy agenda, resulting in increasing disarray both domestically and abroad. The United States needs strategic thinking internationally, and we are getting the opposite.

Mr. Obama’s personal Rome, the Affordable Care Act, is indeed self-immolating, and he responds by giving speeches (his version of playing Nero’s cithara) rather than taking command to save his eponymous program before the administration itself is consumed. Domestic troubles, however, in no way justify indifference to foreign affairs. If anything, political weakness at home only exposes a president to greater risks internationally, as adversaries take advantage of U.S. inattention, indecision and unpreparedness.

So detached is the Obama administration, however, that even those charged with national security are doing their own fiddling. Consider several media headlines from just last week. Secretary of State John F. Kerry has spent inordinate amounts of time in and around Israel banging away on the “Middle East peace process.” His headline from The Washington Post: “Israel-Palestinian peace deal still possible by spring, Kerry says.” The heavens responded by dropping two feet of snow on Jerusalem.

Mr. Kerry is following the widely held but erroneous view that resolving the Israel-Palestinian issue is the panacea for Middle Eastern peace and security. Under this view, creating a Palestinian state, almost regardless what kind of state it is, will materially assist in resolving the region’s many other seemingly intractable problems. Empirically, this view has little to recommend it, and years of bloody evidence to refute it. Nonetheless, Mr. Kerry (and, one assumes, his president) are uninterested in debating establishment theology. They are too busy lighting candles at its altar.

Spiraling crises elsewhere, however, are exposing another basic reality; namely, that diplomacy is not cost-free. Like all human activities, negotiations have costs as well as benefits. For a secretary of state, his top advisers and an administration as a whole, one of the most significant expenditures is what economists call the “opportunity cost” of focusing on one issue rather than another. Senior decision-makers must always allocate resources among competing priorities. Particularly in turbulent periods, they should allocate precious time, attention and resources to those issues most dramatically affecting American national security, not frittering them away on peripheral matters.

Inexplicably, fiddling is precisely what the Obama administration is doing. The vaunted Geneva agreement on Iran’s nuclear-weapons program is already collapsing. The president himself at the United Nations in September designated this issue, along with the Israel-Palestinian dispute, as his top international priorities. While Mr. Kerry waited for Ben Gurion Airport’s runways to be cleared of snow last week, the Associated Press headlined, “As ties warm, EU parliament delegation visits Iran,” and the Financial Times blared, “Iran thaw cheers French carmakers.” These news headlines are the visible manifestation of Iran’s massive psychological breakthrough in the Geneva talks, extending beyond the specifics regarding its nuclear program or the increasingly porous sanctions regimes. Iran has flipped international expectations to its advantage, while Mr. Kerry has worried about Israeli construction of apartment buildings near Jerusalem.

In Eastern Europe, The New York Times wrote, “Signs of Momentum Shifting to Protesters in Ukraine” — not that the Obama administration has done anything to affect the ongoing struggle and its implications for this large, strategic country. Make no mistake, given Russian President Vladimir Putin’s determination to re-establish Moscow’s hegemony over the space of the former Soviet Union, Ukraine today is the very paradigm flash point where armed intervention and conflict are not inconceivable. Mr. Putin will not watch quietly as Ukraine slips out of Moscow’s orbit to join the West, but Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry seem completely inattentive.

Writing on East Asia, the Times headlined that “American and Chinese Navy Ships Nearly Collided in South China Sea,” while The Washington Post wrote, “China-Japan rift silently grows” in the East China Sea. Rarely in world history does a shift in the balance of power occur quickly and visibly. That may well be happening in Asia, though, as America’s defense capabilities, particularly its once-dominant Navy, wane and Beijing takes advantage of the vacuum thus created. Traditional American allies in the region like Japan and South Korea are appalled, and China is emboldened.

Unfortunately, this is but a partial list of disturbing headlines from recent days: Syria, Afghanistan, North Korea and others could be added. Ultimately, perhaps nothing can pry Mr. Obama away from his domestic obsessions. Nonetheless, other American political leaders have a larger duty to alert their fellow citizens to international threats and to propose solutions before the threats become insoluble. Neither political party is meeting this responsibility, yet time is growing ever shorter. Ask Nero how it turns out.

John R. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

This article was originally published by The Washington Times.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    An actress starring in the controversial Met Opera The Death of Klinghoffer defended the show on Tuesday by comparing it to the 1993 Holocaust film Schindler’s List, New York Post reported. “To me, this was like [the movie] Schindler’s List. We make art so people won’t forget,’’ said the actress, who plays a captured passenger in the show and asked not to be identified. The Met Opera focuses on the infamous murder of Lower East Side Jewish resident Leon Klinghoffer, 69. The wheelchair-bound father of [...]

