The headlines scroll across the hours almost like a ticker board.

Collateral

Collateral

The events crawl across the board outlining the day’s events. Finally comes one to summarize it all: Obama Finds That the World Intrudes on His Travels.  The Associated Press describes how the president was distracted at every turn on his recent trip to Mexico by crisis after crisis.  As the British used to say, it’s “dashed inconvenient”, coming at a time like that.

The president was In Mexico Wednesday for a summit with his North American counterparts … Each topic was fraught enough … But there would be more, and it was not on the original summit agenda.

With an eruption of violence in Ukraine … He also condemned violence in Venezuela … Last June, his two-day summit with the Group of Eight industrial economies and his visit to Berlin came after revelations that the National Security Agency had conducted surveillance of foreign communications … His trip to Brazil and Chile in March 2011 was overwhelmed by U.S. bombing over Libya….

Amid talk of expanding North American trade and building energy partnerships among the U.S., Mexico and Canada, Obama also placed his call to Erdogan half a world away to discuss Mideast conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Israel.

What made this trip stand out was how many side issues and global worries managed to get squeezed into such a short period of time.

The word used to describe a chain reaction is a “cascade”.  Even the president knows he’s standing the midst of one, except that he believes he is swimming in a cascade of success. In Mexico, speaking before a stained glass window representing the Sun Man he interpeted events as representing the march of progress.

“I think this is an expression of the hopes and aspirations of people inside of Syria and people inside of the Ukraine who recognise that basic freedoms – freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, fair and free elections – are fundamental rights that everybody wants to enjoy.” …

“Our approach in the United States is not to see these as some cold war chessboard in which we’re in competition with Russia. Our goal is to make sure that the people of Ukraine are able to make decisions for themselves about their future, that the people of Syria are able to make the decisions without having bombs going off.

According to this point of view Obama is watching a victorious wave of history unfold; with people making choices and himself leading from behind as it were, the serried ranks of the hope-seeking masses of the world, not just the Arab Spring, but also the Ukranian Spring, the Venezuelan Spring, the Chinese Spring and probably the Irish Spring.

There are some who might differ in opinion. The alternative point of view is that Obama has lost the Middle East; watched the Cold War restart; overseen defeat in Afghanistan; and stood more or less open mouthed while China and Japan have come to the brink of a dangerous confrontation. Some might say he’s presided over one disaster after the other.

But as the speech before the Sun Man illustrates, he doesn’t share the concern. Not only is he not worried; he doesn’t notice or is at least mildly uplifted. So which is it? the Gateway to Hope or the Eve of Destruction? If the latter, Obama’s serenity at this point more resembles a mental condition rather than indicates a stalwart confidence. It might almost be better if he were minimally curious about the possible disasters engulfing him — intruding on his travels — and like David Beatty at Jutland at least wonder if there wasn’t “something wrong with our damned ships today”.


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