Belmont Club

Trapped in a Nightmare

Brett Stephens in his article, “An Unteachable President” in the Wall Street Journal, makes a serious attempt to construct a rational theory to explain why the president doubles down when he’s losing — and why the public can’t get him to change.

Recall that it wasn’t long ago that Mr. Obama took a sunnier view of world affairs. The tide of war was receding. Al Qaeda was on a path to defeat. ISIS was “a jayvee team” in “Lakers uniforms.” Iraq was an Obama administration success story. Bashar Assad’s days were numbered. The Arab Spring was a rejoinder to, rather than an opportunity for, Islamist violence. The intervention in Libya was vindication for the “lead from behind” approach to intervention. The reset with Russia was a success, a position he maintained as late as September 2013. In Latin America, the “trend lines are good.”

“Overall,” as he told Tom Friedman in August 2014—shortly after ISIS had seized control of Mosul and as Vladimir Putin was muscling his way into eastern Ukraine—“I think there’s still cause for optimism.”

It’s a remarkable record of prediction. One hundred percent wrong. The professor president who loves to talk about teachable moments is himself unteachable. Why is that?

Why does he keep doing that? Stephens thinks it’s because Obama is the kind of man who believes the Cold War was won by “peaceful protest”, convinced that “a  strategy of retreat and accommodation, a bias against intervention, a preference for minimal responses” is enlightened foreign policy, and most of all believes he is unalterably correct — “on the right side of history” —  therefore could never be wrong.

Based on these assumptions naturally the president never learns for how can one improve upon perfection?

Stephens’ theory is marred only by the defect that it can just as well explain madness;  the fixation of doing something repeatedly and failing — yet expecting a different result is the definition of crazy.  Elliot Abrams, listening to Obama’s UN speech, was struck by the oddness of it; the utter separation between the words and actuality.  He said “president Obama’s U.N. speech today is filled with nice lines that unfortunately bear no relationship to his seven years of foreign policy — and in some cases, no relationship to reality.”

Like many of Obama’s speech it appeared to float in Eternity, detached from everything tangible. The speech came only hours after the provincial capital of Kunduz fell to the Taliban in what the New York Times called “a  a demoralizing setback less than a year after the formal end of the NATO combat mission in Afghanistan.”

The Taliban’s largest victory in years came just over a week before the American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John F. Campbell, is expected to return to Washington to testify before Congress about the course of the war and what America’s continued involvement should be. Some 10,000 American troops are in the country, many of them focused on training or advising the Afghan forces, and the White House has not yet decided whether to keep a force of that number here for another year or begin pulling them from the country in the coming months.

It comes only days after Iraq opened its airspace to Russian aircraft; after the Pentagon finally found its missing handful of Syrian fighters trained under Obama’s program who defected, together with their arms and ammunition, to al-Qaeda.  Yet his speech seemed little affected by these. None of these events, which would have created a political scandal for another administration. imparted a sense of urgency in the president, who continued to act as if he had all the time in the world.

Somini Sengupta of the New York Times describes how Obama plans to fix a disintegrating world. “Rallying Global Support, Obama Pledges Larger U.S. Role in Peacekeeping Missions”. It will take decades; it will take billions.  It may never work and it will in any case be too late.  But Obama will build a UN Army.

President Obama announced Monday that the United States would bolster its support for United Nations peacekeeping missions worldwide, as he rallied more than 50 countries to promise to expand their contributions, amounting to around 40,000 new soldiers and police officers.

Leading a summit meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, Mr. Obama said the United States would provide more logistical support, including air- and sea-lift capacity; build airfields or base camps if urgently needed; and train peacekeepers to counter improvised explosive devices, which are a common danger and often prove fatal for peacekeepers deployed in countries like Mali.

That an administration so sorely pressed should find the time and resources to launch a far-distant  scheme to police the world speaks volumes about the president’s sincere conviction that he, and not the public are living in the real world.   He lives in a fact-based universe.  Putin lives on the wrong side of history.

