The Ostrich of Pennsylvania Avenue
Although much has been written about the collapse of the administration's foreign policy, of equal importance has been the parallel collapse of the foreign policy consensus in Washington. Per David Rohde:
Our political elite was so deeply divided in 2013 that we could not define a common enemy. We turned a blind eye to the revival of Mideast authoritarianism. And we fashioned no plans for how to respond to Syria becoming a new Afghanistan.
Washington is drifting like the Flying Dutchman. The year 2014 threatens to be a disastrous one for the administration, and it cannot make port. Its woes will get worse not only domestically, as it becomes evident that taxes -- and premiums -- must be raised to support Obamacare; they are everywhere on the defense. Democrat Mary Landrieu is campaigning on reforming Obamacare. The Washington Post predicts it will be a year of "shrunken ambitions" on both sides of the aisle.
But it is overseas, as the consequences of failures in Afghanistan and the Middle East begin to directly affect the first world, where the headline-grabbers lurk. Already the tide of trouble is lapping at European shores: the Italian navy plucked 1,000 refugees from the sea in a single day as swarms of people fled from the benefits of the Arab Spring and Geneva 2, many to drown in the Mediterranean:
The Italian navy rescued more than 1,000 migrants in the 24 hours to Friday from boats trying to reach Europe, authorities said, as an immigration crisis that killed hundreds in the last year showed no signs of easing.
Navy helicopters spotted four overcrowded boats struggling to stay afloat south of Sicily on Thursday and ships were sent to save them, the navy said in a statement.
The 823 men, women and children aboard the four vessels were from countries including Egypt, Pakistan, Iraq and Tunisia.
The navy rescued 233 migrants from Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, Zambia, Mali and Pakistan in a separate operation and took them to a port near Syracuse on Sicily's eastern coast.
Also, some months ago:
Deep sea divers "unpacked a wall of people" [mostly Africans] from the hull of a smuggler's trawler on the sea floor near this Italian island on Monday, gingerly untangling the dead would-be migrants in the latest and most painstaking phase of a recovery operation following their ship's fiery capsizing.
Things are likely to get worse. Knowing this, the administration is planning to lean against the ropes and blame the Republicans. Salena Zito writes that the class warfare which has worked wonders in the past for Obama is being redeployed again in 2014 as the cornerstone of his strategy:
As we head into the 2014 midterm elections, one thing is certain: Class warfare will be the campaign stage again -- it is the only way this president knows how to win, by dividing and conquering -- with the tea party, Main Street and businesses large and small cast as the villains.
Democrats and the media have done an effective job of demonizing the “tea party” brand and detaching its followers from their original aspirations.
The logic of class warfare is simple. It relies on convincing the public that even if the the administration has screwed up, the "teabaggers" will do worse. If the administration can demonize their rivals sufficiently, voters will stay home and desist from kicking them out. Here's how it worked in the past:
The lifelong Democrat, who runs a five-man machine shop, regrets not voting for president in 2012.
He admits President Barack Obama's assault on Mitt Romney's character cast just enough doubt in his mind that he believed the Republican nominee would favor Wall Street over Main Street, put Washington into political deadlock and keep the economy stubbornly at a standstill.
He also believed he could keep his health-care plan -- the one he liked -- under Obama.
“For me, the class-warfare slogans were just enough to keep me at home,” he explained, adding that he'll never do that again.
Bob Schieffer on Meet the Press has noticed the shift to class warfare. Speaking to Peggy Noonan, he asked why that was:
BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, the President is talking about income inequality. I mean we -- we get word from Hawaii that that’s what he’s coming back to Washington to talk about. What does that mean to you, Peggy?
PEGGY NOONAN (Wall Street Journal): What it means to me is that he does not want to talk about Obamacare. It is widely assumed that in 2014 the bad news of Obamacare, the dislocations, the lost coverage, the price hikes, the premium hikes, et cetera, et cetera. That all of this will continue. It’s not the website. The website is the old story. It is the program. It will unveil over the next two years and it’s going to be problematic. The President does not want to talk about it. The Democrats do not want to talk about it. Therefore, income inequality, minimum wage, et cetera, et cetera. They need to change the subject.
While the administration plans to go on an offensive against the Republicans, driving its actions is fear of what it has itself unleashed.
