Dana Milbank laments that President Obama is an empty suit.
Obama will have the requisite news conferences with foreign leaders, although questions are likely to be about Ukraine. Rice described the purpose of the tour in vague and airy terms: “This is a positive trip with a positive agenda that underscores that the United States’ commitment to this region is growing, and is a cornerstone of our global engagement and is going to be there for the long term.”But Milbank's own logic suggests that there is more to it than Obama being a "tourist."
Even if crises hadn’t intervened, it’s not entirely clear what the agenda would be. I asked Ben Rhodes, the president’s deputy national security adviser, for an articulation of the Obama Doctrine, which is variously described by the news media as “emerging,” “evolving” and being “revisited.” Rhodes referred me to a 2011 speech in which Obama discussed multilateral action. If the United States is not directly threatened, Obama said then, “the burden of action should not be America’s alone.”
This explains Obama's foreign policy perfectly. In Libya, for instance, Obama let France and the UK take the lead after the US had cleared out initial air defenses. And since the US is not directly threatened by the events in Ukraine, that explains in part the reluctance of the President to do more than what he already has.
Milbank acknowledges that the Bush doctrine of preemptive warfare and perpetual occupation did more to harm the US image than Obama did. One of the most frequent refrains from the Bush administration was that as Iraqis stood up, America would stand down. That, of course, didn't happen. As Russia is learning the hard way in Crimea, it's a lot more difficult to govern territory than it is to invade and occupy it. If the countries that we are trying to "help" are not willing to help themselves, then there is only so much that we can do.
This theme of Obama allegedly being an adolescent president (George Will) or a man without a plan (Washington Post editorial board on Syria) is a common theme of the Post's description of Obama. It was a common attack on him during the 2008 primary season.
It's more exciting to write about conflict than it is to write about a President who is allegedly an empty suit. I'm sure it was a lot more riveting for people to write about George Bush's perpetual wars against the "Axis of Evil" than it is to write about a Nobel Peace Prize winner. And I'm sure that it sold more papers for the Washington Post. But while Obama is still committed to the illusion of the Pax Americana, he is also cognizant of the limitations of American power. That is the thing that many people don't get. Like Superman telling the world they had to solve their own nuclear weapons problems, Obama recognizes, like Bush could not, that we can only be in so many places at once.
These sorts of military adventures cost money. If our political leaders are serious about getting rid of the deficit, then they have to accept that the DOD has to take cuts and live within its means like any other government agency. It doesn't do any good for the GOP, for instance, to attack the President's alleged excess spending ways in Washington and then have John McCain turn around and demand that we send military aid to Ukraine when Obama actually does something to reign in spending. Sometimes, the politicians have to listen to the will of the people. Our memories of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts are still strong and most Americans do not want us engaging in any more military adventurism that would put more troops in harm's way and which would drive up deficit spending and erode our social safety net.