In Obama’s world posturing is enough to produce an conclusive result. During the meeting with Obama’s nemesis Vladimir Putin  pundits noticed the “icy stare” with which the president transfixed the Russian dictator.  The Sydney Morning Herald added, “the look on Barack Obama’s face at the lunchtime toast said it all.”  There were virtue rays blasting across across the room.

Yet to the observer it will seem as the Russian doesn’t live in Obama’s world.  For example, Vladimir Putin will probably ignore these presidential grimaces altogether and continue to dismantle the American position in the Middle East. If Obama is “unteachable”, Putin is his tactical opposite.  The Russian is always probing, always learning from his enemy’s weaknesses.  Yet he is more than that.  It as if the Russian strongman moved on the other side of some glass wall, occupying a reality which the president does not share.

There’s something disquieting and one cannot help but feel a growing sense of danger.

The immediate effects of Obama’s Syrian defeat are not hard to foresee. The Atlantic predicts Assad’s survival.  “The U.S. … rebel army that is five strong—barely enough to run a burger joint. … The devil’s gambit, then, appears to have succeeded. The Obama administration has recently backed away from insisting that Assad must relinquish power, and signaled instead that the dictator could stay in power for a transitional period as part of a peace settlement.”

Assad’s return and revenge are bad enough. But it is the fact of American paralysis which is worse.  Obama lies as if dreaming and his recumbence seems to embolden other bad actors.   Putin has now crept into the room,  at first wary but now having lost all fear of him.  We see Iran and its minions, which America could flick  away with a finger, putting straws in his lips and scrawling marks on his face.  Still he does not move — “unteachable” as Stephens put it. In this spectacle there is something dangerously sinister, as in a climate of reckless adventurism that feeds on itself.

Freed of caution, Putin may roll the dice in Ukraine simply because he succeeded in pulling a fast one in Syria.  In turn he may try something sneaky in Syria because he escaped unchastened in the Ukraine.  Each successful risk-taking act incentivizes the next. And from such links a chain is disaster is forged.  It isn’t the present setback we should fear so much as the next … and the next … and the next.

Stephens  fails to take his reasoning to the logical conclusion. The president is unteachable because the political system itself is incapable of learning.  The paralysis of Barack Obama but a reflection of the political stroke which has frozen Washington.  The Capital itself is in a dream. In that deadly reverie truth is indistinguishable from fiction.  Everything in that topsy-turvy world is a storyline.

The State Department says it’s losing the information war to ISIS—and is tapping HBO, Snapchat, and a screenwriter with deep CIA connections to help turn things around. The Obama administration is turning to HBO, Snapchat, and a controversial, Oscar-winning screenwriter to help them fight ISIS.

Earlier this year, the State Department convened a group of friends in the U.S. film industry, social media, and premium cable TV to brainstorm ways to counter jihadist propaganda.

The degree to which Washington is transfixed by the power of messaging at the expense of substance is shown by how not only the president but also Hillary are locked in an eternal quest to find perfect “icy stare” or ideal nostril flare that will back down an opponent — or win an election. So convinced was Bill in the power of acting and theatrics he turned to Steven Spielberg to teach Hillary how to be “likeable”.

Hillary Clinton enlisted the help of Steven Spielberg in an attempt to maker her seem more likeable, a new book claims.

The front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination was urged to seek help by her husband Bill Clinton – and he told her: ‘Let’s ask Steven for help,’ according to the book, which is called Unlikeable.

So their friend Spielberg provided acting coaches to help Hillary prepare for speeches.

But the sessions came to an abrupt end after Hillary took her frustrations out on a camera and knocked it off its tripod, according to an excerpt of the book published in the New York Post.

Messaging is how the political elites deal with Russia aggression, Chinese hacking, Syria, missing classified emails, dying ambassadors and human rivers of migrants.  They speak to shadows in the dark, commanding them back oblivious to the tangible menaces close at hand. It is as if the Western world were trapped in an evil sleep.  In that nightmare someone resembling Vladimir Putin is advancing upon a dreamer unable to move.  And the dreamer won’t wake up. The worst of it is Putin knows we’re asleep while the newspapers insist that we’re awake.

Never fear: in morning the UN Army will save us.

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