A week ago, when President Obama delivered his first message on the crisis in Crimea, pundits were quick to criticize him for lack of substance. “President Obama Speaks on Ukraine, Says Virtually Nothing,” read the headline at Slate.
A few days later, he warned there would be “costs” for any military intervention in Ukraine. It was a vague threat, and Obama showed no interest in expanding on it or spelling out exactly what he meant by Russian military intervention.
For this he’s been criticized by conservatives like The Washington Post‘s Marc Thiessen, who wrote in a Monday column that “Obama’s weakness emboldens Putin.” So far, however, aside from Thiessen and the Sarah Palin types intent on making petty attacks on the president’s machismo, his approach seems to be going pretty well.
If Obama learned anything from the confrontation with Syria this fall, it’s that it’s best not to box your administration in with rhetoric. Obama famously backed himself into a corner with regard to military intervention in Syria’s civil war back in August 2012 with his reportedly unscripted “red line” utterance. If “we starting seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” that would be a “red line” that would “change my equation,” Obama said at the time.
A year later, that red line promise would come back to haunt him. In a piece titled “Obama’s Foreign Policy by Faux Pas,” National Journal described how that “red line” became the administration’s official position and that “the genie couldn’t be put back into the bottle.” (That is, until another unscripted remark, this one from Secretary of State John Kerry, miraculously saved the day.)
In fact, Obama was still taking flak for his handling of the situation in Syria as recently as Friday morning, when Oliver North, a contributor on Fox News, made a jab at the president during his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, accusing Obama of drawing “phony red lines with a pink crayon.”
He isn’t making the mistake again. Thursday night Obama and Vladimir Putin had what The New Republic deemed “a very unproductive phone call” in which Obama emphasized resolving the situation diplomatically and coordinating with his European partners.
Obama, it’s clear, is very willing to sit back and let a larger network of forces take their toll on Russia. He isn’t the first American president to be confronted by provocations and military actions from Moscow but he is, as National Journal noted on Thursday, the first to have a broad range of highly effective nonmilitary responses at his disposal.
Putin has brushed off the threat of sanctions and the suspension of preparations for a G-8 organization summit in Sochi in June. But that display of confidence is already ringing hollow.
Russia is more economically isolated than ever before and that means, despite Putin’s resounding shrug, the country is vulnerable. Russian markets have plummeted since Putin expanded forces into Crimea and the ruble is down more than 8 percent since the beginning of the year.
With numbers like those, Obama is perfectly happy to keep playing the waiting game.
What We're Following See More »
Before we get to the specifics of this exposé about escorts working the Iowa and New Hampshire primary crowds, let’s get three things out of the way: 1.) It’s from Cosmopolitan; 2.) most of the women quoted use fake (if colorful) names; and 3.) again, it’s from Cosmopolitan. That said, here’s what we learned:
- Business was booming: one escort who says she typically gets two inquiries a weekend got 15 requests in the pre-primary weekend.
- Their primary season clientele is a bit older than normal—”40s through mid-60s, compared with mostly twentysomething regulars” and “they’ve clearly done this before.”
- They seemed more nervous than other clients, because “the stakes are higher when you’re working for a possible future president” but “all practiced impeccable manners.”
- One escort “typically enjoy[s] the company of Democrats more, just because I feel like our views line up a lot more.”
No matter where you stand on mandating companies to include a backdoor in encryption technologies, it doesn’t make sense to allow that decision to be made on a state level. “The problem with state-level legislation of this nature is that it manages to be both wildly impractical and entirely unenforceable,” writes Brian Barrett at Wired. There is a solution to this problem. “California Congressman Ted Lieu has introduced the ‘Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications Act of 2016,’ which we’ll call ENCRYPT. It’s a short, straightforward bill with a simple aim: to preempt states from attempting to implement their own anti-encryption policies at a state level.”
Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”
The New Covenant. The Third Way. The Democratic Leadership Council style. Call it what you will, but whatever centrist triangulation Bill Clinton embraced in 1992, Hillary Clinton wants no part of it in 2016. Writing for Bloomberg, Sasha Issenberg and Margaret Talev explore how Hillary’s campaign has “diverged pointedly” from what made Bill so successful: “For Hillary to survive, Clintonism had to die.” Bill’s positions in 1992—from capital punishment to free trade—“represented a carefully calibrated diversion from the liberal orthodoxy of the previous decade.” But in New Hampshire, Hillary “worked to juggle nostalgia for past Clinton primary campaigns in the state with the fact that the Bill of 1992 or the Hillary of 2008 would likely be a marginal figure within today’s Democratic politics.”
At first, “it was pleasant” to see Trevor Noah “smiling away and deeply dimpling in the Stewart seat, the seat that had lately grown gray hairs,” writes The Atlantic‘s James Parker in assessing the new host of the once-indispensable Daily Show. But where Jon Stewart was a heavyweight, Noah is “a very able lightweight, [who] needs time too. But he won’t get any. As a culture, we’re not about to nurture this talent, to give it room to grow. Our patience was exhausted long ago, by some other guy. We’re going to pass judgment and move on. There’s a reason Simon Cowell is so rich. Impress us today or get thee hence. So it comes to this: It’s now or never, Trevor.”