    Read more →
  • Analysis Arts and Culture Beyond ‘Klinghoffer’: Opera’s Composer, Librettist Have Broader Jewish Problem

    Beyond ‘Klinghoffer’: Opera’s Composer, Librettist Have Broader Jewish Problem

    JNS.org – One of the most controversial operas in recent memory, “The Death of Klinghoffer,” debuted Oct. 20 at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. The Met has scheduled seven more performances through November. The first staging did not occur without protest, as about 400 demonstrators—including Jewish communal and nationally recognized leaders—came to Lincoln Center to denounce the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel opera. “Klinghoffer,” the creation of composer John Adams and librettist Alice Goodman, premiered in 1991—with few additional stagings. The opera is based [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Israeli Actress Gal Gadot in Talks to Star in Ben-Hur Remake

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot in Talks to Star in Ben-Hur Remake

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot is in negotiations to take on the female lead role in the remake of the 1959 classic Ben-Hur, according to The Hollywood Reporter. If the deal is finalized Gadot will play Esther, a slave and Ben-Hur’s love interest. Actor Jack Huston will star as the Jewish prince who is betrayed into slavery by his childhood friend Messala, played by Toby Kebbell. Ben-Hur fights for his freedom and vengeance with the help of Morgan Freeman’s character, who trains Ben-Hur how to win at chariot-racing. [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Young Israelis Try to Crowd-Fund Their Way to Major League Baseball Playoffs

    Young Israelis Try to Crowd-Fund Their Way to Major League Baseball Playoffs

    JNS.org – Baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie are the American dream. So why do two young men who have built their lives in Israel have a GoFundMe crowd-funding webpage with the urgent message that they need $3,000 to travel to the U.S. to watch the Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles square off for Major League Baseball’s (MLB) American League championship? Brothers Naftali and Yoni Schwartz, 27 and 25, respectively, are Kansas City natives. Even though they made aliyah with their [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Race Cars Speed Through Jerusalem in Amazing Exhibition

    Race Cars Speed Through Jerusalem in Amazing Exhibition

    Some 3,000 years ago, King David probably never imagined cars racing at 240 kilometers per hour (150 miles per hour) through the ancient capital of the Jewish people. But on Monday and Tuesday, October 6-7, thousands of Israelis lined the streets to watch Porsche, Audi, and Ferrari race cars fly through the capital against the backdrop of the Tower of David, the Old City Walls, and other city landmarks. The second annual non-competitive Jerusalem Formula One Road Show had been [...]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports NBA Superstar LeBron James Says He Wants to Visit Israel

    NBA Superstar LeBron James Says He Wants to Visit Israel

    Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James expressed interest in visiting Israel someday, local news site Cleveland.com reported on Sunday. Speaking to Israeli reporters before the Cleveland Cavaliers’ preseason debut against Maccabi Tel Aviv, the NBA star said he had never visited the Jewish state but “I want to look forward to going there if I get an opportunity to.” When asked by an Israeli reporter if there was “any chance that LeBron James and Cleveland comes to Tel Aviv,” the athlete said [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Florida Rabbi Dominates Former Basketball Star Congressman in Hoops Showdown (VIDEO)

    Florida Rabbi Dominates Former Basketball Star Congressman in Hoops Showdown (VIDEO)

    A Florida-based Chabad rabbi put former basketball star, U.S. Congressman Curt Clawson to shame on the court when the two faced off one-on-one recently. A YouTube video, posted online on Tuesday, shows Rabbi Fishel Zaklos of Chabad of Naples shooting hoops with the Florida politician, who played basketball in high school and at Purdue University in Indiana. The game took place in the parking lot of the Chabad Jewish center run by Zaklos. During the 1-minute clip, Zaklos scores two impressive [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada David Blatt’s Cleveland Cavaliers Rout Maccabi Tel Aviv, 107-80

    David Blatt’s Cleveland Cavaliers Rout Maccabi Tel Aviv, 107-80

    JNS.org – Less than five months after leading Maccabi Tel Aviv to its sixth European basketball title, David Blatt, now the head coach of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, routed his former team in an exhibition game on Sunday, with the Cavaliers dominating Maccabi 107-80 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. The 20,562 fans in attendance witnessed Lebron James’s first appearance in a Cavaliers uniform since he left the club in free agency for the Miami Heat four years ago. [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.