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.
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Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.
Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”
Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."
In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-expected primary battle behind her, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) is no longer going on the air in upcoming primary states. “Team Clinton hasn’t spent a single cent in … California, Indiana, Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “campaign has spent a little more than $1 million in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone backer in the Senate, said the candidate should end his presidential campaign if he’s losing to Hillary Clinton after the primary season concludes in June, breaking sharply with the candidate who is vowing to take his insurgent bid to the party convention in Philadelphia.”
The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."