Felicia Muftic: The limits of U.S. leadership
President Obama has come under fire for a good part of his presidency from the GOP for “being feckless” and “leading from behind.”
I have lost count of the number of times Sen. John McCain has advocated getting militarily involved in this or that conflict. Sen. Lindsey Graham calls Secretary of State John Kerry “delusional” and the president “King of Indecision” but ignores reality. There are limits to U.S. ability to lead our allies. The old saying fits: You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.
If the leadership’s judgment is wrong or misleads us intentionally, blunders and quagmires make thoughtful, cautious leadership personified by Obama’s approach look good. We have experienced leadership of hawks and neocons before. In my lifetime, we were led into Vietnam mission creep by fear of a domino effect ; and we were fooled into invading Iraq by claims they possessed WMD. We know how both of those turned out. No wonder we are gun shy.
A recent Politico poll shows we are a schizophrenic nation with hawkish GOP leaders in Washington urging one thing and large majority of the public decisively agreeing with the details of Obama’s policies of getting out or staying out of Afghanistan, Ukraine, and the Middle East.
Obama himself has recently added to the “feckless” perception with bad optics of not flying to the White House to take up hands-on leadership. Of course he can conduct matters anywhere thanks to modern communications. Reality is what we face; not optical illusions.
The Gaza conflict is fraught with reality, and hope is dimming for a two-state solution.. Hamas is still sworn to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, and Israel is using the conflict as an opportunity to cripple Hamas. Those are two horses who do not want to drink the water of permanent peace yet. Bless John Kerry for trying.
Here is reality: The Cold War was a dangerous time with only fear of mutually assured destruction keeping it in check. On the other hand, it was a simple time. The U.S. was able to lead the Western world because the West had been decimated by World War II. We controlled their ability to recover, and we protected them with our military .
Circa 2014 is not your old Cold War. Russia has been lifted by oil exports and is in the hunt to restore its former glory and control of its neighbors. The European Union is nearly equal to the U.S. as an economic power, but 40 percent of their economy is tied up in trade with Russia and very little of ours. Some members of the EU are 99 percent dependent on Russian oil; on the average, 30 percent. It is so easy for the U.S. to tell Europe to boycott Russian because of the Ukraine crisis. It would be devastating to their economy if they did what some have asked. Economic sanctions are water they might sip, but not gulp down.
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