The NYT’s Roger Cohen stirs himself to call President Obama’s approach to Europe, Russia — the world, really — “anemic.” And he’s right as far as it goes. At the moment I’m writing this, U.S. intelligence sees thousands of Russian troops with armor massing on that country’s border with Ukraine, which Russia has already invaded. Yet Obama, as Cohen notes, is offering “a jejune collection of nostrums about binding values of free-market Western societies and their appeal to the hearts (and pocketbooks) of people throughout the world, not least Ukrainians.”
What Obama is saying includes grains of truth, but he lacks the punch of those 80,000-odd Russian troops in battle gear ready to roll. They’ll roll forward, while America’s military and NATO’s militaries roll into retirement.
But for all Cohen’s effort to criticize Obama, let’s hack our way through this thicket in the middle of his column.
The fact is the Western democracies he was exalting have been failing to deliver, and autocrats of the world, bare-chested Putin included, benefit indirectly from the resulting disenchantment.
True enough. Why?
It is not just the soaring unemployment in Europe (likely to prompt a surge by rightist anti-immigrant parties in European Parliament elections this year). It is not just the crisis (contained for now) of the euro and the unresolved issue of how the European integration needed to back the currency is to be achieved. It is not just the widespread disillusionment with a navel-gazing European Union seen as over-bureaucratic and under-democratic. It is not just the growing income disparities in both Europe and the United States, and the spreading middle-class dystopia, and the sense in democracies on both sides of the Atlantic that money has skewed fairness and electoral processes themselves. It is not just the sense that something has gone seriously wrong with a polarized American democracy where scorched-earth Republicans devote their politics to obstruction, and the government can grind to a halt as it did last year, and a C.E.O. can earn $80 million for a few weeks of work while incomes for most Americans are stagnant. It is not just the National Security Agency eavesdropping and data-vacuuming revelations. It’s not just the loss of a sense of possibility for many young people.
It is all of this. Unless Western societies find a way to shake their moroseness, level the playing field and rediscover, as Obama put it, the “simple truth that all men, and women, are created equal,” they are going to have a very hard time winning “the contest of ideas.”
How many leftwing, pro-Obama tropes can Cohen pack in there? Why does Europe have high unemployment? Is it because government is too big and taxes too much? Why is calling for secure borders in an age of transnational terrorism “anti-immigrant”? Why is Europe caught up in “navel-gazing”? Cohen works Obama’s “income inequality” hobbyhorse in, he attacks “scorched-earth Republicans” but not Obama’s anti-democratic Democrats, and he never mentions the IRS abuse or Fast and Furious. Benghazi is less than an afterthought. Those last three are not mere partisan issues. They speak to the true intentions of Barack Obama, the world’s most famous champion of big government. They also speak to why Barack Obama is incapable of building a serious, worthwhile and unified response to Putin. Obama uses our government as a weapon of naked politics against large swaths of the people, calling into question whether ours is still a government of the people, by the people and for the people. He is such an ideologue that he couldn’t even unify America if he wanted to, and there is zero evidence that he even wants to.
Cohne’s column is not real, coherent criticism. It’s slavishly pining for Obama to be even more of a partisan leftwing ideologue than he has already proven himself to be on domestic issues, while at the same time, somehow hoping that Obama can turn into a genuine opponent for KGB-man Putin. Cohen misses the fact that Putin ruthlessly pursues what he sees are in his and Russia’s interests. Obama pursues his own and the Democrat Party’s interests; if they happen to coincide with America’s interests, he’s likely to re-think and re-work them so that America’s role is muted.
Cohen’s closing gives away which side he remains on.
“Now is not the time for bluster,” Obama intoned. “The situation in Ukraine, like crises in many parts of the world, does not have easy answers nor a military solution.”
This is true. But nor is it a time for clichés about the wonders of democracy, freedom, open-market economies, the rule of law and other underpinnings of the West. Not when democracy seems blocked, freedom sometimes selective, open markets cruel and the law harshest on those who have least.
“…cliches…about freedom…the rule of law…” Cohen is asking this of a man who has lied over and over again, who rewrites laws on the fly because he can get away with it and it helps his party, and who fundamentally does not believe in freedom if it is used in ways in which he does not approve.
Shorter Cohen: “Barack, can’t you just make everything in the world all fair like you promised? Please? I’m gonna cry if you don’t.”