The Wall Street Journal writes that the fear is great, strong enough to force a reconsideration of its previous policy of abandoning Iraq:
The rise of the Islamist forces in Iraq is particularly worrisome to the Obama administration. In response, U.S. officials said Sunday they were seeking to boost military support -- though they emphasized no troops -- for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to help in his campaign to push back al-Qaeda. U.S. officials are also considering new military aid for Lebanon, which is plagued by rising sectarian violence.
But it was also occasioned by the rude failure of its diplomatic "outreach policy" in the region. Having abandoned the Syrian rebels who relied upon it, the administration tried to complete the hat trick with a double-cross, only to find the Islamists contemptuous of them:
Earlier this month, the president decided to approach the Islamists at the center of the Syrian revolution.
Had the meeting actually occurred, the White House had prepared three specific talking points for the U.S. representative to deliver to the Islamic Front. First, she was to encourage the Islamists to attend what’s known as the Geneva 2 conference in January, an effort to bring the U.S., Russia, the Syrian regime, and the opposition together to negotiate a transition to a new government in Syria.
Secondly, the U.S. representative was to request that the Islamic Front return control of warehouses containing a range of equipment, some U.S.-supplied, that they seized from the Free Syrian Army earlier this month near the Turkish border.
Third, the U.S. representative was instructed to communicate America’s “red line” -- that America could not have a working relationship with the Islamic Front if they continued to work directly with rebel groups that the U.S. government has deemed as “terrorists,” namely the Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).
But it was too little and too late. The Islamists stood the administration up. It was then -- or it may have been then -- when it occurred to them that "leading from behind" was not all it was cracked up to be:
The rise of the Islamists is at least partially due to a failed U.S. policy over the last three years that avoided supporting groups that were more Western and democratic-leaning, said Andrew Tabler, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“The problem is that our hands-off approach to arming the moderates meant that while they were well-stocked with non-lethal assistance, groups on the right end of the spectrum got arms from the gulf to fight the war against Assad,” he said.
The extent to which Obama's policy has failed was underscored by Iran's offer to help Maliki retake Anbar from al-Qaeda:
Iran's deputy chief of staff General Mohammad Hejazi today said the Islamic republic was prepared to provide military equipment and advice to Iraq to help it battle Al-Qaeda.
"If the Iraqis ask, we will supply them with equipment and advice, but they have no need of manpower," Hejazi was cited by the official IRNA news agency as saying.
And Tehran's ascendance was further emphasized by the State Department's openness to including Iran in negotiations over Syria, as "the United States raised the prospect of Assad's sponsor Iran, the Shi'ite power long at odds with Washington and its Sunni Arab allies, playing some role in this month's Syrian peace talks." With Iran now Washington's "partner for peace," how will they stop Tehran's bomb?
Cozying up to Iran did not go over well with the Sunni-backed rebels, who now threaten to boycott Kerry's talks:
Syria's main opposition National Coalition re-elected Ahmad Jarba as its leader during a general assembly meeting in Istanbul on Sunday, the coalition said in a statement. ... His re-election comes at a sensitive time, less than three weeks away from slated peace talks in Switzerland that would bring rebels and regime representatives to the table.
The Coalition is set to discuss on Monday whether to take part in the peace talks, though a key bloc -- the Syrian National Council -- has already announced it will boycott the so-called Geneva 2 process.
That has raised fears the Coalition may end up rejecting the talks altogether. According to council member and veteran dissident Samir Nashar, "Ahmad Jarba does not want to go to Geneva.
Remember that dinner for three? Make it dinner for two.
In short, 2014 opens on a dramatic scene. Barack Obama appears to have lost his shirt in the casino of history. Every bet he confidently made in last five years has turned out to be a dud, and the other players are waiting on the turnover of his chips. The beads of sweat stand out on his face as he regards the smug countenances of the saturnine Russians, the poker-faced Persians, and the wheedling Afghans. They are the big winners of 2013.
And to defend itself from the humiliation of exiting the casino of history without even its shoes, the administration is readying the squirrel of class warfare as a distraction. Why not? It's worked before. As the threat board lights up like a Christmas tree, the president's spin doctors are obsessed with one thought: Who can we blame?
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